Cuphead and Mugman haven’t lost a step in their move to Switch. The game remains an immensely enjoyable and challenging romp at home or on the go.
Cuphead earned praise and mild infamy in 2017 for its faithful homage to 1930’s animation and its polished but challenging gameplay. That high quality hasn’t diminished in its move to the Switch. The Nintendo faithful will find to plenty to love (and loathe) about Studio MDHR’s deceptively tough platformer; a game that’s much more than a pretty face.
If this is your first rodeo, Cuphead and his pal Mugman wind up in hot water after an ill-fated night of gambling leads to a forced deal with the Devil. The duo must collect the soul contracts of the dark lord’s other debtors or face eternal servitude. Cuphead’s old-school art regularly turns heads and for good reason: it looks fantastic and unlike anything else out there. Animations look gorgeous. Smaller touches like the flickering film grain and muffled sound bites further sell the idea that you’re playing a cartoon from yesteryear. A varied and boisterous jazz soundtrack, one of the best in recent years, bolsters the incredible presentation.
Cuphead’s run-and-gun side-scrolling gameplay takes inspiration from classics such as Contra and Mega Man. Finger-gunning down foes and nailing the snappy parry move feels as smooth as it did on Xbox and PC. The game never skips a beat while playing in handheld mode as well. In fact, the smaller screen’s lower resolution actually compliments the vintage presentation. Super crisp resolution didn’t exist 80 years ago, after all. The only drawback of playing undocked comes from the hardware side. Expect a sore thumb after holding down the Joy-Con’s tiny fire button during longer sessions.
A rogue’s gallery of elaborate boss battles act as the game’s centerpiece and remain among of the most imaginative in gaming. From a sweets-loving princess who chucks her own head to pugilist frogs that merge into a giant slot machine, no two bosses are alike. Watching them take on even wackier forms throughout the fight is both exciting and terrifying. That’s because, despite their whimsical veneer, overcoming bosses demands a high level of timing, precision, and, most of all, patience. Make no mistake: Cuphead is a very hard game. But no matter how crushing the loss, nothing ever feels cheap. Boss patterns are relatively easy to decipher, so you can always tell where you went wrong. The steep difficulty only makes each victory feel like a well-earned accomplishment. If you have a friend that’s up to the challenge, conquering foes in co-op play can be a raucous blast.
Sweetening the bitter spoonfuls of defeat is a wonderful progress meter that illustrates exactly how far players progressed during a fight. Seeing that a boss was only a shot or two away from falling can be equal parts inspiring and infuriating. Regardless, it’s a powerful motivator to keep trying as you literally see yourself getting better with each attempt.
Boss battles may be fantastic but the handful of traditional platforming stages remain the weakest part of package. Though adequate, there’s something less tolerable about enduring a hard, drawn-out side scrolling stage than a single large-scale fight. Run-and-gun stages aren’t worthless, however. They house coins used to purchase a myriad of helpful upgrades. Spread shots, teleport dashes, and special abilities like brief invincibility are among the fun and invaluable enhancements.
New features for Switch include the option to play the entire adventure as Mugman. The Luigi to Cuphead’s Mario had formerly been restricted to Player 2 in co-op. Mugman plays identically to his buddy so the choice is purely preferential, but it’s a welcomed change nonetheless. Beautifully animated cutscenes replace the original static scenes to further enhance the cartoon nostalgia. A range of additional language options helps in the accessibility department.
Whether you’re rage quitting at home or on the bus, Cuphead remains one of the most exhilarating indie titles out there. It may be tough, but the highs of toppling foe after zany foe feels amazing, and the tight gameplay makes every victory seem achievable. The much-lauded art direction hasn’t gotten old and really has to be seen in action to believe. Sadly, the only thing missing from this version is a wrist strap to prevent players from hurling their Switches after one too many losses to Mr. King Dice.
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Cuphead is out now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a Switch download code for the purposes of this review.