CUPHEAD became an instant classic when it debuted a year and a half ago for the Xbox One and PC. Studio MDHR’s shoot ’em up romp looked impressive since its unveiling, but playing the final product proved that it had substance to back up its visuals. The team had seamlessly blended the style of 1930s cartoons with hardcore run-and-gun tactics in a way that was truly mesmerizing. The surprise announcement of the Cuphead Switch version made it easy to be skeptical but it’s a fantastic port that has made the transition with its best features intact.
Cuphead Switch Review | A hell of a tale
In Cuphead, you portray the titular character — or his chummy pal, Mugman — as they make their way to the Devil’s casino. Lucifer makes them an offer they can’t refuse with an attempt to double their money. However, it backfires and leaves the duo helplessly in his debt. Fortunately, he makes them a last-second deal: hunt down debtors that owe him big time, and he’ll spare them. And thus begins a boss-laden journey filled with some rather imaginative battles.
Among these include a fight with a large blue Slime-like being that has a knack for wearing a boxing glove; a trio of farm vegetables that don’t give up easily; an actress that sees her whole life pretty much played out on stage as she attempts to kill you, and more. And this is just a handful of the nearly 20 or so creative boss battles that await, each tougher than the last until the challenging finale.
But they’re not impossible and overcoming that hump is why they’re so satisfying to slay. Like retro games, there’s a pattern to figure out. Not only that, but pink objects appear in the environment, giving the duo a chance to melee jump off of them and get some extra height and power up their special moves. Along the way, you can also acquire different types of projects including a Contra-esque spread gun, homing bullets, and more as well as useful health boosters.
Cuphead Switch Review | Charming gameplay with one small flaw
Those bosses are fun to fight as well. Cuphead feels like a classic run-and-gun, so fans of Contra and Gunstar Heroes will be right at home. The action never lets up, and the controls are accurate, even giving you the option to aim in some spots just in case you need to shoot someone above you. It’s smooth, quick, and always does what you want. Dying is frequent but it will probably always be your fault.
That said, there should be more run-and-gun levels. There are only three, as the rest of the game dedicated to boss battles. Future DLC might add more of these stages but it was likely that these were difficult to make, which would explain their sparsity. Its boss battles do hold up the game nicely but these traditional levels feel like a full-blown tribute to the good ol’ days that the game could use more of.
Cuphead Switch Review | Timeless presentation
Its incredible gameplay is matched by its impressive presentation. The graphics pop to life like a wondrous cartoon out of the Steamboat Willie era, its cavalcade of bosses look like they’re just as lively as the main characters, and the backgrounds deliver a sense of wonder unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the medium. This is easily one of the most imaginatively designed games out there, and it shows in every single frame all the way up to its ending. Cutscenes are even animated now, meaning that it looks better than it did when it came out on the Xbox One and PC.
The music also holds up its end of the presentation package. It’s a full-blown orchestration of classic ‘30s themes, and matches the tone of the game splendidly. Each one is catered to particular boss battles. For instance, a dangerous flower is backed by a catchy jazz score, while a pair of boxing frogs get something that revs up as the battle continues on the inside of a club just for bees.
Everything about the presentation holds up nicely on the Switch. Even in handheld mode, it looks like fantastic, with nary a hint of slowdown. It’s an impressive feat and a testament to how great art doesn’t always need to run on powerful machines to look great.
Cuphead also has a unique New Game Plus mode that’s worth trying to get. Score an A rating or better on each stage and you get that much closer to unlocking a hardcore black and white mode. Skilled players will definitely want to dig in and go after this mode since it matches the game’s aesthetic without compromising it. Everyone else may want to get a hang of the game first, but this mode is novel enough and a goal to strive for.
Cuphead Switch Review | Forget the sip, take a gulp
Studio MDHR put together something great when the original Cuphead first released by making a tight platformer shooter with a unique sense of style. Its hardcore shooting, combined with precision controls and outstanding presentation, are still noteworthy today and will likely age well. Rookies may run into frustrations at first, but they can always take the Simple route and get the hang of everything before jumping in to deeper waters.
Not only that, but the couch co-op support is spot-on as well, despite the slightly disappointing exclusion of online co-op. A second player can jump in and help out with the battle at any time. And the game is surprisingly playable in portable mode with a Joy-Con – though the Pro Controller is better because of its superior buttons.
Everything about Cuphead just feels right, even all these months after its original release. As it stands right now, this game is nearly flawless in its own right, thanks to its responsive controls and signature style. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be for everyone, especially those who don’t want to or can’t get over its sometimes oppressive difficulty. But those who are determined to get through Cuphead will see that it simply spills over with joy.
GameRevolution reviewed Cuphead on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.