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Cuphead PS4 review – a hot cup of old timey action


Cuphead – don’t mug it off (pic: Studio MDHR)

After becoming a cult classic on Xbox One and Switch, 2D shooter Cuphead finally arrives on PS4 and it’s just as good as ever.

The history of indie gaming is filled with unexpected success stories, but Cuphead is up there with the best of them. Canadian developer Studio MDHR had never released a game before and yet they decided to start with a homage to old school 2D shooters using an art style inspired by even older school cartoons from the 1930s. Although the most incredible thing is at that point they knew absolutely nothing about traditional animation. Several years later and they produced one of the most visual distinctive games of the current generation – and now it’s finally on PlayStation 4.

Cuphead started off as an Xbox exclusive, before slowly migrating to the PC and then Nintendo Switch, where by that point it had become famous enough to earn a costume in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and a cartoon series on Netflix. This PlayStation 4 version isn’t quite the end of its story though as there’s still a DLC expansion to be released yet, which, like the main game, has been delayed several times already.

Purely from a visual perspective, Cuphead is a remarkable work of art, mimicking the creepy animation style of early cinema perfectly and filled with characters and situations that are just as surreal, as you fight everything from animated vegetables to balloon clowns and the devil himself. Apart from some strangely weedy sound effects the presentation is absolutely pitch perfect and almost worth the price of entry before you consider what the game itself is like.

In gameplay terms Cuphead is heavily influenced by late ‘80s/early ‘90s 2D shooters such as Contra and Metal Slug. But while there are a few side-scrolling layers peppered throughout the game these are merely palette cleansers, as most levels are elongated boss encounters. The whole game is essentially a boss rush mode, which again is a very risky thing to attempt as Western developers have a pretty abysmal track record when it comes to mimicking Japanese style boss battles – and yet Cuphead nails it almost every time.

The visual diversity of the enemies you face is matched by their own unique abilities and tactics, with some relying on hordes of underlings, some forcing you into on-rails shooter sequences reminiscent of Gradius et al., and others being almost puzzle-like in terms of the steps you must take to defeat them. Although the one thing they all have in common is that they’re mercilessly difficult, even on the lowest possible setting.

It’s a contentious issue, but we always felt the difficulty was just a little too perverse in Cuphead, although since its release we’ve heard many stories of people who have conquered it despite never having any experience with such games and generally not considering themselves to be especially skilled.

What the game’s design excels at is making every new encounter seem absolutely impossible the first couple of tries, until gradually you learn the enemy’s weaknesses and tells, and what first seemed hopeless eventually becomes almost trivial – at least compared to whatever comes next. (Although we still think the run ‘n’ gun sections, with the instantly respawning enemies, are a step too far and would’ve been a lot more fun if they’d been dialled back just a little.)

There’s no attempt to change anything in the PlayStation 4 version, which given the game’s success makes complete sense. As you’d expect, Sony’s console has no problem running the game, so this is to all extents and purposes identical to the previous releases. The original Xbox One version is getting an update in the future, that adds a digital art gallery and behind the scenes commentary, so we assume that will also eventually make it to the PlayStation 4 as well, but that’s it in terms of new content.

It’s taken three years for Cuphead to become truly multiformat and we’ve enjoyed replaying it every time. Ironically, a game which looks so far back in time for inspiration, for both its visuals and its gameplay, already feels timeless and makes us very eager to experience whatever comes next from both the developer and Cuphead and Mugman themselves.

CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL FULL REVIEW OF CUPHEAD



Cuphead PS4 review summary

In Short: One of the best 2D shooters of the modern era is also one of the most visually distinctive games of the whole generation, and a stunning work of imagination on every level.

Pros: Amazing visuals, from both a design and artistic perspective. Wonderfully varied boss battles with barely a dud in the whole game. Huge amount of content and near perfect presentation.

Cons: The difficulty level is absolutely brutal from the first moment, even on the supposedly easier mode, and it’s often hard to justify why. Strangely ineffectual sound effects.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Price: £15.99
Publisher: Studio MDHR
Developer: Studio MDHR
Release Date: 28th July 2020
Age Rating: 7

Cuphead – you may find it’s just your cup of tea (pic: Studio MDHR)

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