After months of success on other consoles, Cuphead has come to Nintendo, and it’s hitting the sweet spot in the Switch’s library. For those who don’t know, Cuphead is a first-person side-scrolling shooter created by StudioMDHR, with hand-drawn art in the style of 1930’s cartoons. And while the art style is undeniably gorgeous, Cuphead’s gameplay is as much to thank for the game’s warm reception among Switch owners. Let’s take a look beneath the dazzling surface to figure out why the pairing is so perfect.
The Nintendo Switch is a hybrid console. In “docked mode”, it’s a typical plug-and-play console. It puts the images and gameplay on your TV, for the same style of gaming fun we’ve enjoyed for decades. In handheld mode, Switch stands alone among mainline consoles. Even massive open world games like Zelda Breath of the Wild can be played on the go, without inferior graphics or frame rate losses. It’s in this mode that Cuphead really shines.
Cuphead is a game of boss fights. While there are a handful of run-and-gun levels, the bulk of the game is spent shooting it out with towering animated foes (think Mega Man if the series had almost nothing but Robot Masters). In Cuphead, success depends on the player’s ability to recognize and memorize multi-stage boss behaviours. Any new player will find that the Switch is ideal for this kind of gameplay.
The imagery and level design of the final King Dice level recall the hypnotic allure of the animated 1951 Alice in Wonderland film, which was undoubtedly an inspiration here. This style is mirrored in other game titles too, such as the Cheshire Cat Slot at LuckyPantsBingo.com, which uses a combination of familiar characters from Alice and Wonderland to keep players glued to their screens. But where the slot game uses chance to entice players, Cuphead uses difficulty, and the hope that “just one more game” will yield success.
It’s this kind of analytical gaming attention for which the Switch is uniquely suited. There’s just something about the proximity to the player of the Switch’s handheld mode that allows the player to be absorbed into the action. And yet, the Switch still provides a measure of distance when compared to totally immersive VR systems. Unlike games on the Oculus Rift, for example, you can play Cuphead on the subway. The handheld model is also condusive for those 5-minute sessions scattered throughout the day or in the half hour you put in before bed.
If you want to succeed at Cuphead, you’ve got to put in a fair amount of time and focus. The versatility of the Switch platform is perfect for this. The ability to play at home or on the go (and the special way handheld mode invites the user to lose themselves in the game) make Cuphead an excellent addition to the Nintendo game library. It’s a great game on any system; but on the Switch, it stands out even more.