Back in the NES and SNES era, sidescroller shooter platforms where a very popular genre, and just like Beat ’em Ups, they just became better with the 16-Bits generation of consoles, but around the time 3D games became the standard, the likes of Contra and Metal Slug were forgotten… Until now.
Game: Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil [PC – Xbox One]
Genre: Run and Gun
Release Date: September 29, 2017
Gameplay – 8
Cuphead works just like classic 2D games where you took control of a tiny soldier against a whole army. You move around with the left stick, have a button to shoot, another one to jump, and like Mega Man and a few other shoot ’em up titles, you also have a dash ability. And that’s it, the rest is pure arcade skills you have to put into use.
Like Super Mario Bros. 3, you have a world map and can go into stores to buy new weapons, and power ups such an extra life or some other helpful item that can make surviving easier. Because the gaming press wasn’t exaggerating, this game is HARD.
There are a few side scrolling levels with many dangers to overcome, like jumping over bottomless pits and fighting lots of cartoony monsters, but most stages are actually just a boss fight, where you’ll have to point with your finger and magically shoot tiny energy dots at a huge animated creature for quite a while until you deplete all its health points.
Like boss fights from classic games of the genre, they have a pattern of attack, and you just have to learn it in order to avoid taking damage and hurt them instead. After taking some hits, say, about 1/3 of their healths, the bosses will change their pattern and try a different way of attacking you to caught you off guard, but if you’re a seasoned Run and Gun player, they shouldn’t be as hard to beat as let’s players on youtube make it out to be.
Besides controlling Cuphead and Mugman walking around, there are also stages where you control an airplane, making this game more like classic space shooters such as Gradius (and just as challenging), with the added ability to shrink down in size in order to avoid whatever that weird Mermaid/Giant Squid chick throws at you (the one that looks like Toot Braunstein from Drawn Together).
Graphics – 9.5
The are a lot of indie games that try to be like Contra and imitate the graphics of Metal Slug, but they get ignored by the mainstream gaming press, but make a colorful 1930’s animation visual style, and everybody will be talking about you.
Cuphead does look great in HD, like watching an animated short from over 80 years ago that used technicolor. The character designs are wacky and over the top, and they just have so many animation frames and are so expressive that you’ll probably be entertained just watching somebody else play it on the internet.
The backgrounds also look like old Warner/Disney cartoons, like detailed static paintings behind bright moving characters. And the text font also looks from 193X
Story / Presentation – 7
Just like most 2D games from around 1990, the story is just an excuse for having a couple of heroes facing off all kind of weird beings in a strange world. Most players will probably skip the “cut scenes” (actually just text dialogues some characters says, like back when games weren’t on CD).
Audio – 8
Cuphead Original Soundtrack consists of swing songs, piano pieces and stuff your grandparents used to hear at dances when they were dating. And just like the graphics have an option for old film filter, the music sounds like its being played from an old vinyl record. You may even feel familiar by listening some tunes you used to hear from early Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry shorts.
Replay Value – 4
I remember back in middle school, I used to go and drop a quarter into Metal Slug 2, X, 3 at the Arcades every day before going home after class. I tried to last as long as I could with just one credit, and only continued if I reached Level 4 or somewhere I haven’t reached before. That was replay value. Cuphead doesn’t really have that.
If I had to restart the game every time I lost 3 lives and 3 continues, I’ll give up, since this game isn’t as addictive as that Neo-Geo classic; the run n gun levels are just way too short, and it’s not like they have bonus secrets like in that SNK masterpiece people still play today on Steam or on their smartphones.
If I happen to play at a friend’s house that already has all levels unlocked, I would try each one for a couple more times if I lost, and leave it at that, because Cuphead just doesn’t have the level of addictiveness great 2D platformers have. And it’s not like the “side objectives” like jumping on the pink stuff in some levels would want to make you play the same level again.
Most players will probably never beat it, and those that do won’t feel like going at it again, unless it’s with a friend and just for the lulz. Contra 4 on Nintendo DS make you go back all the way to Level 1 after the Game Over, I beat it, put it on Hard Mode, and tried to beat it for a bout 2 weeks. Yeah, it’s that awesome. If I had to do the same with Cuphead, I’d probably just end up sending Konami letters to ask for Contra 5 on Switch. Capcom already brought us Mega Man Legacy Collection with the original series (plus Mega Man 11) and also the X series, no case bothering them for now. Maybe we’ll finally get X9.
If you were expecting a huge adventure with long challenging levels like Metal Slug 3 and Contra 4, you’ll be disappointed, since this game is mostly just a Boss Rush with a few traditional sidescroller stages thrown into the mix, and it isn’t as hard as everybody makes it out to be. If you’re used to Ninja Gaiden, 8-Bit Batman Games and all those titles that were actually tough, Cuphead won’t keep you busy for more than a friday night of gaming.
Judgement – 8
Good thing this game came out and got so popular, so more indie developers and maybe even the huge video game companies will give this kind of projects a chance.
This genre was mostly extinct, and it came back with a blast, but if it weren’t for the graphics, it would’ve been ignored by the media. And maybe the hype was just too much for the end product we ended up receiving.
Game play wise it has nothing against the classic games of the genre, but it’s a nice experience none less, and for its asking price, I’ll say go for it.