An am­bi­tious game that has paid off very well

Fingal Independent - - ENTERTAINMENT - Xbox One / PC

I’m not a fan of at­tach­ing in­tan­gi­ble de­scrip­tors to games, but for Cup­head I can make an ex­cep­tion - I’ve hon­estly never played a game with so much soul as this one un­til now.

Cup­head looks ab­so­lutely as­ton­ish­ing. Any­one who has ever seen the orig­i­nal Betty Boop and Pop­eye car­toons will rec­og­nize this sur­real and con­stantly-in-flux an­i­ma­tion style im­me­di­ately. The pair­ing of such a unique art style and the acomm­pa­ny­ing mu­sic means Cup­head truly is a tri­umph of unique­ness in an in­creas­ingly hege­monic gam­ing mar­ket.

Fun­nily, the al­most in­no­cent aes­thetic that Cup­head presents does a very good job of mask­ing the re­lent­less, un­for­giv­ing and ag­o­nis­ingly dif­fi­cult game that lies be­neath. Each level in Cup­head falls into one of three cat­e­gories - all of which are side-scrollers. One type has you run­ning and gun­ning from left-to-right, em­u­lat­ing the likes of games like Con­tra. Th­ese are the eas­i­est stages in Cup­head and of­ten feel like a lull in ac­tion be­tween the faster-paced and much more dif­fi­cult lev­els. The next type is a sort of bul­let-hell mode that sits Cup­head in a freely-con­trolled plane.

It’s worth not­ing that ev­ery bat­tle in Cup­head is a boss bat­tle, with a seem­ingly end­less se­ries of in­fin­itely imag­i­na­tive bosses do­ing their best to rid you of your pal­try three hit points. Cup­head is a harsh mis­tress and you will die many, many times in your pur­suit of the fin­ish line. The third type of level in Cup­head - and per­haps the most en­joy­able - are the plat­form­ing bat­tles. This is where the fledg­ling game stu­dio shows its en­tire creative hand, forc­ing you to work within the con­fines of Cup­head’s lim­ited con­trol scheme in bril­liantly imag­i­na­tive ways. One such bat­tle sub­verts the al­ready in­sane rules laid out by the game and turns a se­ries of fights into a board game - it’s in­sanely fun and el­e­vates the game to mas­ter­piece sta­tus, if it wasn’t al­ready there.

One of my only gripes with Cup­head, how­ever, is that an al­ready out­ra­geously dif­fi­cult game is made al­most un­fair by the de­vel­oper’s baffling de­ci­sion to in­tro­duce ran­dom­ness into the boss en­coun­ters. While there is a large el­e­ment of mem­o­riza­tion to Cup­head, some of the en­coun­ters have ran­dom el­e­ments such as plat­form po­si­tion­ing or en­emy gen­er­a­tion that can mean that you some­times have lit­er­al­lly no other op­tion but to die due to ran­dom­ness, and not player er­ror.

Cup­head is an enor­mously am­bi­tious game that has paid off ex­tremely well from the de­vel­oper’s point of view. An ex­tra­or­di­nary work of art that has set a new stan­dard for gam­ing.

Cup­head is an ex­tra­or­di­nary work of art that has set a new stan­dard for gam­ing.

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