What is Cuphead?

In 2017, Studio MDHR released their highly-anticipated indie video game, Cuphead. The game is an homage to cartoons from the 1930s, not just because it looks like them, but because all of the animation is actually hand-drawn. In this guide, we take a closer look into this unique game, its history, and its reception. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

What is Cuphead About?

At the beginning of the game, the player learns the tragic tale of Cuphead and Mugman. The two brothers were tempted by the Devil's casino, and had the poor fortune to lose their souls. After begging for their lives, they were offered a deal. If they go out and collect the souls from some of the Devil's other debtors, they will be spared. During the game, whenever the player defeats a boss, they gain a "Soul Contract."

Recording the Music of Cuphead

In Depth

Cuphead is a video game that was released on September 29th, 2017. It features a completely hand drawn art style that is heavily influenced by cartoons from the 1930s such as the work of Fleischer Studios and Walt Disney. Game-play is a mix of run and gun action and challenging battles against a variety of inventive bosses, similar to classic games like Mega Man.

Cuphead can be played as a single player game, or cooperatively with one other person. Players control Cuphead, guiding him across the screen from a 2-dimensional perspective. Each stage requires shooting enemies, until enough damage has been dealt to move on to the next phase of the level. There are also brief sections where players must jump between platforms while collecting in-game coins and defeating enemies. Power ups, which enable alternate moves for Cuphead, can be purchased by spending coins. Special abilities can also be earned by completing challenges.

A small group began development on Cuphead sometime in 2010. Design was led by brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. Neither brother had ever worked on a video-game before, and initially planned to make something relatively small. Originally, the game was going to be made up of just 8 levels. The team brought Cuphead to several trade shows, where it was generally praised. Over time, the project was able to grow in scope, thanks to fan enthusiasm which led to funding from Microsoft. Many members of the expanded development team were friends and family of the Moldenhauer brothers.

Design was led by brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer.

A great number of designs were considered for the character that eventually became Cuphead. The artists knew that they did not want to have a generic animal as their hero. They experimented with using different inanimate objects and eventually settled on a character with a cup for a head. Mugman, Cuphead's brother and the second playable character, was loosely inspired by Luigi from the Super Mario Brothers games. Some unused ideas still appear as non-player characters in the final game.

Kristopher Maddigan, a Canadian musician and friend of the Moldenhauers, was hired to compose music that would provide the game with an authentic feel. Cuphead was Maddigan's first video game soundtrack. Unlike many soundtracks for games, which repeat short loops of music, each song was designed to play for the entire length of the game-section it was written for. Improvised instrumental solos were also recorded and play during specific moments of battles, making the track sound slightly different in repeat playthroughs.

The loose story follows title character, Cuphead and his brother, Mugman. After a disastrous loss in the Devil's casino, they are forced to collect on his debts by beating the souls out of uncooperative debtors. With very little dialogue, the rest is up to the players.

After a disastrous loss in the Devil's casino, they are forced to collect on his debts by beating the souls out of uncooperative debtors.

The completed game took more than 7 years to release. This was, in part because every second of unique animation required 24 frames of art to be hand drawn. Each frame was colored on a computer to avoid the years of extra work that would have been required to color by hand.

The finished product is comprised of 25 levels. Each level has its own unique theme and enemies. Many players may not have seen them all however, Cuphead is said to be extremely challenging. Even the earliest levels can take many attempts to finish. The complete soundtrack is about 3 hours long and features 56 unique tracks. Some songs even feature thematically appropriate lyrics. Cuphead is available to purchase online through Xbox Live and most PC game retailers for about $20.

With all the support they received, the Moldenhauer brothers were able to make the game they had been dreaming of making for years. Upon release, Cuphead was well received by both critics and its audience, selling over one million copies in its first 2 weeks. It received an average review score of around 88 out of 100 and won several awards.