You know how a joke can start funny, get annoying, then become funny again through sheer attrition? That’s Cuphead’s approach to enjoyment. With a beautiful, caustic, near-unceasing stream of boss battles, Studio MDHR’s debut made me scream with joy and horror by turn, but I settled on joy by the end.
The most obvious point to begin with is that Cuphead looks astonishing. Its 1930s animation style – all watercolour backgrounds and surreal, juddering, hand-drawn characters – pay peerless homage to Max Fleischer and his ilk, and are perfectly implemented. Somehow it manages to balance dozens of moving elements and a slight rear-projection blur without ever feeling unreadable in even the most frantic moments. There has never been a game that looks like this and there may never be again. Every scene is a masterwork – it’s a near-unbelievable achievement for an art style.
The sound work is an ideal match: a huge jumble of high-tempo ragtime, swing, big band, and jazz (the list of musicians is almost as long as the rest of the credits combined) pummels away wonderfully in the background of every fight. It makes Cuphead feel truly out of time, and its bizarre mix of ‘30s aesthetics and ‘80s design more heady than ever. I also feel duty-bound to point out that the way Porkrind the shopkeeper bellows “welcome” made me laugh every single time I heard it.