Thy cup run­neth over

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Dom Pepp iatt

Cup­head treads that fine line be­tween be­ing hard and be­ing fun. Ev­ery boss seems al­most im­pos­si­ble on the first try, but as you progress you start to chisel away at each phase, and you be­gin to un­der­stand how to win. The game is a con­stant dance be­tween you and the de­vel­op­ers; for ev­ery step you take for­wards, they shove you one back.

The re­sult is a game that’s never frus­trat­ing – not re­ally. You can retry the same boss 50 times, but you never get ir­ri­tated, be­cause you know, re­ally, it’s your fault if you fail. The game never de­ceives you, it never tricks you: ev­ery at­tack pat­tern is laid out for you to see, you’ve just got to have the re­ac­tions, pa­tience and skill to deal with it. Cup­head han­dles per­fectly: ev­ery in­put per­forms on­screen and there is never a frus­tra­tion with the me­chan­ics of the ti­tle.

Maybe that’s be­cause the en­e­mies don’t have health­bars, so maybe in your head you think you’re do­ing bet­ter ev­ery time un­til you die and the progress bar shows you how far you got… ei­ther way, it’s a great psy­cho­log­i­cal trick that re­ally dou­bles down on the ‘just one more go’ psy­chol­ogy of gam­ing.

Fin­ger mouse

Cup­head him­self is a china cup­headed char­ac­ter (sur­pris­ingly) with the body of Mickey Mouse who shoots pro­jec­tiles from his fin­gers. His mis­sion is sim­ple: re­trieve the souls of a se­ries of min­ions across three is­lands and re­turn them to the devil. The struc­ture is sim­ple, and the pro­gres­sion is ad­dic­tive – sim­ply clear an is­land to head to the next one. Any­one that’s picked up a plat­former be­fore will know how to progress.

But Cup­head’s ap­peal is deeper than most plat­form­ers. The game fits awk­wardly be­tween run and gun, bul­let hell and plat­former – it’s none of the above, re­ally, but at the same time it’s all of them. At its weak­est,

Cup­head is a good run and gun plat­former with er­ratic en­emy pat­terns set against a back­drop of won­der­ful, Dis­ney-in­spired en­vi­ron­ments.

At its best, Cup­head is sim­ply the best 2D ac­tion game on Xbox One. The plat­former lev­els are clearly an af­ter­thought – they’re fun, but the boss fights them­selves show the game’s orig­i­nal vi­sion: ev­ery ob­ject shot by ev­ery boss is lov­ingly de­signed, the game de­sign per­fectly com­ple­ments its over­all aes­thetic, and once you learn to read the game’s very spe­cific vis­ual lan­guage, you un­der­stand that this game does want you to suc­ceed… even­tu­ally.

The de­tached sur­re­al­ism of the whole game es­ca­lates as you progress – the first is­land is a few run and guns in­ter­spersed with boss bat­tles and the oc­ca­sional bonus level, too. But each is­land adds a new kind of level, end­ing up in some set-piece boss bat­tles that are frankly some of the best boss bat­tles we’ve played in gam­ing: one sees you travel through the var­i­ous stages of a play as the lead ac­tress wails on

you, us­ing props from each scene as spe­cial moves, chang­ing up the at­tack pat­tern and keep­ing you on your toes. An­other sees you chang­ing the rails of a ghost train as you head deeper into the trol­ley’s path… the cre­ativ­ity of the game ex­tends be­yond its won­der­ful hand-drawn art, right into the depths of its game de­sign, and it’s spec­tac­u­lar.

Do be a quit­ter

Thing is, if you are strug­gling with a boss – take the liv­ing ket­tle full of fish, for ex­am­ple – you can ei­ther quit out and try an­other one of the bosses on your cur­rent is­land, or you could go back to the shop and pur­chase dif­fer­ent items. Some pro­jec­tiles act like a shot­gun – bet­ter dam­age at short range – while oth­ers act like seeker pro­jec­tiles. You can also add charms – an ex­tra bar of health, or a dash that makes you in­vul­ner­a­ble. Some bosses will re­quire you to ex­per­i­ment a bit, and know­ing there are a se­ries of vari­ables to ex­per­i­ment with is an­other way of keep­ing you in­vested, keep­ing your head in the game in spite of its dif­fi­culty.

We will say this: al­ter the game’s de­fault con­trols. The ini­tial setup puts prac­ti­cally every­thing im­por­tant (Su­per move, dash, shoot and jump) all on the face but­tons – so un­less you en­joy play­ing with a claw, you’ll want to re-map some el­e­ments of the con­trol to the shoul­der but­tons. There are some pro­jec­tile spawn points in scrolling lev­els that seem to be com­pletely ran­dom and thanks to the emer­gent na­ture of the script­ing, it can feel a bit un­fair. This hap­pens maybe 1 per­cent of the time, though, and can be to­tally for­given if you learn how to min­imise your scrolling-level air­craft well enough.

Cup­head is a game that’s go­ing to take you on an emo­tional jour­ney – and not be­cause of its sim­ple sto­ry­line. You’ll find a boss, you’ll hate the boss, you’ll learn to un­der­stand the boss… and then you’ll kill the boss. You’ll be elated, your body will feel light, your aching fin­gers will re­joice… and then you’ll need to do it all again. That’s the beau­ti­ful rhythm of Cup­head, the won­der­ful roller­coaster ev­ery sin­gle level takes you on to form that de­li­cious love/ hate re­la­tion­ship you only get with a game once in a blue moon.

“The de­tached sur­re­al­ism of the whole game es­ca­lates as you progress”


far left No mat­ter how many times you play, you’ll no­tice new de­tails.

right Find­ing it tough? Drop the level to Reg­u­lar – but this won’t un­lock the end­ing.

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