CUPHEAD | Retro cartoons meet hardcore gaming
A hectic run’n’gun videogame, a succession of boss fights that will test even the most experienced gamer, and a tribute to the American cartoons of the ’30s. Cuphead is all of this, and more.
Released in 2017, this videogame is the first work of the independent software house STUDIOMDHR. The minds behind this game are those of the Canadian brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, who conceived, developed, and first-hand published this title.
The brothers Cuphead and Mugman (playable both in the co-op mode), lose a game of dice against the Devil. The only way they can repay their debt is by collecting soul contracts from other debtors scattered around the Inkwell Isles. Unlike the simple plot, however, a premise is mandatory: Cupheadis a challenging game.
Cute but psycho
Its structure is typical of the run’n’gun games. The player’s character runs on foot and uses weapons. Although Cuphead is focused almost entirely on complex, multi-stage boss fights where the “try and error” mood holds sway. There are 28 bosses with at least three phases each. They are animated in an original way with patterns, maps, and unique artwork inside them. Also, after every defeat, the game shows how much was missing to complete the challenge, pushing the player to do better.
Cuphead is one of those games in which, no matter how difficult and how much concentration it might require, it is the artwork that keeps things moving forward, in the quest to find out how the new boss will be. This is because the game, its artwork, and its packaging is essentially a love letter from the authors to their greatest passion, the American cartoons of the 1930s.
A retro game in every way
Moldenhauer brothers take inspiration from the classics of animation of that era, the works of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. But in particular from those of another pair of brothers – Max and Dave Fleischer of Fleischer Studios, Inc., chief competitors of Walt Disney and creators of some iconical characters (Betty Boop, Popeye…).
Among anthropomorphic objects, characters with movements ranging from caricatural slapstick to the most absurdly psychedelic plunge the player into myriad quotes and references to that iconic world throughout the gaming experience. However, this passionate tribute is not limited only to style and citations.
Cuphead is an almost artisanal work. Every single thing that shows on the screen was made by hand, originally, following the traditional animation style of that time. The “old cartoon vibes“ also extend to the soundtrack of the game, composed in a perfect jazz and ragtime mood. The last feeling the player has is to literally play a cartoon –a brutal one.
In fact, despite being born as a 100% indie title, Cuphead set itself some very high objectives, all of which it achieved. The art direction speaks to the heart of the most hardened gamers, to all those who loved the animation of the golden age of American cartoons.
Their authors knew how to work with love and seriousness without pursuing profit. They realized a fearless video game that has managed to earn the respect of an entire sector and not only. In fact, an animated TV series called The Cuphead Show! arrived on Netflix in February 2022.