Cuphead First Look

The latest effort from Studio MDHR offers a combination of 30s cartoon style graphics with challenging run-and-gun gameplay.

Microsoft’s indie game push for Xbox One continues to impress, between the multiplayer antics of Other Ocean’s #IDARBand TinyBuild’s difficult platform adventure, No Time To Explain. Next year will bring a real treat to the ID@Xbox program, with the debut effort from Studio MDHR, Cuphead.

This run-and-gun platformer pulls off a wonderful trick. It combines the shoot ’em up action of retro games like Contra and Metal Slug with visuals inspired by 1930s cartoons. If you remember Steamboat Willie and other animated Max Fleischer-like shorts from this era, you have a grasp of Cuphead’s world.

In the game, Cuphead (along with his right-hand cup buddy Mugman) is in a predicament. He made the foolish mistake of placing a bet with the Devil and lost. As a result, he struggles to repay his debt, facing numerous boss enemies hurled his way. His soul is on the line along with Mugman’s, so he must fight in order to hang onto it.

Unlike most shooters, Cuphead features continuous boss battles. Not exactly normal bosses, either. These characters look deranged. One is a pirate who shoots you while his ship spits projectiles and hammers drop from the sky, while another has you facing off against a gigantic bird that emerges from a cuckoo clock; you’ll need to memorize boss patterns to survive these battles. Luckily, the game provides two-player co-op support, with the second player controlling Mugman. Two players equal double the damage!

There’s also a timer that counts down with each boss battle. Most of the time it’s generous with roughly 200 seconds. However, when you realize just how tough each boss is, every second counts.

Studio MDHR wanted to bump up the challenge with this game, however, so expect each new boss to be tougher than the last. Fortunately, Cuphead has access to two different kinds of shots, including the Star Gun (blue) for quick blasts and the Exploder (red) for more powerful strikes. Players can switch between two different power-ups at any time, akin to the SNES classic Contra III: The Alien Wars.

In addition, gamers have access to power-ups, including a multi-shot that can hit bosses with more bullets, as well as a super meter that can unload a special attack, like a gigantic candy cane blast that does significant damage (leaving the screen aglow in a swirl of colors). It also doesn’t hurt that players possess infinite lives, and when they return to the level, they don’t lose their precious power-up. You’ll need all the firepower you can get to survive these skirmishes.

Additionally, there‚Äôs a map system where you choose your next route. It’s cool to see where each journey ends up and who you battle next, like a big sunflower with a stretchy face and a combat-ready rat who rolls around in a tank resembling a tomato soup can.

Along with the choose your own level design and over-the-top challenge, Cuphead benefits from its unique presentation. The art style emulates the 1930s cartoons of old, but with mechanics from modern day platform games. Watch the video below to see this beautiful game in action.

If you’re looking for an inventive twist on shooters or you want a game that takes advantage of what the Xbox One and PC, Studio MDHR’s Cuphead looks promising. It won’t come out until next year, but it’s bound to be a bright spot in Microsoft’s line-up. Be sure to check back for run-and-gun strategies closer to its release.