Cupheads – Game Pre-review

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There’s nothing I love to do more than drum up support for cool new game concepts, and whilst the gaming world continues to bask in graphic hyper-realism and novel-worthy narratives, ‘Cupheads’ shows us how faithful appreciation of beloved old-time themes, simple, intuitive controls and, well, simply gorgeous artwork can provide a delightful alternative.

This mischievously charming game is a fusion of entertainment genres spanning almost 100 years. Combining the distinctive aesthetic of 1930’s cartoons with the play-style of a frenetic platform game, Studio MDHR has created an instant classic, and left me with the uneasy feeling that they were somehow able to scan my mind for my impression of a perfect game.

Watch the trailer below:

Cupheads‘ was created by two brothers, Jared and Chad Moldenhauer, the creative heads of Studio MDHR. This is their debut game, and my, what a stunning debut it is. Rendered in spectacular technicolor cell animation, this 2-D platform run-and-gun is modeled after the distinctive 1930’s Max Fleischer cartoons, with inspiration drawn from iconic stars of the vintage animated screen such as Betty Boop, Bosko and Koko the Clown.

cuphead_mermaid_14.0The plot is simple: our heroes battle through a series of crazy landscapes, populated by a sequence of increasingly difficult (and trippy looking) bosses. Cuphead (helped by ‘Mugman’ if you’re playing the co-op game) is at the whim of the cunning devil to whom they lost a dice game. Of the narrative, that’s about all we know so far. The villains they face smack of those same fantastically caricatured creatures and anthropomorphized objects we saw in period animated features such as Swing You Sinners! (1930), Bosko’s Holiday (1931) and many more – giant telepathic carrots, evil spitting potatoes, mobster frogs and law-enforcing bees, why not.

cuphead 2889873-cuphead-flower1The thematic elements so synonymous to the surrealist cartoons of the 30’s are palpable in every element of this game. The production level is a beautiful labor of love and fitting homage to traditional techniques of animation. Every frame was created in the style used by the pioneers; drawn first in pencil, inked and then painstakingly colored. The backgrounds are hand painted watercolors and the movement even uses the same frame-rate as the old films. Computers were only used in the assembly and design of the gameplay itself, helping the game maintain its classic feel. And yes, if you’re a fan of the music of 1920’s (and I certainly am), we’re treated to a feisty original jazz orchestra soundtrack.

cuphead thingFirst debuted at E3 and slated for an early 2016 release, it was a well-received surprise entry and proved very popular with early access players. It’s been in development since 2010 and while Studio MDHR has expanded its staff since inception, this debut still brims with indie-game style originality, passion (the two brothers mortgaged their own homes to pay for development) and innovation. I’m really excited to see this release succeed and flourish, admittedly for selfish reasons, so I can see what else they’ll pull out of their creative sleeves. I think the more discerning gamer crowd, tired of an endless stream of sequels and regurgitated franchise themes, will relish this delightful title.

Available early 2016 on Steam and consoles.


 

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