The Criterion

CupHead: A Callback to Slapstick

With Studio HMR, the world of funny-animal slapstick cartoons makes a playable return.


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Around the early years of animation, cartoons were introduced as black and white, silent, and filled with whimsical plots following featured characters, as well as some propaganda. Soon, cartoons became colorized, synced with sound, and followed new plots including the concept of slapstick comedy. Slapstick comedy is the genre of comedy that involves over-the-top violence, made possible because of the lack of realistic physics in the fictional world. Eventually, cartoons became more realistic, violent, and adopted modern humor. But with Studio HMR, the world of funny-animal slapstick cartoons makes a playable return.

Cuphead is a 2D platformer run-and-gun game that started production back in 2010. As based on the style of characters and enemies, the game takes place in a 30’s inspired cartoon world known as Inkwell Isle. Titular characters and brothers Cuphead and Mugman find their way into The Devil’s Casino, where they go on a winning streak. It is until The Devil himself challenges them for their souls where the brothers lose. In an attempt to bargain for their freedom, The Devil tells them to collect the contracts from the residents of Inkwell Isle who lost their souls to him.

It’s a run-and-gun type of game, where players navigate Cuphead and Mugman in a side scrolling level to reach the goal. Boss levels will require you to complete the battle on Normal difficulty in order to get a contract. Contracts serve to advance the player into more levels and bosses. The more areas you unlock will lead to more upgrades and abilities that the player can equip on the brothers, such as lock-on blasts and temporary invincibility. There is also a parry ability, which can stop attacks or interact with the environment around you. Objects that can be parried will usually be glowing pink or stand out in some way to be noticeable. Co-op multiplayer is available in the form of Mugman being playable for Player 2. Multiplayer adds the ability to parry the other player’s soul if they have been killed. When the player is brought back to life, their health will be at 1, meaning that players will have to be even more careful during gameplay. That feat itself is considered impossible according to most gamers.

People often complain about the difficulty of the game. With Youtubers practically failing most levels, it becomes more obvious but hilarious that the majority of players will get frustrated at points in the game. A journalist from Gamesbeat, Dean Takahashi, has his name known as the guy who failed at passing a part of the tutorial level. It was practically 2 or 3 minutes out of the 26 minute video with Takahashi and viewers of the video watching in frustration until he finally did it. The game does make up for the rage inducing barrage of damage with it’s graphics as many reviewers point up.

But overall, the game itself is excellent in gameplay and strategy presented to those who play. If you want something to challenge yourself, then Cuphead is a game that you should try out. It is available on Microsoft, Xbox One, and Steam for $20. I myself am a personal fan of animation and this is a wonderful game to behold. So unless a game is made in the style of your liking. Cuphead is the closest game you’ll get to as a callback to cartoons.

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CupHead: A Callback to Slapstick