Indie games have continued to excite me since I first played games like Braid, Super Meat Boy, Limbo, and Bastion. It has been roughly eight years since services like Xbox Live Arcade launched and games like this were readily available for download on all major platforms, but now I can hardly imagine a world without them. Indie games have always caught my interest and, for the most part; I am actually more interested in the creative ideas of indie developers than AAA titles. I am far more invested in the work of a small development team (or in some cases, one person) than a large studio. Studio MDHR, a small team led by Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, are debuting their first game, Cuphead, in 2016.
This game immediately stood out to me. And I mean, it really stood out. Upon seeing the extended trailer premiere at E3 2015, it was hard to wrap my head around what I was watching. At first I thought I was watching a cartoon cutscene from a game. I then realized that I was watching actual gameplay footage — it was incredible.
The art style catches your attention upon first glance. It is definitely the initial selling point of the game, and with good reason. Cuphead is truly a playable cartoon. The characters Cuphead and Mugman look like they would fit right in with classic cartoon characters Betty Boop and Felix The Cat. Their character designs are incredible — familiar, new and exciting all at the same time. In a world where mascot platformers have just about disappeared, this could be a turning point. I’ve always said that my favorite type of graphics are polished 2D sidescrollers, but this is something unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a game. Presented like an old-time 1930s cartoon complete with film grain, limited animation styles, and original jazz recordings, Cuphead and Mugman must fight through a series of bosses in order to repay a debt to the devil.
I’m a big fan of boss battles. In my opinion, they are one of the most important aspects of gaming that should not be left behind as the industry continues to evolve with greater technology. While a well-designed boss fight is always a treat, and there is also a great sense of accomplishment that makes the experience that much more enjoyable. The feeling of finally beating a boss after being stuck for days or weeks is glorious. I think that Cuphead will be a return to great side-scrolling boss battles as seen in games like Gunstar Heroes, Mischief Makers, and Contra. It will be especially exciting to play through a game that has old-school boss fights since this generation of games is filled with QTE-based bosses.
From Software has nailed the boss dynamic from a 3D perspective and I think that Cuphead will revitalize boss battles from a 2D perspective. From what I have seen from screenshots and videos, there will be a whole lot of boss battles in this game, and their character design is great as well. I don’t anticipate this game lasting longer than 10 or 12 hours, but it looks to be packed with zany adventure. I can’t wait to fight against wonderful enemies such as a giant carrot, a couple of frogs wearing boxing gloves, an angry flower, and a rat in a soup can. From a visual standpoint alone, the sheer ambition of this game is astounding.
For a while, it seemed like video games were just getting easier and easier. Games like Super Meat Boy and Dark Souls have brought back the difficulty factor for those hardcore gamers who would like a return to the challenging and unforgiving gameplay style of the past. Cuphead is a relentless run and gun ‘bullet hell’ that requires precision platforming and dedication. It seems to ask a lot from the player. It will require immense dedication, level memorization, and a heck of a lot of skill and perseverance. I think it will be a very rewarding experience and one that I have been waiting on for a long time. Completing a level in this game will likely be a great achievement due to the difficulty, but seeing what the next level even looks like will be a reward in itself.
Another reason for my excitement over Cuphead is the co-op aspect. I know a number of non-gamers who have expressed interest in this game just for the sheer fact that it looks so cool. Even those with no interest in video games will likely stop to marvel at this game. The premise of the game is simple enough to get your friend or significant other to pick up the controller for a while and give it a go. After I finish my single player run, I’m going to do it co-op with a friend in true 80s and 90s arcade style.
There’s no question that Cuphead will be a blast to play, but it will most likely will be fun to watch for even the most casual viewer. The notorious difficulty will likely make the game a great success on Twitch and YouTube. I’m sure there will be some amazing players streaming this game, doing speed runs, and showing off their skills. And of course with the beautiful art style, it will be a great experience for spectators.
While I think Cuphead is mainly marketed at hardcore and dedicated gamers, it should have a lot of mainstream success as well. With a high difficulty level, a polished retro feel, beautiful art direction, and excellent game mechanics, Cuphead is easily at the top of my list for 2016.
In the previous installment of this series I expressed my excitement for Firewatch. Be sure to stay tuned, as I will be revealing my most anticipated games of the year on a weekly basis.