Cuphead Review – That Clown Can Keep Laughing in Hell

(Please read the following in your own interpretation of a 1930s radio announcer).

Wowie the swell times to be had with this dealie! You wouldn’t believe all the fun that rose from this hullabaloo, and how close this tinderbox was to blowing sky high. Scores of years went by before this dilly hit, and it ended up smakin’ like a smokin’ hot dame at the end of a sarsaparilla parade.

(Okay, go back to reading in whatever strange little voice usually fills your head with words).

Let’s get this out first and foremost: f*ck that clown.

Cuphead
His happiness insults me.

Its bouncy movement and horrendously happy smile secludes its intentions just before it kicks open the door to your dream house and burns it down with flaming urine, an act done upteen times to me. The colorful level gives way too many distractions that don’t paint my rage’s tapestry. I want white. Hot white that engorges with a pulsing red center wherein a single vein wraps and chokes this bastard clown’s neck until the squirming stops. I wish it ill with the worst disease and its family a bum life insurance technicality that leaves them homeless and having to dance for seeds thrown from the splattered remains of rotten tomatoes. F*uck that clown and both the horses it rode in on.

Cuphead is full of bosses and encounters capable of that sort of hate stamp in your brain, and though the rage will fuel many a scream into a clenched pillow, the gameplay gives you all the tools you need to overcome them. Going back to that striped dickbag of a clown, the third main act of the evolving fight would slay me with several obstacles flaying the screen at once that would take more than timing to overcome. I had to partial dash and hard drop, or full dash and lay on my super move. I wasn’t quite putting that together yet at this point in the game – around the beginning of the second island – and the gatekeeper to my personal pain coaster came to be dressed in a pinstripe onesie.

Your moveset is simple and illustrated in the opening moments as such, but I didn’t realize how important the dash maneuver would be. Don’t even bother putting it in your back pocket. Keep it in hand and ready to fire at all times. Shooting can be Rambo-esque with any of the weapons and it’s highly suggested that you don’t worry about accuracy. Each boss has a massive health bar that needs all the scratching and clawing you can provide to drop to zero, making how you mix dashing, shooting, and jumping absolutely crucial.

The graphics are a sublime treat in a realm of high-rez talks ad nauseum. An art style can make a sale and when you find a niche all your own, you will always have a window into a wider market. The music is weirdly reminiscent of certain Mario tunes in a few places, hitching a ride on his same energetic wavelength as you pass through several guillotines at once. Given how often death came, I do wish the announcer, who gives one of a handful of intros into the boss fight, had more to say or had a slightly different spin. Maybe the announcer turns out to be The Devil or King Dice and he turns on you during their respective fights; just another dimension somewhere along the line.

My sole gripe with Cuphead comes with the counter option, which applies to any pink projectile and allows you to save up your special meter by one-fifth each successfully timed slap. The radius for invisibility directly after a successful counter is too short and that leads to several enemy types that have designs that engorge beyond the radius. There’s a pink balloon in a circus dash level that is one such foe to where you bounce straight up after a counter, only to lose one of your three hearts because you’re playing the way the game wants you to play. It’s not like you can bounce a different direction or dodge either. Countering sends you straight up and in the too-common case detailed above, sends your health straight down.

The years of previews and demos and screenshots promising the quality of Cuphead completely came to fruition, making this not only an instantly recognizable game but also a mechanically sound adventure across leagues of danger. There’s plenty of sequel fuel in the end to maybe extend the art style to the early days of comic books, or even go the Deadly Tower of Monsters, cheesy sci-fi look. I’ll be waiting regardless with that clown’s head as my trophy, sipping brandy while throwing darts at his smiling, dastardly face.

Cuphead Score:

9/10

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