Reminiscent of games like Contra, StudioMDHR's Cuphead is a run 'n gun platformer with a steep but satisfying learning curve, and it's got one of the most unique aesthetics I've seen in a game to date. Inspired by both retro games and 1930s cartoons, Cuphead is endearing, but also so brutally hard that I kept dying over and over again -- and that's far from a bad thing.
Cuphead is a difficult game, but in an incredibly satisfying way. As I struggled to even make it through the first level, I was hit with a wave of joy when I finally beat it. My tiny Cuphead character waved his arms around and cheered, as if he were as happy as I was for the success. In the demo I played, I got to try the opening level solo, and two boss battles in co-op.
With infinite enemies coming at you without pause, Cuphead keeps you on your feet. You can swap between two attacks at a time, which in the demo included both blue and red projectiles. Swapping is essential: I learnt quickly that the blue attack was best at long distance, and the red attack has a larger area of effect. At the end of each stage, you're graded on how well you do, but that doesn't involve just surviving or how quickly you beat it. For example, you can accumulate extra points and fill up a special attack meter by hitting color coded objects with a parry ability.
You can watch some edited gameplay down below, which shows off the first level as well as two boss battles in co-op.
The hand-drawn animations are a joy to watch, with enemies disappearing into a cloud of cartoonish smoke when defeated and Cuphead's hand in a finger gun motion as he shoots. The bosses are goofy but monstrous, including oversized vegetables like a crying onion and a carrot that shoots tiny carrot missiles. These fights have you keenly learn your enemy's attack patterns, which requires a lot of dodging and quick thinking.
As for music, Cuphead's soundtrack is based off old jazz recordings, and these fast-paced tunes work fantastically to amp up the action. This only added to my immersion, and even without sound, I was already completely enthralled by the game's wackiness.
I didn't want to stop playing, even despite its brutal difficulty. Each time I died, I was eager to return to the whimsical world and try my luck again. Cuphead has a wonderfully addictive feel to it, and I look forward to its release, which is September 29 for Xbox One and PC.