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HomeBlogsMark and Candice's blogThe Gameplay of the 80s and 90s Is Alive in “Cuphead”

The Gameplay of the 80s and 90s Is Alive in “Cuphead”

For $20 you can download through Xbox Live a nostalgia-rich game called “Cuphead.” In the podcast, Candice and Mark discuss how the game is reminiscent of some of our favorites from the 80s and 90s, the beautiful art work, and two-player coop mode.

 

TRANSCRIPT OF PODCAST

 

IS “CUPHEAD” FUN?

Candice says

Hi. This is Candice and Mark with CheektoGeek.com, and today we will be discussing a $20 download off of XBox One called “Cuphead.” It’s one of the few games that’s actually two-player local coop, and, Mark, we’ve been having so much fun playing it! It’s ridiculous!

 

IS “CUPHEAD” A GOOD GAME FOR CASUAL GAMERS?

Mark says

You know it’s interesting when you talk about the downloadable games, in general, but games for this generation of console, specifically. Until the Nintendo Switch came out, the focus for both XBox and Playstation, I think has been a bit more centered on the “hard-core gamer” types. There’s been a lot of single-player games, building on existing franchises, and there have been some things in there that have been more casual, but for the most part, casual gamers have been left out of the loop.

Candice says

I feel like this game speaks to nostalgia so much. I used to play a lot of video games when I was a kid—Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64. But after the 64, video games left me. And I was having a hard time getting into them. I remember one time I went over to a friend’s house to play Halo, and just ended up stuck in a corner just staring at the ceiling. And I was like “What am I doing? How do I get out?” I think it was the whole first-person shooter thing that turned me off of video games. I’ve practiced, I’m trying to get better, but it’s a long road. This game is nostalgic not just in the art, which is a gorgeous throwback to the Betty Boop cartoons of the 1930s, but also the game play is nostalgic, because they brought back button-mashing, and I’m so happy, Mark, because that’s where my heart lives. [Laughs] I remember playing “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat” back in the day, and I couldn’t remember what everyone’s combination moves were, but if you pushed enough buttons, then something cool would happen. You could usually kick someone’s ass, or if you kept pushing the same button over and over, it would work. So this game, it’s not like all the buttons—X, Y, A, B—aren’t used, but it’s for the most part shoot and jump. And you’ve got your one joystick, and you’re moving to the right. It’s so reminiscent of “Super Mario Brothers.” I felt like I knew how to play it. It’s one of the few games I’ve started playing without you. It’s so much fun for me. Because it feels like something familiar that I know how to do and can be good at.

Mark says

You do have the side scrolling, platforming kind of game play. It does evoke old school Mario, 8 bit type titles, so some elements from the era of “Mega Man” and “Kid Icarus.” But there are stages that have other kinds of game play, and we haven’t seen them all because we’re not that far along in the game. But there was a stage that I watched you play where you had an airplane, and it was a side-scrolling shooter that was reminiscent of any number of side-scrolling shooting games that you might find in the arcades of the late 1980s and early 90s, where you have a giant boss who takes up the side of the screen and lots of mini things coming at you shooting, and you have to use your super attack and your general attack.

Candice says

And “1941” isn’t side-shooting per se, and also “Galaga” doesn’t so much move, but the enemies come down at you, so all of these things, it just felt familiar while I was playing it, and you know “Galaga” is my jam and so is “1941.”

Mark says

And then there’s a level that they call “Run and Gun,” and I was watching you play it last night, and you uncover these worlds as you go through the mini map similar to “Super Mario 3,” where you’re looking down at the world and your character goes and finds different adventures in the world and fights different bosses. But anyway, there is a level type called “Run and Gun” that’s very much like “Ghost and Goblins” that is a side-scrolling, “run and gun,” where you have enemies coming at you really fast. And it’s even a little bit like “Contra,” and it was hilarious to me, the level you were doing last night took place in a tree, and literally old-school 1930s Woody Woodpecker kept sticking his head down through the tree to get to the bugs that were attacking your character.

                And that’s what I want to address now is the art style. The aesthetic of the game itself is fascinating to me. You mentioned Betty Boop, but it is this call back to the 1930s-era cartoons with the gloves and eyes that look like Pac-man (a circle with the triangle cut out of it for a reflection) and an old timey feel to the music. Luckily we haven’t seen any old timey racism yet [Laughs]. Obviously the difference here is that it’s colorized, but when the cut scenes play or you’re between levels, they’ve distressed the screen so that it looks like film scratches, and there’s some sepia tone to it so that it looks aged. I also noticed that the copyright at the bottom of the screen says “1930,” so there are all these little elements of it that read like the game comes out of a different era. And the beauty of the art style, like when you’re playing and I’m watching, provides a spectator aspect, like you’re watching this old-timey cartoon that so happens to have a lot of gamey elements to it. I’m just so fascinated with what they’ve done with the art style.

 

DOES “CUPHEAD” ALLOW FOR TWO-PLAYER LOCAL COOP?

Candice says

This is one of the one of the few games where you watch me instead of the other way around, but I think what I love about it is that you can play two-player local coop, which is so rare it seem for games outside of the Lego franchise. Where two people can sit in a room and play video games together. It’s almost like people think that doesn’t happen anymore.

Mark says

Well, here’s the issue there. Part of the reason you don’t see a lot of two-player local coop is because so much of the hardware is dedicated to rendering the world for one player, so when you talk about a first-person shooter, it has to be split screen, and you’re asking the machine to do two of the same game, one for each player. So it’s a lot. It taxes the hardware, especially as powerful as the graphics have gotten now. And then when you talk about Lego in the more recent iteration of the Lego games I’ve played, I may not be up on the most recent ones, it does this thing where when the two of you get separated enough, the screen does split. It’s not perfectly horizontal or vertical, but it does an angle and splits on the screen so you see me off in my little area and you off in your own, but this version of local coop is true with both of us on the screen at the same time. We can’t go anywhere unless we go together. So we have not only this 1930s nostalgia but this 1980s nostalgia of playing “Contra” with your friends, and you’re yelling at them, “Keep going. Keep going!” or “Don’t get in my way!” So we’re constantly having that experience when we’re playing together trying to cooperate and also trying not to screw each other up.

 

IS “CUPHEAD” DIFFICULT?

Candice says

That’s why that game is absolutely addictive. I think it’s because there is no health meter on the monsters that you’re fighting, so you don’t know until you die how close you got to the end. And sometimes you realize that you goT so close to finish that you’re like “Let me try it one more time. Let me try it one more time.” I got stuck in a rabbit hole for a while of just thinking that I was getting so close. I think the really cool thing about the two-player function is that you can save the other person. So if I die you can come hit me and that brings me back to life with another health, and I just think that’s a really cool part that adds to the cooperation of the local coop.

Mark says

Yeah, but I think as a tradeoff for that I think the game is punishingly hard.

Candice says

Yeah, it’s ridiculously hard.

Mark says

So those old Mario games, we dusted some of those off recently, and you forget how hard it was. You couldn’t save. There were no checkpoints, and some of the later, bigger Mario levels when you die and are part way through the level, you could still be starting where you’re small and don’t have any mushrooms and still have to survive those dudes throwing hammers, you know what I mean? And so this is incredibly punishing. Right now at the level where we’re at, we only have 4 of the health, which means you can get hit four times before you die, and if you’re playing two player and rescue the other player, you only come back with the one health, so it is difficult, and for all of that and for as frustrating as it can be, it’s still really fun. Even though you die a lot. You die a lot and then you restart things a lot. I also think despite how addicted you got to it, I do think it lends itself to really short burst of game play. It’s definitely a game you can pick up for 20 minutes, maybe beat a level or get into a level and start to learn what the boss does and then set it down and go back to your life, whereas if I’ve been playing “Far Cry” for a couple of months and then put it down and then pick it up again, I have to remember everything all over again: What quest am I on? Where am I? What do I have unlocked?

Candice says

Let me go kill some boar.

Mark says

Yeah, and in [Cuphead], it’s literally always going to be the same, you pick up the controller, you don’t even have to remember all the special stuff, just jump and shoot and try to get out of the way. So I think it lends itself to people who actually have a lot going on and don’t really focus on gaming.

Candice says

Yeah, I’m really hoping that the reason that it was $20 is because they were trying to entice people to give it a chance by putting it at a low price point, and it’s not that there’s just not a whole lot to the game. Because I want this game to go on for a long time and I want them to keep adding to it, because it’s so much fun and I love it and I’ve enjoyed playing this, and I really love playing it with you.

Mark says

I would hope that the response, and I’m starting to see fan t-shirts for it. They have a Calvin and Hobbes t-shirt with the cup and the mug walking on the log together. So I’m starting to see this response, and I would hope that also means that they’ll do a sequel. They should absolutely continue not just doing what they’ve learned to do with this game but also this specific world with this art style. I think it’s beautiful, and I’m hoping that not only are people like us buying the game and giving it a chance but also that positive response is these guys are 100% ready to invest the time in another one. That having been said the fact that it’s only available on XBox Live is a limiting factor. You need to have an XBox One, you need to be on XBox Live and have yourself an account where you can purchase games to download to your machine. So there is a little barrier to entry, but absolutely worth it if you have those things. If you have the availability and the money, $20 is nothing for a game of this quality. Absolutely worth it.

Candice says

All right. Well, I think we should play some! I’m totally in the mood to play now! [laughs] This was Candice and Mark with Cheek to Geek and we were talking about the game “Cuphead,” and if you want to join us in the discussion, comment in the comment section below or follow us on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, Pinterest, basically social media. Follow us. Thank you! Bye-bye!

Mark and Candice

Mark and Candice

Sometimes the best part of reading an article online is engaging in a conversation in the comment section. However, discussions involving opposing points of view between strangers can devolve into a toxic environment. So what if these conversations were had between two people who loved each other?

At Cheek to Geek, our contributors consist of a diverse group of couples who are steeped in geek and popular culture. Our reviews reflect the back-and-forth, opposing or concurring, debates that geeks are notorious for having. But our founders, Mark and Candice Roma, have always felt that the love and respect felt for certain fandoms should carry over into the way we discuss them. Candice hopes that by modeling fruitful and productive discourses in our blogs, vlogs, and podcasts that we can show our readers the value in having disparate opinions and that differing perspectives don’t have to lead to hostile confrontation. “Mark and I have been together almost nine years, and every time we go see a movie, read book, go to a new restaurant, or see something awesome, we immediately ask what the other one thought. We don’t always agree, but having a conversation with my husband is my favorite part of experiencing something new.”

Although Cheek to Geek focuses on the opinions of specific couples, Mark believes that our vision for the site will extend far beyond that. “Ultimately the goal of art is to communicate, and the goal of communication is to build a community.” Our mission is to create a positive, inclusive, and safe environment for the appreciation and discussion of popular art in all its forms. 

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