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Hands-on with Cuphead: Equal parts charming and challenging

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The holy grail

Cuphead has existed in a state of unreality to me since its E3 reveal. Despite seeing footage of the game, it remained in my mind a concept. One that I was in love with, mind. 1930s style animation. A character whose head is a cup. I love it.

But because I've never played a game that was completely hand-drawn on a lightbox to look like a 1930s anime, there was always some weird disconnect between what I saw in the trailer, on-screen, and connecting it to inputting commands on a controller.

This disconnect was mended when I saw a giant corner dedicated to Cuphead at Microsoft's [email protected] event last week at GDC. I press a button, Cuphead jumps.

While the old-school difficulty (three hits and you're dead) is just reflective of developers' design inspirations, it does feel fitting that something this labor intensive to make won't be easily beaten. In fact, piratical ship helm Captain Silver remained unbeaten as long as I stayed at the event, despite a (joking) $2,000 reward.

I was able to dispatch the first boss after running across the overworld to a vegetable patch. A grumpy potato pops out of the ground and begins spitting balls at you, every third one or so a pink ball that Cuphead can straw slap (pressing jump while in the air) to charge a super meter. The hit box and timing window for straw slapping pink bits is tight and after the first boss, the bits get real small, so straw slapping instead of straight dodging is risk reward. Again, three hits and you're out.

After shooting up the potato enough -- it is adorable that Cuphead's gun is just cute little pew pew beams out of a a pointed finger and raised thumb -- a creepy carrot emerged in the center of the stage. It had red eyes circle in opposite directions and would rub deeply at its temples while bringing homing missiles down. I missed a super to its face, but was able to beat it.

From there I skipped some of other fights I'd seen others play and went straight for the white whale (of the demo) Captain Silver. Silver stands atop his boat on the right side of the screen, occasionally shooting you with pink pellets. The best way to blast him it to get right on under him, but a pesky barrel that drops from the sky screws things up for you.

Silver has a couple other cronies he'll whistle to call, too. From the front (right), a series of four tiny sharks with dog collars will plop on deck and slide left, chomping all the way. You can jump over them or crouch and shoot them, but you may also be dealing with Silver gunning for you and that barrel drop at the same time. Like any good classic boss fight, managing screen space is key. Same goes for the big great white Silver calls. It crashes in from the back (left), filling up much of the dock and forcing you forward, which can be extra troublesome late stage when the ship's mouth opens up and starts spitting cannonballs at you.

There's also a squid who comes up with a wry smile shaking ink from an old-school ink pot, muddying the screen, which I found hilarious.

Cuphead's two-player co-op wasn't playable in the demo and there wasn't much of the overworld, sidequesting, or platforming bits to mess with, but these boss fights are on point, it feels good, and it's charming as hell.

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Steven Hansen
Steven HansenContributor   gamer profile

Steven watches anime & sports, buys meat out of trucks, dates a Muppet, and is only good at cooking. He stands before you bereft of solace and well on the road to perdition. ('^ω^) more + disclosures


 


 


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