Cuphead review: Portable fun in E-flat major and 240 BPM

Nintendo, Studio MDHR
Nintendo, Studio MDHR /

A splendidly challenging throwback to classic platforming action games, Cuphead’s minor technical foibles don’t detract from the greatness within.

Title: Cuphead
Developer: StudioMDHR
Publisher: StudioMDHR
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (version reviewed), PC, Xbox One
Release Date: April 18, 2019 (Nintendo Switch)

Though a port of one of 2017’s best video games should seem like a no-brainer, there is nothing more critical for the run-and-gun genre than to operate as smoothly as possible for the player. Thankfully, Cuphead manages to keep players engaged both at home and on the go on the Nintendo Switch, although you might have to wait a bit longer to jump into the action.

If this is your first time with this game, Cuphead mixes 1930’s Max Fleischer-style cartoon animation with a plethora of bosses and run-and-gun platforming action levels. Narratively, both Cuphead and Mugman entered the Devil’s Casino to play craps, going on a hot streak. After making a deal with the devil for all the casino’s money on a successful dice roll, the cup-based duo lost, forfeiting their souls to the Devil.

As a last-ditch effort, the two agreed to collect the soul contracts of the Inkwell Isles residents to retain their souls. In order to conquer such powerful entities, the Elder Kettle gives Cuphead and Mugman the power to shoot energy from their fingers so they can take them down.

Cuphead Nintendo Switch
Studio MDHR /

Most levels in Cuphead work in one of two ways. The more prevalent style is the boss battle where players pour non-stop bullets into a boss as it (or they) try to knock your health to zero forcing a full-level reset. These bosses such often shoot projectiles at you or force you to keep hopping around the stage to avoid taking damage while you just continue to pour bullets until they die after going through multiple evolutions of combat.

The other kind of level that’s used more sparingly is the pure run-and-gun stage where the goal is to get to the end. There are five coins hidden in these stages that can be used to buy power-ups at the shop, but most of the time players are just trying to survive as the game throws a ton of enemies in your path. You often encounter some minor platforming, too, as falling off the stage takes out 1 HP out of your minimal pool of 3 (or 4) HP.

There are three sections of overworld where Cuphead can travel and encounter new stages, with delightfully sinister and pleasant characters alike around to aid (or hinder) your quest. It serves more as a hub world to immerse the players, but there are secrets for those with a keen eye to check out on the way.

Cuphead Nintendo Switch
Studio MDHR /

What draws players into the action is the charming art style on display. While remarkable in its capability to invoke such a specific form of classic cartoons, what is even more impressive is the fact that the Nintendo Switch still maintains its 60 FPS frame rate even during the most intense of bullet hell moments. You could see a bunch of gratuitously grinning cars trying to run both Cuphead and Mugman down while never sacrificing performance.

More from Nintendo Switch

Precision is critical in Cuphead, as the many fanciful foes that operate as multi-phase boss battles after boss battles require both keen reaction and expert inputs. Though you may need a few dozen (or a dozen’s dozen) runs to defeat a boss, their moves are telegraphed with its wonderfully animated style as to show the player what to expect before it happens.

Indeed, the balance between fair and challenging gameplay is met in this game, with a Simple Mode difficulty that allows players to experience a modest challenge while reducing HP values and certain boss phases. The game’s true ending can only be completed by finishing each boss on normal difficulty, meaning roughly ~5-10% of the game is skipped by using this mode, but it does allow those with lower skill levels or differently abled players to get an idea about the game’s action design.

Cuphead Nintendo Switch
Studio MDHR /

With the jump to the Nintendo Switch, I was given a ton of new input options over regular keyboard + mouse or console controller. Each of them provided an equally balanced, but alternative way, of playing Studio MDHR’s game, with undocked mode fairly supporting detached Joy-Con, handheld unit, and Pro Controller inputs without sacrificing noticeable lag or choppy play.

As such, players can enjoy the supremely talented original tracks of Cuphead both docked and with headphones on the go, as the character models and background art for this game are so vibrant and colorful that you won’t find an issue trying to keep up with a smaller screen. You’re going to fall in love with the characters you see, even if they are trying to impede your path.

Related Story. Best Nintendo Switch games. light

Having multiple gameplay options so everyone could play is always great to see support for in a video game, and I’m glad that the Nintendo Switch version of Cuphead offered a variety of different features and ways of playing the game. Whether simple or standard, players will encounter a significant number of challenges that will frustrate at an impasse and overwhelm with euphoria upon completion.

The only downfall Cuphead has over other modes is load times. Once a level is loaded in, retries are instant, but loading the overworld or a particular level at first can take somewhere north of 13 to 15 seconds long. Compare that to a couple of seconds on the PC, it can take you out of the game’s immersion at times, but it’s a minor disappointment at worst.

A wonderfully heartfelt passage to classic cartoons and rough-and-tumble difficult video games of the past, Cuphead is a can’t miss title on the Nintendo Switch.. Studio MDHR. . Cuphead. 9

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.