Gamescom hands-on: Cuphead

Allow me to give you a preview of what you can expect from Cuphead…


You died. Try again?
You died. Try again?
You died. Try again?
You died. Try again?
You died. Try again?

I know it sounds horrible but it’s really not the case. The hand drawn, 1950s cartoon inspired, side scrolling, bullet-hell cum platformer was an E3 darling two years ago. Since then the game has evolved significantly growing from what was seven boss-driven encounters into a larger, Super Mario World like experience.

The new, beautifully illustrated, open world allows you to travel from level to level in a fashion not unlike the more recent Shovel Knight. The traversable map is populated with unlikely characters of friend and foe all styled in the same 1950s fashion that further add to the charm of the game.

Available to me for my hands on were two levels in solo mode. One resembled the more familiar scenes we’ve seen from Cuphead since its announcement. A bullet-hell side scroller where your character is flying a small plane, doing its best to navigate the throng of enemies, their bullets and ultimately the boss encounter and its demise. For those of you as old as me it felt very similar to R-Type of decades ago, albeit under the guise of a much more beautiful, whimsical world.

The second was that more akin to a standard platformer. A series of enemies appear from all directions, each with their own unique patterns of movement and attack that make what appears as the simple to be quite the opposite.

The platformer level was the one I spent the most time with. Jumping in you quickly learn the four quadrants of health your character has wont go far at all. Even equipped with your own gun to fight back without a lot of patience and careful study of the level’s enemies you wont get far.

That wont stop you trying though and if you’re anything like me you’ll dive in. It’s a platformer, how hard can it be right? Ten minutes later you’ve either figured out that you’re now playing the Dark Souls of platformers and you’re going to have to study each moment, take it slowly, act when you only need to and minimise your risk and need for progression at any cost or you’ve thrown your controller through the screen and you’ll never play it again.

That’s OK though and to be honest it’s part of the game’s abundant charm. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and nor does it need to be, but its inherent difficulty shouldn’t discourage you from giving the game a go.

As I went through my 20 minute play session it took me just under 15 to complete the first level. The first five of that was basically me throwing myself on a sword, bashing my head against a wall. It’s only then that things started to fall into place. The next ten minutes were then completely different. I slowed things down and spent it carefully traversing the level, discovering its nuances finally completing it in one perfect (well, almost I had 1 bar of health left) play through of less than three minutes.

Unfortunately I was unable to try out the local co-op version of the game. There’s a revival mechanic in co-op which I believe will make the game far more palpable to those avert to the solo challenge.

Cuphead is a gorgeous, darling, indie title that is out in a few weeks on September 29th on Xbox One, Windows 10 and Steam.