Cuphead: 10/10

Cuphead is easily the most challenging game I have ever played.

The game starts by showing how Cuphead and his pal Mugman got themselves into their predicament—a lost bet with the Devil in his casino. After some pleading, the Devil agrees to spare their souls on the condition that they rough up some people who owe the Devil money. They agree to the Devil’s terms and set out on their journey.

The main purpose of the game is to beat all the bosses. These bosses are extremely well designed. From the character design, to the animations, to the mechanics, everything is perfect. They also vary wildly in those aspects. A few examples are a big, green dragon flying through the clouds, an insane clown on a roller coaster, a couple of bouncer frogs on a casino boat, a telekinetic carrot in a field, and a shape-shifting blimp lady. Every fight is different from the last, and a completely new challenge.

And what a challenge they are. The initial impression of a new boss is, “How in the world am I ever going to beat this?” Then the deaths happen, first a few right at the start of the match, then the deaths start happening later and later until the first phase is defeated! Too bad there are usually two or three more phases left in the fight. By the time the final phase is reached, the first phase is a breeze and the second phase an enjoyable challenge, but the final phase is pure torture.

At this point comes the majority of the deaths and retries. It gets so difficult because the first two phases have to be passed perfectly in order to have any chance of surviving long enough to learn the mechanics of the last phase. With so many projectiles flying across the screen, having to dodge them and still land on a part of the map that won’t instantly kill you, all while watching and listening for the next set of attacks, but still trying to dodge the first, the deaths rack up quickly.

Finally, by some stroke of pure luck, “KNOCKOUT” rings out and pops up on the screen. A rush comes as the realization hits that, after fighting this insane clown for two hours, he has been defeated—it makes everything so worth it. I normally have to take a break after this happens to just reset myself and prepare for the next one.

I have not yet beat the game, but I am slightly scared of what is to come. It took me 80 deaths to complete the first island of five bosses, I am already at 100 deaths for the second island, and I have only defeated one of the bosses there. That is not including the hundreds of times I have restarted a battle after losing a health point early on. With a third island and a finale left, I know the difficulty is going to ramp up further to extreme levels that I am not sure I can physically beat. I am definitely looking forward to the challenge though.

A review of this game would not be complete without a discussion of its art style. It is a 1930s cartoon in a video game; nothing like it has ever been done in the gaming industry. Every character, background, and animation was hand drawn exactly as it would have been in the 30s—that means 32 drawings for a single animation. Every boss has a multitude of different mechanics and environments, which means that thousands, if not tens of thousands, of images were drawn for this game. Another important aspect of the art is the music of the game. Every piece of music was recorded using a live jazz band which, again, was based on the 1930s sound.

This game has been a breath of fresh air for me. The gameplay and art style are so unique, and it does not have a single microtransaction anywhere in it—something I cannot say about many AAA games coming out this year. For only $20, it is a great purchase that I would recommend to anybody who likes an extreme challenge.