HandsOn Cuphead is Retro Cartoons Meets Retro Games

first_imgStay on target Hands-On: ‘Stranded Sails’ Is a Relaxing Farm Sim AdventureHands-On: ‘Sparklite’ Is a Fun Zelda-Inspired Roguelike Cuphead, if you couldn’t already tell, is an absolutely gorgeous video game. When we all saw the first few snippets of its stunning recreation of classic cartoon art styles during Microsoft’s 2014 E3 press conference, it immediately became one of the gaming community’s most anticipated indie titles.After three long years of waiting, Cuphead is now only days away. I got to play what had to be a near-final version of the Xbox One/PC platformer at a recent Microsoft event and learned some more about the artistry behind it.The goal was always for Cuphead to be a full-fledged adventure, according to artist and producer Maja Moldenhauer. But at first the team at Studio MDHR didn’t believe they could pull off that kind of scope with its initial resources. It’s like making a stop-motion short vs something like Kubo and the The Two Strings. The amount of meticulous extra work required would be exponentially increased.That’s why originally Cuphead was just going to be a collection of boss battles, stunning boss battles, but just boss battles all the same. After launch, the team would then expand the game with more traditional levels you’d expect from the classic shooters Cuphead pays homage to like Contra and Gunstar Heroes. However, the game earned so much goodwill after its debut, as well as extra support from Microsoft, that the version launching later this September is much more complete out of the gate.If the art is anything to go by, those extra months of work certainly haven’t been wasted. Moldenhaur explained how the number of hand-drawn and animated 2D frame went from 15,000 to 120,000. Furthermore, the game is nothing but original backgrounds, some made using rotoscoped real objects. And while the colors are digital, that decision was made after tests showed the end visual result would be no different from something analog.Even if you don’t have an animation background, anyone who looks at Cuphead can’t help but notice how much craft has been put into its aesthetic. Colorful characters chock full of personality constantly pour onto the screen to squash and stretch and shake their noodle limbs. Expressive faces shift from devious to shocked to ecstatic. Film grain and energetic jazz music transports you to the slightly naughty, feverish pre-Disney cartoon time period (hopefully without the racism).I don’t think my writing is good enough to convey the visual splendor. Seeing the pretty stills is one thing but seeing the game in motion is transformative. Cuphead is so hypnotic to look at it’s almost distracting.Distraction is fatal though since Cuphead is also brutally difficult. While its art style takes inspiration from old cartoons of the 30s, its gameplay is ripped straight out of old games of the 1980s. Along with the dancing drawings the screen is a nonstop Hell of bullets, either the ones coming from numerous enemies or the ones your twitching fingers are shooting right back at them. It’s relentless.In these early stages, I could aim in any direction and fire either a stream of standard long-range shots or closer-ranged spread shots. I could shoot powerful charge shots or land enough hits to pull off an ultimate attack like turning into an adorable atom bomb. Other moves include an air dash out of a jump, a parry against certain projectiles, and situational moves like changing the size of your biplane in a flying sky battle against an evil cloud.Cuphead plays well and looks unbelievable. All the pieces are there for a fantastic time. But for as bad as it feels to notice flaws in something with this much love and care clearly behind it, it doesn’t mean those flaws aren’t there. Cuphead wisely adopts some modern conveniences like infinite lives and saving, but I encountered some enemy groupings that were about as cheap as an arcade game trying to steal your quarters. Maybe playing with a friend would’ve softened things up.Worse, the one boss battle I completed against a psychic carrot(!) went on so long and was so repetitive it was more of an endurance or patience test than a challenge of skill. I just ran in the same pattern to dodge his same attacks, land some hits, and hope the escalating music was cluing me in that the dragging fight was almost done since there was no health bar. It felt more tedious than triumphant by the time I was finished.But it was hard to stay mad at any particular aspect of Cuphead because whenever you’re playing Cuphead you’ve also given yourself a chance to just look at Cuphead. I died numerous times just because I couldn’t take my eyes off a particular animation or character design. Even if you have no interest in the unforgiving run and gun gameplay, just watching a stream of this game may be the most transfixing entertainment you’ll find this year. Pull back the curtain on Cuphead September 29 on Xbox One and PC.View as: One Page Slides1/51. Cuphead is an absolutely gorgeous 2D shooter-platformer for PC and Xbox One.2. Formerly just a series of boss battles, the game is now a full-fledged adventure.3. Over 120,000 hand-drawn animated frames recreate the look of classic cartoons.4. The game’s brutal shooter gameplay pays homage to classics like Contra and Gunstar Heroes.5. Cuphead looks so good it’s almost distracting.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img

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