Tag Archives: platformer

REVIEW: Cuphead

REVIEW: CUPHEAD

Platform: PC/Steam/Xbox One

Developer: Studio MDHR

Hours Played to Finish: 7 ½

Cuphead start screen

“Cuphead” is a 2D run and gun video game that utilizes an art style which harkens back to cartoon animation from nearly 90 years ago. Mimicking 1930’s-era cartoons, (Looney Tunes, Mickey Mouse) “Cuphead” wears its inspiration on its sleeve; however, it provides enough reasons beyond its gorgeous visuals to warrant a purchase and see what this long-awaited indie game has to offer.

Cuphead drawing

Since its worldwide reveal in June 2014, “Cuphead” has garnered a respectable amount of press in video games media. Fans have been looking forward to playing the game for years, and with the impressive visual style nailed, it feels good to say that the game offers more than just pretty graphics. Running at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, direct control of the action feels good from the get-go. The player’s basic abilities are to jump, shoot, and air-dash to the goal. There are some unique abilities thrown into the mix, such as the ‘parry slap’ which offers a defensive maneuver against certain enemy projectiles, but for the most part, the gameplay sticks to traditional run-and-gun action. Purchasing new types of blasters at the in-game store offers some variety to experiment with different play styles, which is always appreciated. Holding the right bumper allows the player to remain still and fire in any pointed direction without moving, which is a very welcome mechanic in any 2D run-and-gun game, “Cuphead” included.

Cuphead cake boss

“Cuphead” is a punishing game, offering zero checkpoints in any of its levels, boss fights included. This will turn certain players away, but thankfully the game offers two different difficulty modes to play around with. There is also a co-operative element in the game, giving two players the ability to play together throughout the entire experience.

Cuphead wallpaper

The player controls the aptly-named Cuphead as he and his pal Mugman go on an adventure to collect souls for the Devil, in an effort to preserve their own souls from his control. It’s a wacky introduction that feels right at home with the classic cartoons that the game looks fondly upon. While the storytelling throughout the adventure is bare-bones, the framework is strong enough to keep the player motivated to press forward in the quest to save Cuphead and Mugman.

Cuphead medusa boss

The majority of levels in “Cuphead” are boss fights, with the remaining levels consisting of run-and-gun stages in the vein of classic Mega Man or Contra games. The boss fights are the best part of the game, showcasing hectic action that forces the player to rethink their strategy multiple times during a single battle. Boss fights progress in phases as they take damage, changing up their appearance and arsenal. For example, there is one level that has Cuphead chasing a runaway train overtaken by ghosts, with the giant boss ghost throwing his never-ending arsenal of eyeballs at the player as they jump out of harm’s way. When the boss ghost takes enough damage, he transforms into a large skeleton, forcing the player to adapt to the skeleton’s new battle tactics to win. It’s wacky, silly, and feels just right in the game’s world. That isn’t even the craziest boss fight in the game, but it’s one that stands out.

 

Unfortunately, the remaining levels that aren’t boss fights are a letdown. These levels involve the player running from point A to point B, defeating small enemies and sometimes facing mini-bosses along the way. Most of the environments these levels take place in feel uninspired, with forgettable enemies and some frustrating areas that become tedious due to a total lack of checkpoints. A lack of checkpoints doesn’t ruin the experience, but having a single mid-level save would be appreciated. While these levels aren’t necessarily bad, they pale in comparison to the stellar boss battles, and it’s obvious that these levels weren’t the development team’s primary focus. A soundtrack that will be described as passable is also present, feeling true to the time period that is being paid homage, but not offering a memorable tune that sticks after the finale.

Cuphead title banner

After numerous delays and years of extended development, the developers at Studio MDHR have managed to make “Cuphead” the game that they always wanted to create. It’s been said many times before, but the visual style that the game boasts is breathtaking and one of the most unique graphical styles that has been seen in many years. The platforming levels may be disappointing, but the experience as a whole oozes with personality and flavor. Offering dozens of stellar boss battles, a charming cast, and simply breathtaking visuals that rival the best looking games of this console generation, “Cuphead” isn’t an experience I’ll be forgetting anytime soon.

 

Thanks for reading, guys. I’m looking forward to writing more game reviews for my University, as it’ll help me gain a stronger writing style. Hope you all have a great week.

  • Matt

 

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Update: Somewhat-Exciting News & Incoming Review

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Hey folks, Matt here. I just wanted to share a bit of news that I’m excited about. The University I currently attend has an online, student-run newspaper, and I’ll be contributing to it! My first review will be, you guessed it, a game review, and it’ll release there early next week, probably on Tuesday. My first review will be on Cuphead, the long-awaited PC and Xbox 2D platformer that was initially shown off fifteen years ago. Well, maybe it wasn’t quite fifteen years, maybe three years ago, but it feels like longer than that! Anyway, I’ll be publishing my review on here per usual, but I’ve also got it coming to a different website as well. This isn’t the first time I’ve written articles for an ‘official’ paper, as I used to write for my previous University’s student-managed newspaper – but this is still a fun venture that I’m excited to be part of. Reaching the goal takes one step at a time, and this is another step that will help me reach my dream job.

Anyway, look out for that Cuphead review on the horizon. I’ll upload it here next week on Tuesday night. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

  • Matt

Extended Thoughts – GONNER

Gonner banner

Hi everyone! Yesterday, I went back to read my early impressions of Gonner for the Nintendo Switch, and I did not like the piece that I published. It felt rather rushed and didn’t really provide a compelling argument for why I enjoy the game. Here I’ll attempt to give a more thorough understanding as to what Gonner does right and wrong, and why I’m still hooked on this game. If you want an understanding of the basic premise and mechanics within Gonner, feel free to check out my first post about the game from about a week ago.

 

Every time I start playing Gonner, I can’t put the game down for at least a solid thirty minutes, if not longer. Every run through this rogue-lite is exciting, and as you progress further in each run of the game, more combat and maneuverability options become available to the player. Certain collectible skulls offer increased or decreased health, depending on the other perks they offer. Jumping, shooting, wall-hopping, and bouncing on enemies’ heads all feels great to do, featuring a sharp level of control while still giving the player a tiny sense of floatiness to their actions. I do feel like the player should be capable of shooting straight upward, as oftentimes there are enemies that fly straight down making it difficult to dodge them in a way that made these fights feel unfair. However, these scenarios are usually avoidable by being especially careful around flying foes. Eventually the player will learn the battle patterns that each enemy possesses and how best to counter their attacks.

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Not all weapon and ability combinations work well together, and the player will have to do plenty of experimentation to figure out their preferred play style. An interesting (if sometimes frustrating) mechanic in Gonner is when the player is hurt by an enemy attack, they have to manually pick up their skull, weapon, and ability item back up from the ground. Until they pick these items back up, the player can no longer use their items. This leaves the player at a major disadvantage, and they will quickly learn to anticipate where their items may fall if they take a hit.

Gonner shot

A merchant opens up their shop before every boss fight, and gearing up for each battle provides health replenishment and weapon changes at the cost of the in-game currency. That in-game currency is earned in a satisfying manner; not just by killing enemies, but by killing enemies in rapid succession. Every five enemies downed rewards a purple block, and these are used to revive the player and also as shop currency. Remember in my previous post when I said that Gonner teaches very little to the player, besides the basic controls? No? Well, that’s what I briefly mentioned, and it took me several hours of playing to discover that the in-game currency is earned this way. This lack of explanation may perhaps be frustrating to some, but I enjoy discovering game mechanics on my own, so it was fun exploring my options and figuring out how to survive.

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I think the biggest praise I can give to Gonner is that its art style is absolutely gorgeous. The game goes for a minimalistic look, with many walls and floors forming around the player as they progress through each area. Enemies, for the most part, appear far ahead to the player’s vision, so they do not often appear instantly and hurt the player, feeling unfair. Each set of levels, after every 3 levels or so, features a certain color pallette, changing to a very different look upon progressing to the next set of levels. With this in mind, I think the art style serves the game quite well. As the player’s kill combo reaches higher from defeating enemies, the in-game music rapidly picks up speed, encouraging even faster progression for the reward of more purple blocks. For new players, they will probably want to focus more on survival than speed, but once I got a feeling for the first few stages, it felt great to fly through and kill as many enemies in quick succession as possible.

 

Sound and music design is also solid, featuring an abstract tune for each set of levels, fitting the style of play and colors on display. Each shot fired from the player’s ranged weapon gives a satisfying pop, and enemies are blasted away in a smattering of red paste. Combat feels good, and the sound effects from both the weapons and enemies keeps me coming back for more. I do wish that enemies pushed off of ledges into bottomless pits counted toward the score multiplier; as it is now, they simply disappear, offering no extra points for you throwing them off the edge.

Gonner title

If anything that I wrote here sounded intriguing, definitely give this game a look. As of this writing it is available for Nintendo Switch, Windows, and Mac, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t make its way over to PS4 or Xbox One at some point. I’ve only reached the fourth set of levels, but I plan to keep playing and see what the end of the game has to offer.

 

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. Please feel free to provide any criticism, constructive or otherwise, to my writing. I’m always looking to improve. Have a great week!

 

  • Matt