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X16 Preview: Cuphead

Like any great run and gun action franchise, Cuphead challenges players to die, jump and die again to learn how the many creatures in the game work.

 

I was excited to see Cuphead on the showroom floor at X16 in Toronto. Last year, I only briefly got a chance to play it, so I was determined to take another stab.

 

Cuphead is really a mishmash of Megaman, Super Mario and Steam Boat Willy. Controlling the titular character is pretty simple, in fact we forwent the tutorial because I remembered how to play from the year prior. Jump and shoot. That's really all you need to know to start playing.

 

We started our playthrough on the first run and gun level. It's a stroll through the forest, but everything can and will kill you.

There's giant flowers that rush at you, mushrooms that shoot slime, even explosives pedals.

 

It's remarkable how fast you begin losing health. To make matters worse you don't start off with a lot - just 3 HP. You're only hope is to time your jumps and to shoot at oncoming enemies.

 

Hopefully your partner can stay alive longer than mine did. Sorry, Player Two. The game does offer a way to bring back your fallen teammate, but at a cost. As long as the remaining player has more than one hit point, you can expend it and bring them back.

 

Unfortunately for me, it falls on the dead player to decide whether to use up what remaining HP there is. Having revived herself, we both died.

 

Developer Studio MDHR kept the demo about the same as last year, with the exception of item purchasing. My Player Two and I were both given six coins to spend on ability upgrades.

 

It's largely just simple stuff. For us it meant grabbing a little more health and a homing shot, which brings our bullets towards a target.

With our new found upgrades, we moved to a different part of the map.

 

A big part of Cuphead is the boss battles. So that's where we headed next. Our battlefield is a beautiful and colourful backyard garden. It should be said that everything in this game is gorgeous. Studio MDHR made all the right decision when deciding the style of this game.

 

It's the only reason a massive potato can be considered a menacing and destructive foe.

 

Again, our focus is on jumping and shooting. Timing is everything, but thankfully the boss's attacks are a little more predictable.

 

The potato shoots bits of dirt and worms. There's a few seconds between each projectile; enough time to jump and land a few shots. Player Two is keeping up with me this time and we quickly bake that spud. Potato jokes folks.

 

With the first round done, a giant carrot appears. It's eyes spin with madness and again I'm left in awe over the art.

 

The carrots attacks are easy to read and we were able to land some quick shots, but we couldn't keep up the coordination. We were both misstepping -- jumping into the carrot's attack instead of away. Again Player Two expends my HP, and within seconds were dead.

 

We tried both levels a number of times afterwards, but always the same result.

 

But Cuphead isn't a game that fills you with frustration. We were laughing. Each death sillier than the last. We were learning, having fun, and making small leaps of progress.

 

We were never able to complete either level, but that was fine. By the end, I was left wanting to finish the game with a partner. Studio MDHR makes it pretty clear how important cooperation is, but by no means do you need a partner to play this game. I just felt the joy of having someone experience this adventure with and it's a feeling I think most would want.

 

The hype for Cuphead is well deserved and I'm excited to see the finished project later this year on Xbox One and PC.