Cuphead looks amazing because of breathtaking graphics inspired by old cartoons from the 1930s. But is this tricky action game too difficult? Here’s the scoop.

Throwback Cuphead graphics!

Cuphead was announced in 2014, but it took its gamemakers years to complete this relatively short game. When I first saw Cuphead’s artwork, I felt transported to a time before I was born. It was a time when cartoons were drawn by hand. Animators added fine details. Funny animals seemed real. There was so much to admire in a scene, you’d want to see it over and over again. Everything was made with loving care.

Here’s what cartoons looked like back then.

And here’s Cuphead. See the influences?

Cuphead’s all about the crazy enemies.

Cuphead smiles big and cute. His round body leans forward as he grits his teeth in ardent battle. But it’s the bosses that shine here. An angry, spitting potato. A giant carrot with wild eyes that shoot death rays. A flying machine with a pointy nose who tosses tornadoes at you. Every character here is unique.

Cuphead’s music is a thrill, too.

You probably don’t need to know that some of Cuphead’s music is a form of old time jazz called ragtime. Fast-playing pianos are very important. So is an acapella barbershop quartet. Also, there’s a crazy live orchestra whose trumpets, trombones and saxophones go wild during your play. When you’re not playing, you might be humming these tunes in your head. They’re that catchy. It kind of makes you feel like you’re in the entertainment area of a good ole local carnival or county fair. And the fast music inspires your fast play, too.

OK, but how’s the gameplay?

It’s so difficult, it reminded me of games for adults that are punishingly hard to finish. Yes, you’ll get useful powerups for your weapons. But it’s still no walk in the park. There’s a school of gamers that loves this kind of challenge. Finish the game and you can brag, ‘I beat that boss on the last level’ — when many players can’t even get to the last level.

You can spend an hour or more trying to beat a level that takes a minute to finish if you aren’t daunted by enemies. But are the graphics so cool and the Cuphead character so adorable that I’ll forge ahead even though one seasoned writer couldn’t finish the first level. As long as you follow the tutorial and start out on easy mode, you’ll do better than this.

Will Cuphead be too frustrating for you?

If you’re up for a challenge, I don’t think so. (Just don’t start the game with the Run n Gun level – at least until you have a powerup.) There’s so much here to admire graphically, musically and game design-wise, you’ll just want to keep playing and learn the patterns to win. Cuphead really is one of the year’s finest smaller games. If you want to learn more, here’s how Cuphead was made.

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