Game developers are accomplishing amazing things with computer-generated graphics, and video-game graphics are becoming more sophisticated than ever. Lovingly rendered single hairs, carefully constructed environments, movements created through the use of motion capture — as the technology gears ever upwards, so does what we see and interact with on our screens.
One developer, though, has decided to travel far off the beaten path, using not the latest and greatest in graphics rendering, but techniques nearly a century old. When I sat down to play Cuphead, Studio MDHR’s upcoming game inspired by ’30s-era cartoons, I expected it to be easy.
Its looks are disarming — if you’ve ever seen a cartoon like Steamboat Willie or Bimbo, you get the vibe. It’s hard not to set your difficulty expectations low when you’re fighting a giant, grumpy carrot. Or a pirate. Or boxing frogs, or any of the game’s kooky-but-brutal big bosses.
Cuphead stars the titular hero and his friend, Mugman. It’s a weird game involving a deal with the devil, and it’s the work of brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR. It is also a game obsessed with boss fights. During E3 2015, I sat down with it to try out a few for myself. The results were … well, let’s just say that I died a lot.
Jared Moldenhauer, who was on-hand to witness my many failures, explained that much of Cuphead revolves around these fights. You’re free to go solo or fight with a pal; the game adjusts its enemies’ health accordingly. During my demo, I bounced from flying through the sky shooting down a giant bird with a buddy to jumping on tracks and battling a very angry train ghost.In its current form, Cuphead is largely made up of boss fights, the kind that would have robbed 8 year-old me of every quarter in my pocket in short order. That jolly pirate from above is one tough cookie. At the time of this writing, Jared tells me that no one from the press has beaten him. I couldn’t stop trying though. Like Gunstar Heroes and similar old games, bosses have learnable attack patterns, but unlike so many of those older games, each has a deep bag of tricks to pull from. This pirate would call a squid friend to splatter ink everywhere, obscuring my vision. He’d call in a shark attack from off the left side of the screen too, or pull out an umbrella and squeeze little pink bullets from it. Each fight really demands that you pay close attention, and that you have sharp reflexes, just like arcade games of yore.
Written by Ryan Quon
Edited by Brent Bullard