E3 2015 Hands-On: ‘Cuphead’

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Cuphead was the Xbox One’s most creative and artistically ambitious title presented at E3 and its presence on the showfloor helped solidify its place as one of Microsoft’s mainstays.

Cuphead’s most drawing feature is its art style. Based on 1930s era American cartoons, Cuphead replicates these old animations almost effortlessly. ┬áThe developers, Chad & Jared Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR, had an idea of how they wanted their game to play but didn’t quite know how it should look. They were suggested an old-timey cartoon approach to the art style, one in which they had never attempted to create. They admitted that it was fun how they slowly found that style and replicated it into game form.

The time and effort shows in-game as Cuphead feels like an interactive time portal into the early days of Mickey Mouse and Popeye animations. They even went through the trouble of integrating a grainy overlay to the gameplay to replicate the old look of projector reels from the 1930s.

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The formula for Cuphead is a simple run-and-gun platformer but, in execution, the game is far from simple. Two players can control Cuphead and Mugman as they WALLOP through bosses in their own unique and zany world. But each boss is no pushover, countless enemies and objects will be flying towards the duo and its up to the player to find a pattern, follow it, all while keeping fingers on the fire button to constantly chip away at the boss’ health. The chaos and wild animations add an unbelievable amount of urgency to the game and make it seem more akin to bullet hell than an action platformer.

Of course, Cuphead and Mugman aren’t going around shooting things with their hands all willy-nilly. The story goes that the duo made a deal with the devil and in order to prevent their souls from being dragged to hell for eternity, they must do his bidding and destroy certain marks in the world.

The game, being so boss-centric, pays close attention to the boss design and how each of them play. One boss, a giant angry bird in a bird house who shoots feathers all over the battlefield while Cuphead avoids bee passerbys and another boss, a burly pirate on top of his angry ship who spits cannonballs while a deadly shark attacks from the other side of the screen are just a few of the many uniquely designed boss battles that the players will enjoy.

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The difficulty is on par with classic retro games where, in co-op, each player gets a set of lives but if both run out, the game is over. With one hit causing death, it’s going to take a couple of tries between the two of you to get down the rhythm of the battle and finally overcome the odds.

Cuphead attempts to recreate the classic era of two different media and because of this it is pure co-op bliss and a huge change-up for the game plan of the Xbox One following the critically acclaimed release of Ori and the Blind Forest. The game might not be the console seller that Halo or Gears of War might be for the Xbox One, but its charm and humor will definitely make it a must play. Cuphead has been in development since 2010 but will finally see a release in 1936 (plus 80 years) on Xbox One and PC.

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