Two brothers founded Studio MDHR, the independent Canadian game studio behind Cuphead. Cuphead, the studio’s first game follows two brothers (Cuphead and Mugman) who gamble their souls away in a casino owned by the Devil. To win their souls back, the two brothers must collect the souls of others who lost it all in the Devil’s casino. Players are tasked with shooting, jumping, and dodging their way through a litany of unrelenting boss battles to capture the souls of the Devil’s debtors.
The gameplay is brutally difficult. Each boss has its own attacks, patterns, and weaknesses, and in order to be successful, players must memorize them all. As in the Dark Souls series, dying is part of the process. To see a boss’s entire arsenal, players must live, progress a little bit, and die, live, progress a little further, and die again, and so on. Each death ends in a little progress bar, telling you just how close you came to claiming the boss’s soul.
Cuphead isn’t completely heartless (or should I say soulless, heh), though. In between boss battles, players can complete a string of platforming levels that offer coins upon completion. These coins can be used to upgrade Cuphead’s various attributes (and Mugman’s, too, should you choose to play with a friend). Players can buy new attack types, extra lives, or special abilities from a vendor, making each boss more manageable. Certain bosses will make you want to quit, but the art design will make you want to see all the game has to offer.
Just as Cuphead’s gameplay harkens back to the difficult games of old, the game’s art style (perhaps its singular defining trait) does the same. You may recognize Cuphead’s animation style as something out an early Disney cartoon like Steamboat Willy, and you would be right. Cuphead is hand-drawn in the style of American toons from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Developed by four people over the course of five years, the game is a sight to behold.
The game might be a constant challenge, but its rewarding gameplay and gorgeous art make it a struggle worth enduring.