Saturday, May 4

Review: Cuphead [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to titles I never thought I’d see on the Switch Cuphead was high on the list, even though a while ago I’d made a Not Yet a Nindie video praying for it since I’d played quite a bit of it on PC and couldn’t deny its greatness. Since it had been locked up as a Microsoft exclusive the odds of it coming to Switch seemed pretty poor, and to boot I’ll admit there was some concern that perhaps Nintendo’s mighty handheld wouldn’t be able to maintain the visual quality, or at least the rock-solid framerate, that brought the game to life. Now, with its unexpected release I’m here to tell you that the game is still as beautiful and notoriously tough as ever, and that in man regards it not only plays very well on Switch it almost feels as if it was meant to be on the platform.

Throughout its development process before its initial release it was hard to believe that the static images that looked like captures from vintage cartoons could possibly work fluidly as a game when in motion. Of course, once you play it for 20 minutes you’ll be somewhat dumbstruck at what Studio MDHR has accomplished. Practically every detail of the game visually is spot-on in recreating that classic look, right down to the gain and random blemishes you’ll see on occasion. There have previously been games that have looked somewhat like you were playing a cartoon but Cuphead has taken that to an entirely different level.

Once you get done discussing the game’s incredible visuals inevitably you’ll then end up discussing its infamous degree of difficulty. There’s no getting around it, this is one of the toughest games you’ll likely ever play, especially as the game wears on. However, that’s in no way meant to imply that it’s impossible to beat, or even that it’s unfair. Each boss battle you need to survive is an exercise in careful precision, understanding every phase and attack that will come at you, being comfortable with how to dodge or otherwise deal with it, and then executing every move with a high degree of care. Honestly, at least for some stages, once you manage to beat them the first time and their mystique is shattered a repeat won’t tend to be nearly as hard. It isn’t all varied boss fights though, there are also side-scrolling shooter and run and gun stages as well to conquer, each with their own hook and challenges.

I’d say that among the stage types you deal with the run and gun ones were probably my least favorite, and the most aggravating for me personally. Perhaps related a little to the amazing animations, the action in these stages tends to feel just a little on the slow side, a problem that I particularly would notice when trying to jump and hit pink enemies or projectiles that you can parry to boost your final stage score. It just felt like managing to hit these properly and not take damage took just a little bit more anticipation than I’d like and finding success then usually meant forcing myself to be a little ahead of things. If you stick with the game through the final stretch you could argue the last boss kicks the frustration a bit into another gear rather than stay on the progressively more difficult path it had been to that point… but in the case of a final battle juicing things up a little is at least understandable. One addendum would be the fact that you’re able to play the game co-op, which would normally be a help, but in this case I actually think it makes a chaotic and tough game even more challenging.

Overall my message with Cuphead is this: While the degree of difficulty is well-known for a reason, that isn’t to say that the majority of the game is impossible by any means. Much like certain classic games like Punch-Out in particular, the key to success is careful observation, learning the enemy patterns and then getting a comfort level for executing what needs to get done. The fact that it will additionally be remembered as one of the most visually fascinating games of the generation is just icing on the cake, no matter how incredible it looks it wouldn’t be well-regarded if the gameplay wasn’t there to match.

Score: 9

  • A visual marvel and it runs wonderfully on the Switch
  • While the difficulty level can be steep that isn’t to say with observation and persistence you can’t prevail
  • Each boss fight is pretty well wholly unique, making you learn new techniques and strategies for defeating them

  • Of the stage types the run and gun levels are probably the least fun
  • The timing to bounce off of bullets or enemies to parry just feels a little delayed to me and like something I had to compensate for
  • While the ability to play co-op is nice in general I wouldn’t consider it practical