A Video Game Critique of “Cuphead”


Cuphead is a video game developed by studio MDHR and it employs a retro-style of classic run-and-gun game design. It is inspired by 1930 cartoon-animations and the techniques used in the video game belong to that era (“Cuphead,” n.d.). Its aesthetics include; characters drawn and inked using a hand with a water colored background, cracking voice-over, slow movements, scratchy recorded soundtrack, fuzz on screen, and classic jazz sounds. One traverses new worlds seeking to retrieve the soul by gathering soul contracts of other indebted natives. It can be described as a game which uses a singular art style, combines retro-nostalgia and up to date screen interface, has a good story and characters, and renewed old-fashioned shooter mechanics. In addition, it has different difficulty levels. This paper is a video game critique of Cuphead which employs a theory on the domain of game design and criticism.

Game design

Game design and criticism of a video game encompass issues an analysis of levels of difficulty in a game, aesthetics of a game, sound design, instructions, points, lose/win possibility, and the objectives of the game (Peppler et al, 2010). Cuphead utilizes a cartoon-façade aesthetics which masks its fierce nature with visuals that seem innocent as you start but further becomes darker as one goes deeper. Cuphead has a magical complexity that is coupled with an artistic aptitude. The game design has instructions on slideshows which forces a player to learn and is committed to this course since it provides numerous instructions or tutorials and failure to learn on them, the player cannot proceed further.

Every boss character, soundtrack, and level of difficulty or ranking system is well designed that requires one to pay due attention. This presents a lose/win element where, the bosses can kill the player (loss) and has a chance to bounce back into the same level. Sometimes, the bosses bug out causing the failure in a level. The pitch of the soundtracks is perfect and relevant to the era which the game is based upon. The side-scrolling run-and-gun sections of combating obstacles and gathering coins are quite irrelevant to the missions of players. The 30 bosses transform so fast and have classic goon style characters.

Cuphead’s style of art presents some visibility issues, for example, objects that obscure one, or the mounting of characters in co-op sides. The parry of the video game seems a bit out of position. Checking the frame-by-frame change, some hitboxes does not match with the respective visuals (Wolf & Perron, 2013). The smoke bombs that are used in plane levels render the design of the game quite inappropriate. When one loses to a boss, it makes them vulnerable and one may never see a reason to use the super EX again. Apart from the parry window, the other controls in the video game do not seem too precise.


The run-and-gun stages in the video game look like an afterthought since, in a few levels, when a player is undertaking a pacifist run, the stage depends on luck and immaterial of whether they make the right decision or not, they will have to experience damage. The co-op that the video game permits is not well designed since, with the difficulties, one faces when fighting alone, the addition of another player presents a difficulty in understanding the surrounding. This is because many projectiles will have been added to the screen. Otherwise, with the perfectly designed soundtracks and appearance of the characters and location, Cuphead is a good video game that immaculately depicts the era which its developers intended. It could, thus benefit by adding some tweaks and removing or upgrading the co-op option (Gifford, n.d.).