Cuphead is a beautiful run and gun action game developed by Studio MDHR. The game focuses largely on boss battles, each one having its own unique mechanics. Cuphead's inspiration came from 1930s cartoons. The visuals and audio were created using the same techniques from that era. The first thing you notice about Cuphead are the incredible hand-drawn animations. An aesthetically pleasing game will draw people in, but it's the game play that keeps them glued to the screen. Cuphead delivers on both fronts.
Cuphead is an emotional roller-coaster. The animations are so well thought out and executed but the game itself is so difficult. You can't help but feel deceived by Cuphead, it looks like a family friendly cartoon game, and then you start a boss fight and realise the aesthetics were all just a trick to pull you in. I usually get bored with difficult games before I can finish them, but Cuphead is different. Every death feels like my fault, it doesn't punish you unfairly, but learning the boss mechanics and mastering the controls takes time. At certain points in the game I was so frustrated I wanted to put the controller down, but overall I had so much fun with Cuphead I couldn't turn it off and ended up finishing the game in 2 sittings.
The controls are simple. Most of the focus is on mastering the controls rather than upgrading your character with an abundance of skill points or fancy loot. You have the standard run, jump, and dash abilities but Cuphead also adds a unique parry system. This allows you to double jump off of any pink coloured object in the world, ranging from enemies to projectiles. Parrying is a good way of avoiding damage and filling up your super meter, but even after having completed the campaign the parry system still feels awkward. If you mistime your parry you'll take damage, so mostly I would just avoid parrying at all unless it was a vital part of the boss fight.
The default key bindings for Cuphead are goofy. Run, jump and dash are all things you'll be doing at the same time but they're on adjacent buttons which makes them difficult to press simultaneously. You'll have a much better experience if you map one of these to a shoulder button.
You're not forced to keep playing the same way throughout the game. There are unlockable weapons, abilities and super powers that give you different solutions to difficult bosses. These are all unlocked via collecting currency from the run and gun levels woven in between boss encounters. Each level lets you select two weapons as well as one passive ability and one super ability. One major annoyance is the inability to change your load-out in between level attempts. You need to exit the encounter, change your load-out, and then re-enter.
Once you've finished the Cuphead campaign on Normal mode, you gain access to the 'Expert difficulty'. I'm not too motivated to play it on a more challenging mode, but it adds replayability to the game. I'm just not sure it's the kind of replayability many people will want. At the end of each level you get a performance rating, this may give a certain crowd a reason to want to go back and replay the game to achieve perfect scores.
Cuphead is a fantastic emotional roller-coaster ride. It has high and low points but will leave you feeling like you've played a masterpiece of a game. There's a huge sense of achievement after finishing a game this difficult. The art and sound are the best I've ever seen in a game. It would have been so easy for Studio MDHR to make this a simple story game and give the player an easy ride through to showcase the unbelievable art they've created. I respect their decision to not take the 'easy' route. Cuphead has way more to give than just beauty. It's not a game that will be to everyone's taste because of its sheer difficulty, but there's no doubting its quality.