LTG Hall of Fame Review: Cuphead (2017)

By Marshall Garvey A Devil of a Gamble, and One Hell of a Triumph Year in and year out, developers and players across the world hunger for the next big thing. When E3 convenes every June (well…almost every June), the hype machine kicks into overdrive for the next title that promises bigger worlds, crisper graphics,…





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27 minutes

By Marshall Garvey

A Devil of a Gamble, and One Hell of a Triumph

Year in and year out, developers and players across the world hunger for the next big thing. When E3 convenes every June (well…almost every June), the hype machine kicks into overdrive for the next title that promises bigger worlds, crisper graphics, groundbreaking gameplay, and limitless possibilities. Putting aside the occasional folly of hyping a forthcoming game’s capabilities (see: No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves, The Division), it’s an understandable inclination. Who doesn’t dream of making or playing the next Mass Effect, the next Skyrim, the next The Last of Us, the next Breath of the Wild

It’s a special achievement to create something that pushes the boundaries of video game technology. Yet it’s rarer, and perhaps just as difficult, to make one that synthesizes design and gameplay elements from bygone generations and masters them anew. Especially in an era rife with cookie-cutter annual franchises that pose little challenge, the time is ripe to bring back the pain-in-the-ass, controller-chucking style of SNES and Sega Genesis classics. 

Think games like Contra, Gunstar Heroes, Truxton, Mega Man, The Adventures of Batman and Robin, and so on. They didn’t hold the player’s hand and spoon-feed them simple gameplay. Instead, they downright punished them with waves of projectiles, breakneck pacing, and boss battles that made players feel like they had just gone 15 rounds with Roberto Duran. Yet they also functioned with an instant playability that belied their brutal difficulty, keeping players hooked no matter how many times the words GAME OVER were seared onto their TV screen. 

These beat-’em-ups, sidescrollers, shmups, bullet hells and the like would feel especially alien in today’s AAA market dominated by first-person shooters and open-world RPGs. Their influence is pervasive throughout the indie realm, but major developers seldom go back to console gaming’s unforgiving roots. Perhaps because, just as they are difficult to play, they are likewise difficult to faithfully recreate. More likely, it’s because they’re afraid to really challenge players. 

For the brothers Moldenhauer, their childhood in Saskatchewan, Canada was spent digesting those very games. Just as omnipresent in their youths were the surreal, timeless cartoons made by Fleischer Studios in the 1930s. Best known for introducing beloved characters like Betty Boop and Koko the Clown (as well as popularizing Popeye the Sailor), the volumes of toons the studio cranked out under the purview of (fittingly, also brothers) Dave and Max Fleischer have mesmerized generations with their expressive hand-drawn style. 

Similar to many other young developers-to-be, Chad and Jared were inspired by the indie game boom of 2010 (particularly Super Meat Boy) to chase their hitherto fringe dream of making a game once and for all. They kicked around various ideas, until they realized that a game based on Fleischer cartoons wasn’t just a great idea: it was the only idea. Once that design was married with retro gaming, the dream was officially in motion.

Like any indie darling worth its salt, a high-stakes development hell of many years ensued. The brothers founded a studio made up of relatives and close friends, including Chad’s own wife Marija. To keep true to the cartoons that inspired them, the animation was done in hand-drawn “ones,” meaning every single character animation had to be drawn frame by frame, no shortcuts. Even with digital coloring able to shave both years and costs off the development process, Cuphead’s gestation would be an inevitably strenuous one.

The morsels made available to the public drew a surprising amount of interest, culminating with an invite to present a full-length trailer at E3 2015. As the hype grew, so did the game’s scope, leading both brothers to quit their jobs and mortgage their homes, investing the funds into a full-blown development team of professional animators, programmers, painters, foley artists, and musicians. Like their brotherly protagonists, the Moldenhauers made a gamble that would end either in sunny triumph or grim despair. 

Luckily, they didn’t pay the price. Upon its release in late September 2017, Cuphead became a singular sensation that took the world by storm in a way no other game in recent decades has. In a year that also proffered staggering titles like Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Persona 5, the simple platforming adventures of Cuphead and Mugman enthralled legions of players, while also torturing their very souls with difficulty so severe it almost escaped comprehension. 

Three years after its hotly anticipated release, Studio MDHR’s thumb-callusing love letter to the golden age of cartoons still packs all of the “WALLOP!” that’s spelled out in all caps at the beginning of each boss battle. And its appeal is just getting started, with a DLC package slated for release this year, a Mii Gunner skin in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and an animated Netflix series adaptation around the corner as well. The fandom remains fervent too, as evidenced by the latest reanimation of Random Encounters’ clever musical tribute to the game.  

At Last Token Gaming, we prefer to induct games that have had what we determine to be a certain “time buffer” to prove they’re a foundational classic. Occasionally, however, we make exceptions for recent titles so undeniably masterful, it’s imperative we enshrine them. In fact, we did just that for two other 2017 giants, Persona 5 and Breath of the Wild

It is already apparent that Cuphead has cemented a special place in gaming’s lineage. Every component, from the resplendent hand-drawn animation and slick gameplay, to the indelible characters and exhilarating jazz music, is crafted with the kind of earnest love every development team should aspire to. It earns induction into the Last Token Gaming Hall of Fame with flying (inked) color, and there is much about it to celebrate. 

A Real High-Class Bout: Retro Gameplay That Makes Cartoon Violence Feel Right

It is pretentious beyond measure to set parameters as to what makes a “real gamer.” Like an individual taste in music or cinema, one’s preference of gaming genre is entirely subjective. Someone who plays nothing but MMOs is no more valid than another who bulks up on platformers. Maybe you’re exclusively a retro gamer, or would rather die by PC than live with a console. It’s all equally good. 

That being said, there is a certain credibility inherent in growing up with the first arcade and console generations of the ‘80s and ‘90s. The nascent ideas of what constituted a good game then were innocent and limitless. Yet the ones that really stood out the most were the hardest: Pac-Man, Centipede, Donkey Kong, Berzerk, etc. These, as well as the aforementioned SNES and Genesis staples, believed that high difficulty yielded a greater sense of reward for the player. 

Their setups were often incredibly simple: shoot the centipede, eat as many dots as possible, avoid barrels and save the princess, and so on. But actually doing those objectives often proved byzantine, with tsunamis of projectiles, deceptively smart enemies, and precious few hit points or lives to spare. The slightest slip of one’s hand meant game over, and another depletion of precious quarters, or a weary pressing of the reset button. 

Quite the opposite of the cinematic grandeur of many AAA titles today, Cuphead is gleefully light on story. Our plucky protagonist Cuphead and his cautious brother Mugman have decided to poke around exactly where they shouldn’t be: The Devil’s Casino. After Cuphead makes a regrettable all-or-nothing gamble at the behest of the Devil, they plead for their souls. So a deal is struck: the two must collect the soul contracts of 17 of the Devil’s debtors across the Inkwell Isles, each of which won’t come without a long, loooonnnggg fight. 

With a de-emphasis on plot, Cuphead channels the story-lite flow of the cartoons that inspired it. Like arcade and console classics of yore, this puts the weight of the experience on gameplay, which proves to be the optimal balance. The gameplay is a seamless hybrid of just about every retro genre conceivable, stringing together run-and-gun, fighting games, side-scrolling, and bullet hell into a giddy cacophony of comic violence. 

The game boasts one of the simplest, yet most effective, playing styles of recent years.

There are no ammo limits, quicktime events, or any such limitations or gimmicks. Cuphead and Mugman have two main weapons they can shoot limitlessly from their fingertips, and a special move they can deploy after enough hits and/or parries. They can jump, dash, and parry pink projectiles. The more towering and airborne bosses are battled via airplane. With coins collected by beating run-and-gun side levels (and exploring hidden areas in the isles), players can acquire new weapons and charms to make certain boss fights easier. 

Let’s be real, though: Spread Shot, Chaser, Smoke Bomb, and Extra Hit Point are pretty much all you need.

The simplicity of gameplay provides the ideal springboard for the player to carve out their strategy for each boss. More importantly, it packs a delicious punch. There is a primal satisfaction that comes from landing a continuous stream of shots on a given boss, while simultaneously ducking and darting all over the screen to avoid damage. At first, it can feel like picking up a bass guitar for the first time and trying to do a Rush song. But with patience and persistence, it becomes second nature. 

Had the Moldenhauers chosen any other genre to match with the Fleischer aesthetic, be it an RPG or an interactive story, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. Sure, the visuals would be astounding as ever, but it wouldn’t have the same resonance. The marriage of hand-drawn animation with knock-’em-out retro fighting is strangely logical, partly because both styles have become sadly neglected in their respective fields. 

On the surface, it’s a subversive approach, one that seems to bely the adorable presentation. After all, cartoons are supposed to be inherently kid-friendly, right? Surely a game where you play as a cutesy gloves-and-boots character has to be harmless. There is something undeniably perverse about luring in players with nostalgia, only to ambush them with a dozen projectiles fired by sadistic captives of the Devil himself. 

Even the flowers are evil.

In truth, it’s the only way the golden age of animation could be thematically honored in video game form. Those Fleischer Studios shorts were often very dark, channeling the despair of the Great Depression and the harsh artistic edge of German Expressionism. Cuphead hits the same delicate balance, for while it is not necessarily inappropriate for younger audiences, it revels far more in the subversive side of cartoondom. And it’s an absolutely twisted delight to behold. 

Art Design: An Inked Triumph Worthy of Fleischer and Disney 

Cuphead’s legacy chiefly boils down to two factors: art direction and difficulty. The latter…well, we’ll get to it in a moment. Far more eminent is the sheer opulence of the artwork. Oceans of praise have already been heaped upon it, to the point where it seems redundant to do so again. To put it bluntly (if perhaps tritely)…what is there left to be said?

Yet the extent of Cuphead’s art is so cosmic that reverence for it should be commensurately inexhaustible. It all begins with the salient factor that sets the design apart: unyielding adherence to the purity of hand-drawn animation. Just like the shorts of Fleischer and Disney in the ‘30s and ‘40s, the characters of Cuphead move “rubber hose” style, with spindly limbs and movements untethered by the laws of physics. 

The only way to truly capture that aesthetic is to draw and ink each frame by hand. That was hard enough for the fully staffed mega-studios the Fleischer brothers and Walt Disney oversaw. It’s borderline inconceivable to envision it being done by a small independent studio making its first game. Fortunately, Studio MDHR’s animation team proved more than up to the task, pouring a copious amount of unadulterated love and creativity into every last frame. The result is stunning: every character, from the protagonists and bosses to disposable minions, jumps off the screen with vivacity. 

It cannot be said enough: this game is an artistic masterwork, and it deserves to be praised without end for it.

With a breezy story and almost no spoken dialogue, the animation also serves the function of basic storytelling. Even the simplest expressions during a fight convey a wealth of personality. The way Baroness Von Bon Bon angrily shakes her fist after her candy subjects are defeated, Dr. Kahl’s Robot’s confident expression turning into a grimace when his antenna is destroyed, Djimmi the Great’s cocky jackass grin as he plots his next trick…there’s more authentic character in a quick gesture than many dialogue-heavy cartoons convey in a whole episode. 

Just as crucially, the hand-drawn movement is the key to making the boss fights excel. The lush animation holds the player’s rapt attention, which is fortunate given the blitzkrieg of projectiles and sudden attacks that fill the entire screen at any moment. One could say the moment-for-moment difficulty for the player is only rational given the dogmatic effort it took to make it. If you feel angry over having to see a given boss over and over again, imagine the torment the animation team felt willing them into existence for years!

They suffered for their art. Now it’s your turn.

Indeed, this approach is one that took a mind-numbing degree of craftsmanship. Every single animation, no matter how fleeting, had to be realized to an infinitesimal degree. Take Captain Brineybeard’s whistle to summon one of his sea creatures. It’s a simple movement, one that doesn’t seem worthy of note…except that it took 51 individual frames just to make him step and whistle. Given each boss battle is roughly two minutes long, that equals well over 300 frames! Easy as it is to lament the disappearance of the hand-drawn technique in mainstream animation, it’s understandable why.

Just in case you thought I was exaggerating. Image courtesy of Studio MDHR.

All of that painstaking craft resulted in a world that stands as a true original, one that ignites the imagination like Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom. There isn’t a single corner cut here, as every stage feels like a replete, self-contained experience. Witnessing the final product doesn’t even begin to capture the depth of what went into it. Fortunately, the recently released The Art of Cuphead provides an intimate look at the creative processes, draft iterations, and brainstorming Studio MDHR undertook to create the perfect final product.  

The Inkwell Isles overworld is the perfect starting point for the art direction’s magic. The variety of areas exudes a lived-in feeling, like this is a timeless cartoon universe that has been inhabited for a long time. While the story is loose and the cartoon logic zany, the world possesses a subtly logical flow. There’s a forest, an observatory, a carnival area, seaside docks, a junkyard, a downtown, and so on, each corresponding to different sets of bosses. Eclectic as they are, it all feels cohesive. 

Were it not for everyone’s souls belonging to the Devil, you’d want to live there yourself!

Complementing the organic animation techniques are the level backgrounds. Courtesy of artist Caitlin Russell, the backdrops are rendered with gorgeous watercolor paintings. While the characters were digitally colored (albeit in a way that still looks done by hand), these backgrounds are the finishing touch that truly imbues the frame-by-frame movement with authenticity. On top of that, where dialogue and cutscenes would usually go, these backgrounds essentially tell the stories of Inkwell’s agitated debtors. 

The details are scrumptious to soak in. The endless shipwrecks that dot the waterscape of Cala Maria’s stage, graveyards of the sailors she lured to their demise (who are then spit out as projectiles, naturally). The Phantom Express barrels along tracks through an endless, moon-enshrouded cemetery, carrying departed souls to the land of the dead. Best of all is Sally Stageplay, whose life story quite literally plays out through each phase of her fight at the local theater. Painful as it can be to retry a given boss dozens of times, it’s a blessing in disguise since it gives the player more time to adore every last detail of their level. 

Sally Stageplay’s husband panics as his wife does battle, one of dozens of delightful background details each battle is cleverly saturated with.

Another part of the fun is seeing just how many gaming and cartoon references one can deduce on their own. The creators of Cuphead are nothing short of scholars on classic animation and old school games, and wear their influences on their sleeves like a NASCAR driver wears corporate logos on his suit. Popeye, Pinocchio, Mega Man, Swing You Sinners, Street Fighter, Tom and Jerry, Disney’s Silly Symphony…one gets the feeling every classic is given a shoutout in some form.  

Yet no matter how many winks-and-nods are stuffed in, the universe of Cuphead is ultimately too quirky to be anything but its own. This balance of wholesome originality and permissible derivation is best embodied by the title character himself. With his recognizable cartoon gloves, red trousers and oversized eyes, Cuphead looks like the ideal synthesis of Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. (Mugman, meanwhile, is a dead ringer for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.) That he’s a sentient cup is just the simple twist needed to make him a standout. Like his obvious influences, hopefully he’ll be around for many adventures for a long time. 

Pictured above: The heroes we want, need, and deserve.

The Difficulty: Punishing, Sometimes Unfair…but Ultimately Necessary

When Cuphead first rolled the dice in 2017, the only opinion piece that rivaled (or even exceeded) glowing reviews were editorials that raged about its difficulty. It was infuriating, not fun. It was hard, but fair…until it isn’t. In a now-legendary moment of gaming journalism risibility, one writer struggled just to pass the tutorial. Message boards raged with indignation from players who had given up hope. 

Almost three whole years later, is the difficulty indeed unbearable? Or were said reactions just hot takes born out of insufficient acclimation to a real challenge in gaming? For the most part, it’s more the latter. Yes Cuphead is hard. VERY hard. You will rage quit, pound your couch, chuck your controller, and utter things you’ll wish you hadn’t. And then you’ll hit “Retry” again and get back at it, because the difficulty is refreshing. It cuts right to the basic instincts of gamer psychology, reminding you of the pure thrill of overcoming obstacles in order to progress. 

However, some of the boss fights do suffer from elements of randomness that can unfairly lead to the player taking a hit. The crapshoot element does admittedly help prevent fights from becoming wholly predictable grinds. The problem is, they’re already so difficult and layered to begin with that a healthy dose of retries is inevitable regardless. The greatest offender is Beppi the Clown, whose four phases are fairly reasonable to maneuver. That is, unless the player gets pinned in a corner by the randomly timed roller coaster, forcing Cuphead to take a hit from a projectile no matter what. 

The difficulty is mostly fine, and exhilarating. But some parts are just plain cheap.

Adding another layer of frustration are the controls. For the most part, the control scheme is fluid after enough practice. However, having to aim and move with the same joystick can lead to slip ups that are costly in the heat of the moment. (Granted, this can be fixed with controller reconfiguration.) Hit detection on some enemies can be weirdly inconsistent, such as the spread shot’s inability to kill at close range unless it’s fired directly at the target. 

Nevertheless, it has to be said forthrightly: without its unrepentant truculence, Cuphead would not be a great game. Even with the unfair hits and patterns that can randomly occur from time to time, and the sometimes wonky controls and hit detection, the difficulty elevates the entire experience to indelibility. If it were easy, you’d breeze through it in a few hours, savor the artwork, and move on quickly. By being so hard, it cruelly forces one to appreciate it from top to bottom at length. 

It would be an odious cliche to say this game reminds you of why you play video games in the first place. Moreso because Cuphead does something even better: it takes the core of your passion for gaming, incinerates it with fire on a rugged cast iron anvil, and hands it back anew in a more purified form. Especially if you didn’t grow up playing those merciless shmup and bullet hell standards of the ‘80s and ‘90s, this game feels like an overdue initiation. 

This is the price you pay for being born in the wrong gaming generation.

Moreover, the difficulty makes progress downright edifying. All too often, bosses in video games are little more than slightly glorified roadblocks that take just a few tries. As soon as they’re beaten, they’re forgotten as the player moves on to the next phase. When you finally dispatch any one of Cuphead’s looney rivals, it feels like a milestone. Personally, while soldiering through the playthrough for this review, some victories had me dropping to my knees like Brad Lidge after the last out of the 2008 World Series.

The pure perseverance, the catharsis after finally dispatching that boss, doesn’t just make you feel like you can beat the game, or any other game for that matter. You feel like you’ve got what it takes to accomplish anything in life with ease. When was the last time beating a boss or level in a game made you feel that way? 

It is nothing short of vindication to beat a Cuphead boss. It can be a Herculean task…but it’s always worth it.

Music and Sound: A Cartoon Cornucopia for the Ears 

Every video game needs some degree of sound design and music that creates a distinct atmosphere. That’s extra imperative for one that veritably seeks to distill all of classic cartoon lore into a singular experience. Yes, nailing the visual style does come first. But in order to really feel like the golden age of animation, it’s got to pound the player over the head with a hailstorm of zany noises. 

Unlike many of the cartoons that serve as inspiration, though, there’s virtually no spoken dialogue in Cuphead. This creates the challenge of capturing everything through animation, music and sound effects. And boy, does it deliver in that regard. Every villainous laugh and grunt, every cartoon thud and explosion, hits the sweet spot.

Even the loading screens are a treat, crackling with the hiss and pop of an old vinyl record. To further nail the 1930s feeling, a Don Dunphy-esque boxing announcer intones at the start of the match, proclaiming “A KNOCKOUT!” as the bell rings to signify that sweet, hard-earned victory.  

What really ties it all together is the score, courtesy of Kristofer Maddigan. Right from the title menu, as Cuphead and Mugman confidently twist their hips to a sardonic barbershop number regaling their predicament, the music breathes infectious energy into every moment. Far from just background noise, the jazzy numbers are the lifeblood of each stage. The frenzy of horns, piano and percussion perfectly mimic the madcap insanity of the dozens of projectiles bouncing around. 

Each of the game’s 51 tracks contains progressions and motifs that have to be appreciated in a separate listen. Dig the tap-dancing that cleverly underscores Sally Stageplay’s theatrical battle, or the slow-burn trumpet that drips like the boiling honey in “Honeycomb Havoc.” “Karnival Kerfuffle” gradually becomes more off-kilter with each phase, mirroring Beppi the Clown’s progression into insanity. No track utilizes musical onomatopoeias as ingeniously as “Railroad Wrath,” kicking off with plunger-muted horns to create the “wah-wah” howl of a train whistle, then chugging along with drums that mimic locomotive cylinders. 

Another subtle variation comes in the progression of the overworld themes in the Inkwell Isles. When the player starts in the first isle, where the easiest bosses reside, the music is a convivial ragtime number, like something one would hear on Main Street at Disneyland. By the time Cuphead arrives at isle three, it’s jazzier and more subdued, befitting the growing challenge and the looming final showdown just ahead. 

The Greatest Boss Gallery of All-Time

In a game that spouts creativity and idiosyncrasy in every frame, it’s easy to overlook a particularly unique component: almost all of it is composed of boss fights. Aside from a few run-and-gun stages and an occasional time-killing stage to practice parrying, Cuphead is all about its bruising clashes with the debtors. There’s no progressing through a level with the boss as the endpoint. Rather, you just walk up to their residence in a given isle, select the difficulty, and the fight begins.  

It’s a design choice that could have been risky had the boss fights not been substantive and interesting. Fortunately, the 19 baddies that populate the Inkwell Isles aren’t just memorable: they make for the greatest assortment of bosses ever realized in a video game.

Yes, you heard that right…the best. Better than any rogues gallery in Zelda, Mario, Sonic, or Mega Man. That is no small feat, but Cuphead pulled it off. The variety of its boss gallery, coupled with their surreal ingenuity, puts them at the top. 

Cumulatively, they account for just about every cartoon trope imaginable. A fire-breathing dragon who resides near a castle spire? Check. A candy princess who commands a kingdom of toothache-inducing minions? Check. A swaggering pirate with not one, but two peglegs? Check. A demented clown who’d give Pennywise the shudders? Check. A cocky trickster of a genie? Check. A cartoon mouse with a predatory cat lurking at every moment? Check. A mad scientist and his robotic brainchild? Check, check. 

In terms of design, the bosses are imbued with traits and features that provide a fresh spin on even the most standard character types. Yet it’s the progression of their fights that really provides the canvas for them to exude their demoniac brilliance. Most battles are split up into three phases (some as high as four or five), each one naturally harder than the last.

As unnerving as it is to have to stomach yet another unrelenting set of attacks, it’s a blast to see what grotesque form the boss will assume. These scoundrels are not about to hand over their soul contracts without giving it their all, and each battle’s spike in ferocity really gets the blood pumping. 

You never know what’s coming next. But it’s guaranteed to delight…and make you weep for mercy.

The bosses also compose a bulk of the best references. Cala Maria and Hilda Berg provide the inevitable allusions to Betty Boop. Dr. Kahl’s Robot is the symbiosis of the Iron Giant and Futurama’s Bender you never realized you wanted. Some references are deliciously obscure, with Grim Matchstick not only serving as the perfect dragon reference to animation legend Grim Natwick, but also echoing the Snow White maestro’s real-life stutter. On the less subtle side is King Dice, whose scatty growl, flowing zoot suit and debonair moustache are an unmistakable salute to jazz legend Cab Calloway. 

Last, but agonizingly not least, are the death taunts. Cuphead’s inevitable demise in each fight is met with a gauge measuring the exact point of the fight at which he died. There is no progression meter during the fight; you either bemoan a poor performance or rage at how close you came after the fact. As if that wasn’t enough, right above said meter is the boss’s grinning visage, with a humiliating put down to really pour some ACME salt into the wound. 

Their burns are so bad, you’ll need health insurance to cover them.

It’s bad enough you have to start the fight over right from the beginning, regardless of how far you got. But the nihilism is really drilled home by the utter disrespect leveled by your opponent. Doesn’t matter if you took them to the precipice of a knockout. They still won, and they’re not holding back on rubbing it in.   

If the animated putdowns in the Batman Arkham series make you want to get back at it, the zingers by Cuphead’s maniacal foes ignite a downright bloodlust to hit that retry button just one (or two dozen) more times to get revenge. There’s just something about the sight of their smug expression, coupled with pun-laden braggadocio, that makes defeating them less an option and more a battle of personal honor.   

Seriously…are you just going to let her get away with that?

Don’t Let the Devil Beat You: Experience, and Savor, Every Moment

Even as the art form of video games evolves year after year, they still remain a curiously disposable commodity. Titles that are hyped through the roof one year can be free-to-play or languishing in the bargain bin within months. As the brilliant Dunkey observed in his “Remakes and Remasters” video, even state-of-the-art games can become outmoded within a few years. 

Which is all the more reason to appreciate Cuphead. While it’s still a fairly recent release, the fact that it hasn’t dropped into the ether in more than two years already speaks to its staying power. By rooting itself in 30-year-old playing mechanics and 80-year-old animation techniques, it already feels timeless. This review assuredly won’t be the last hailing it as an all-time great.

If you haven’t bought Cuphead yet, there’s no better time to do it than right now. Especially in the midst of a crippling pandemic that has everyone at home on limited budgets, it offers a replete experience for just $20. It’s also been available on the Nintendo Switch for just over one year, a wise correction from its previous Xbox One exclusivity in the console realm. 

Chances are, you may already have it, but put it aside back in late 2017. It’s understandable: you were roped in by the hype and the sweet animation, but got stuck on one of the grueling late-stage bosses, and just kind of fell off it. 2017 was a year packed with great games (and an equal deluge of real-world tumult), so there was plenty of distraction at the time. 

Whether you own it or not, though, it’s time to pick it up right now. It won’t be easy. You will die, probably more than you ever have or ever will on any other game not named Dark Souls. But Cuphead seals itself as an epochal game moment because, no matter how unfair it can indeed be, it justifies its cruelty by being so immersive from beginning to end. It is something every gaming enthusiast under the sun must experience at least once in their lifetime.  

You owe it to yourself to drink in every last drop of the lovingly crafted magic of the Inkwell Isles. To fill your ears with the irresistible soundtrack and the skull-thumping din of every fight. Most of all, to fall in love with a gloriously bizarre cast of characters, who we will hopefully get to know even better whenever Netflix drops The Cuphead Show

Fire up your PC or console. Pick up your controller. 



Original Launch Trailer, 2017: