Cuphead: 2017’s Best Indie Game?

Cuphead
Cups!

This year’s most talked about indie game has been the unique looking Cuphead – it also just won a batch of prestigious awards (more on that below). We’ve been a bit delayed getting to it, but after a discount on Steam we rushed on in to enjoy ourselves with this distinctive, critically acclaimed run and gun action title.

It’s made by Canadian developers Studio MDHR and, as with many indie games, takes game mechanics from the industry’s heyday in the 1990s and adds in modern sensibilities. It has a classic run and gun setup akin to the likes of the Contra games, along with the difficulty level to match the NES era, but the big talking point remains those distinctive graphics. Behold!

Cuphead

Okay, so straight up this is your standard 2D platformer (a rather good one, too!), but what immediately drew everyone to it is the rubber hose animation style (the famous American animation style where characters have loose limbs). It looks like a 1930s Disney cartoon – we can’t remember a video game ever having a look about it like this, which is really a punch to the jaw in terms of graphical innovation. It’s stunning to behold.

The talk over the decades of the Super Mario games has always been how they’re like playing a cartoon. This is correct, but Cuphead takes this notion literally and immerses players into a more dastardly consideration of a Disney plot where Cuphead has to repay a debt to the devil.

Cuphead is an excellent game, thankfully – some AAA and indie games can become bogged down and overly focussed on a particular aspect (usually graphical), such as No Man’s Sky and Seasons After Fall, with the gameplay results being disappointing. Cuphead is a complete gaming experience, although it is one difficult SOB.

Simply put, the difficulty is high and there’s only one way to get around this – play it constantly to pick up the skills required. The difficulty isn’t a criticism, incidentally, as many modern games handhold gamers through the experience. Cuphead doesn’t – it’s tough from the start and you’re really going to have to wake up to get into it; muscle memory (i.e. procedural memory of events and actions) is the name of the game, as there are a lot of boss battles and you’ll have to learn their attack patterns. It’s gloriously old school stuff.

The soundtrack also deserves a mention, which is a swing jazz affair inspired from the 1930s. It fits perfectly with the chaotic antics onscreen and will help take the edge off some of the many deaths you’ll be facing as you advance through the game. Brace yourself and settle in – Cuphead is highly demanding, but absolutely worth your time.

Awards

Cupyhead intro screen

Anyway, at the industry’s prestigious Game Awards 2017 (where Nintendo’s exceptional Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild won Ultimate Game of the Year, incidentally – what a bloody game that is!), Cuphead rightfully wrapped up Best Indie Game, as well as Best Art Direction. The game is such a big deal even Canada’s hot stuff (apparently he’s very popular with the ladies) Prime Minister Tweeted about it. Kudos!

We do hope Studio MDHR paused for a few hours to drink a cup of tea to celebrate. For all the developer’s efforts, this is rather well deserved.

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