Cuphead is a hard-as-nails platformer but also a beautifully crafted modern take on what made classic cartoons so appealing.
Upon first view, it’s easy to see Cuphead’’s inspirations. Cartoons from the thirties such as Mickey Mouse and Popeye help define the over-the-top stylings of the characters Cuphead and Mugman, and due to the lack of restriction of what defined character animation at the time — they were making it up as they went — the game resulted in a relatively free space to design and implement whatever they wanted.
Boss designs are the primary challenge in Cuphead, with most levels cutting to the chase and putting you immediately face to face with the oversized baddies. Each one of their designs has multiple phases, and each section of the fight is meticulously designed to provide both a particular dance that tells what the boss is about to do, along with a visual treat of seeing these amazingly crafted characters bounce and bob about the screen. Unlike most insanely difficult boss fights who have you spending most of your time training your eyes on the projectiles they throw, this requires you to follow the motions of the bosses with your eyes, and therefore allows you to appreciate the detail even more. A blue slime whose quick demise leads him to chase you around the screen as a tombstone; a pair of frolicking frog fighters that spin and weave with grace; or a Medusa-esque mermaid, whose snake-filled hair even gets it on the battle; the design work is as interesting to watch as it is to fight.
The music in Cuphead also makes up the rest of the experience and it does so very well! The jazz-band tracks add the perfect groove to the action and make the feel of authenticity that much stronger. The audio grain from classic film is added as a mask over the game’s sounds, along with an intentional visual gaffe of adding film grain, dust and lines to the visuals. Each character is hand-drawn, adding to the authenticity of the look, with crisp thick outlines and bright colors that pop against the more detailed backgrounds. Each screenshot comes out as a frameable work of art, and even though the game itself is tough, the controls are more than fair, making this platformer a finely tuned creation.
I personally would love to rent out a classic theater, hook up a console to a modern projector and play Cuphead multiplayer on the big screen — it only seems fitting to do so. The dedication to maintain an authentic experience can be seen in every single frame of animation and the whole package comes off as a homage to a brilliant era of entertainment that helped people dealing with the Great Depression forget about their sorrows for awhile. Some of Cuphead’s harder bosses might give you depression, but that’s besides the point. It’s difficult to describe a game that just has to be experienced to enjoy, so check it out for yourself, and relive what made classic animation so great: grand imagination.