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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Studio MDHR
Release Date: Sept. 29, 2017


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XOne/PC Preview - 'Cuphead'

by Adam Pavlacka on Sept. 20, 2017 @ 12:10 a.m. PDT

Cuphead is a single-player or co-op run-and-gun platformer is heavily focused on boss battles.

Pre-order Cuphead

It has been more than three years since Cuphead was announced at E3 2014, but the game's release is just around the corner. I spent some time with a few levels at a recent Xbox One X event and walked away impressed. Cuphead may be difficult and demanding, but the game also feels incredibly fair.

The best comparisons one can make to explain the gameplay of Cuphead are classic shoot-'em-ups (like Gradius) and run-and-guns (like Contra). Popular in the '80s and '90s, these games didn't have the hand-holding of many of today's titles, instead relying on intricately balanced gameplay to keep the player's interest. That's exactly what I saw at the demo event.

When I walked up to the Cuphead demo station, another writer was already playing. After watching him try to beat a specific level for a bit, he asked if I wanted to join in and play some co-op. Not wanting to miss a chance for some game time, I immediately grabbed a controller.

Having grown up with this style of game, getting to grips with Cuphead's control scheme was pretty straightforward. The challenge came not in the strength of enemies (at least not in the stage that we were playing), but rather in how they attacked. Survival was dependent on recognizing patterns and maneuvering through the oncoming enemies at speed. You couldn't just sit still and slowly advance. Cuphead requires you to keep moving.

My first few attempts resulted in fairly quick deaths, but after that, making it through the level wasn't an impossible task. It was easily repeatable, even if getting a high score wasn't quite within reach.

What stood out the most though, was how much Cuphead motivated my partner to keep trying. While I had beaten the level, he kept dying before the end, but he wasn't frustrated. Much like those older games from which Cuphead takes inspiration, the deaths simply motivated him to try again and play more. Even after we switched levels so I could try something new, he was still motivated to go back and try again.

It's that motivation to keep trying that is the hallmark of finely honed gameplay. A short demo isn't enough to make a final judgment, but if the full version of Cuphead can maintain that same level of polish, then the developers have a hit on their hands. Sure, the visuals look amazing, and the sound design complements the look and feel of the game, but all of that is secondary to a solid gameplay hook, which Cuphead seems to have nailed.

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