originals\ Jan 11, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Dr. David's Indie Spotlight: Cuphead is like a 1930s Technicolor cartoon


Video games often emulate an older style of film and gaming for aesthetic purposes, and the results tend to be largely pleasing to the eyes. As far as movie influence goes, the unlockable black-and-white filter from Max Payne 3 and the Western-influenced sepia tone found in The Last of Us come to mind. Then there's the more video gamey inspiration, with countless games including Where Is My Heart? and Fez going for pixelated graphics. Cuphead from Studio MDHR blends a bit of both worlds, combining pixel art with a lovely 1930s cartoon look to it.

Before we move on, I'd like to give a shout out to IndieGames.com for shedding light on this promising endeavor. Alrighty then, let's talk Cuphead, shall we?

Cuphead - 1

It's impossible to look past the jovial Steamboat Willie influence.

It's hard not to be instantly drawn to the visual style that Studio MDHR is infusing into its upcoming project. You don't really see many games emulating the visual style of cartoons from the 1930s being played on CRT TV sets, which is probably why the graphics stand out so much. It's not all pleasantly stylized grainy filters and scan lines, though. The actual character and environment designs of Cuphead harken back to classic color cartoons, and I couldn't help but reminisce over one of my personal favorites, the 1936 Felix the Cat short The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg.

In addition to the great art style, Cuphead also animates quite like the cartoons of the silent film era did. The most obvious gem that comes to mind is the iconic Steamboat Willie. The way the characters in Cuphead move around clearly draws influence from a bygone era of great animated shorts. Characters's movements onscreen have a unique hand-drawn look not unlike what we used to see via rotoscoping. Ya know, before creativity went downhill and people thought it would be a good idea for a bunch of cartoons to be created on computers.

Cuphead - 2

The overworld map features a great hand-drawn, hand-painted look.

With all of this talk about awesome art and impressive animations, it's easy to overlook the fact that Cuphead is actually a video game. Studio MDHR is mixing together different gameplay elements to create what it's calling a “run 'n' gun and fighting game hybrid.” You engage in single-screen battles against enemies and bosses, and the encounters play out almost like a fighting game. At your disposal are projectiles and super arts, which you can use to take down both smaller baddies and the bigger bosses.

Rather than utilizing attack patterns for enemies, the development team has stated that it wants Cuphead to feature wildly varying attack sequences. So instead of just remembering what an enemy does, you're going to have rely on your twitch reflexes to progress. Studio MDHR explained that the reasoning for this is so that subsequent play-throughs are less predictable. With three difficulty options for boss fights, it's easy to see how the game could get to insane levels of brutal challenge. Obviously, pansies need not apply. Thankfully, two players can team up in the game's co-op mode.

Cuphead - 3

Combat is a mix of fighting and shoot 'em up action.

Studio MDHR has listed a handful of old school influences that include Gunstar Heroes, Contra 3, Contra: Hard Corps, Hard Corps: Uprising, Batman & Robin, and Mega Man X. While those are all great games to be inspired by, the one that got me most excited was Super Mario Bros. 3. In addition to featuring an overworld map like the classic NES platformer, Cuphead will also grant you various suits that give your character special abilities. Just imagine all of the insane costume designs and abilities!

Cuphead is due out sometime in 2014. The game will launch on the PC, and Studio MDHR wants to eventually release it for Mac, Linux, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. You can keep up with the development progress on the studio's dev blog. Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long for more details on Cuphead.

Want to talk about indie games, Kirby, or cheap pizza? Follow me on Twitter @dr_davidsanchez.

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David Sanchez David Sanchez is the most honest man on the internet. You can trust him because he speaks in the third person.
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