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Community Article: Indie Insights - Cuphead

Written by John Edwards

The house always wins, the maxim that rules all casinos. They stack the odds in their favour so even if you win here and there, in the long term they'll get more money from gamblers than they'll have to pay out. Thankfully for most of us the worst that can happen is we'll lose all our money, for the hapless Cuphead and Mugman, however, they end up in service of the Devil or risk losing their souls.

After losing their game they get sent out to explore a set of islands to defeat the various denizens so that they can pay off their debt to the Devil. Naturally you might have ethical questions about sending the souls of the creatures you encounter to Satan, but they're doing their best to kill you too, so you might feel some justification.

Cuphead looks like no other game but an awful lot like a whole bunch of old cartoons. Styled like the 1930s golden age of American animation, particularly the Fleischer studios, Cuphead has grain and imperfections that feel like a lost time capsule. This lends itself to remarkable creativity in the enemy design and settings. It's hard to predict what you'll encounter next, even when it's just transitioning to the next phase of the battle.

It's primarily a game of boss battles, there are some run and gun sections with platforming, but predominantly you fight off huge bosses that range from sobbing onions to fire breathing dragons. They can be very hard but the game does come with an easy mode and will give you an idea of how close you were to victory when you died. It encourages you to keep trying, learn the attack patterns and overcome the odds. Beating any stage on Cuphead is incredibly satisfying, getting a good rating for doing it, even more so.

To help you take your opponents down you can buy upgrades in a shop. You'll find coins in the run and gun levels or in the overworld map. In the shop you can get different weapons or charms to change your abilities. Picking a loadout to suit your playstyle will help you overcome the odds, I'm particularly fond of the homing shot weapon and auto parry charm.

Parrying is important in Cuphead, without the aforementioned charm, if you jump into anything pink and then press jump again you'll parry it. This can be used for traversing gaps as it keeps you in the air longer, or stopping you from being hit as projectiles often come in pink variants. Parries also build up your super shot meter faster.

The recent DLC adds a third playable character Ms Chalice who has a double jump, a dodge and parries when she dashes. She's playable when you equip a specific charm so she has more abilities but less customisation. However some of her stages feature absolutely astonishing animation and makes for an essential purchase alongside the base game.

Cuphead can be brutally unforgiving sometimes, but like Dark Souls and its ilk, there's no satisfaction quite like finally beating what originally seemed insurmountable. It also helps that visually it is an absolute treat throughout. The unique styling sets it far apart from other games and provides a compelling impetus to strive for success and see what lies ahead. The talent shown by MDHR suggests they may have sold their souls to be able to create such wonderful art, but at least they'll know what to do if someone comes to collect.