HOT T-shirt, Sweater, Hoodie for CUPHEAD

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For the main character, see Cuphead (character).

“Well, Cuphead and his pal Mugman
They like to roll the dice…
By chance they came ‘pon Devil’s game
And gosh, they paid the price!
Paid the price…
And now they’re fighting for their lives
On a mission fraught with dread…
And if they proceed but don’t succeed…
Well…
The Devil will take their heads!”

Introduction song

Cuphead (full title: Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil) is a run and gun indie video game developed and published by StudioMDHR. First announced in 2013, the game was released for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One in September 29th, 2017, for macOS in October 19th, 2018, for Nintendo Switch in April 18th, 2019, and for PlayStation 4 in July 28th, 2020. The game was inspired by the rubber hose style of animation used in cartoons of the 1930s, such as the work of studios Fleischer and Walt Disney Animation, and seeks to emulate their subversive and surrealist qualities.

Cuphead features one or two players taking control of animated characters Cuphead and his brother Mugman to fight through several levels that culminate in boss fights as to repay their debt to The Devil. The game was praised for its art style and noted for its challenging difficulty. It was both a critical and commercial success, winning several awards and selling over four million copies by July 2019. An animated series based on the game, entitled The Cuphead Show!, is on Netflix.

Plot

On the fictional Inkwell Isles, Cuphead and his brother Mugman are two fun-loving kids who live under the watchful eye of Elder Kettle. Against the elder’s warnings, the brothers enter the Devil’s Casino and begin playing craps. When they go on a winning streak, the Devil himself offers to raise the stakes. If Cuphead and Mugman can win one more roll, they will receive all the money in the casino; if not, the Devil will take their souls. Cuphead loses by rolling snake eyes, and he and Mugman beg for mercy. The Devil makes a deal with them: collect the “soul contracts” that signify his ownership of the souls of his runaway debtors by midnight the next day, and he might let them keep theirs. They visit Elder Kettle, who gives them a potion that allows them to fire blasts from their fingers to aid in their quest, but also warns them the debtors may change themselves to different things in attempt to stop them.

The brothers travel around the Inkwell Isles, fighting the residents who have lost their souls to the Devil in order to obtain their contracts. On entering the second island, the Elder Kettle informs them about “doing the right thing” when they come up against the Devil again. Once they have the contracts, they return to the Devil’s Casino, but its manager King Dice blocks their way. He has lost a bet with the Devil, presumably over whether Cuphead and Mugman would be able to complete their task, and forces them to fight his own henchmen before confronting them directly. After the brothers defeat King Dice, the Devil demands that they hand over the contracts in exchange for “joining his team”. What happens next depends on the choice of the player. If the player decides to do so, the Devil turns Cuphead and Mugman into his demonic lackeys and the game ends. If the player declines, the Devil becomes furious at the brothers’ refusal to honor their deal and fights them himself. Cuphead and Mugman triumph over him, burn the contracts, and race home. Learning that they no longer have anything to fear from the Devil, the former debtors honor the brothers for their heroic actions.

Description

The all-cartoon Magical Wondergame!

Cuphead is a classic run and gun action game heavily focused on boss battles. Inspired by cartoons of the 1930s, the visuals and audio are painstakingly created with the same techniques of the era, i.e. traditional hand drawn cel animation, watercolor backgrounds, and original jazz recordings.

Play as Cuphead or Mugman (in single player or local co-op) as you traverse strange worlds, acquire new weapons, learn powerful super moves, and discover hidden secrets while you try to pay your debt back to the devil!

Gameplay

Cuphead’s gameplay is based around continual boss fights, with interspersed run and gun levels. The game also includes role-playing elements, and a branching level sequence. Cuphead has infinite lives, maintaining all equipment between deaths. The player can purchase weapons and “Charms” (special abilities) from the shop using coins collected from the run-and-gun levels. Player characters feature a parry attack that can be used on certain objects marked in pink, to various effects; the most important of them being increasing a “super meter” that enables more powerful attacks.

After completing a level, the player will be ranked with a grade based on their performance, through factors such as the time taken to defeat a boss, damage taken/avoided, and number of parried attacks. The levels are accessible through a top-down perspective overworld with its own secret areas. The game also has a two-player local cooperative mode that allows another player to play as Mugman.

Development

Cuphead was the first game by StudioMDHR, a Canadian indie game development studio consisting of brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer. Additional animation work was contributed by Jake Clark, with programming lead by Eric Billingsley. Its development began in 2010 using the Unity game engine, and it was developed from the brother’s homes in Oakville, Ontario and Regina, Saskatchewan, respectively. The game was inspired by cartoons produced by the Fleischer and Walt Disney animation studios, along with cartoonists Ub Iwerks, Grim Natwick, and Willard Bowsky. Chad Moldenhauer called Fleischer Studios “the magnetic north of his art style”, who particularly sought to mimic their “subversive and surrealist” elements.

The Moldenhauers watched 1930s-era cartoons in their youth, which Chad Moldenhauer describes as happenstance, based on gifts and VHS compilations. Among other siblings in their Regina, Saskatchewan childhood home, the two shared aesthetic taste and interest in gameplay. They attempted a game in the style of Cuphead in 2000, but lacked the tools to continue. The brothers decided to try again following the success of the indie game Super Meat Boy, which released in 2010. The character that became Cuphead descended from a 1936 Japanese propaganda animated film where a man with a teacup for a head morphs into a tank. The Moldenhauers emulated the animation because they found it strange, and “right away it stuck”. Before settling on him as the main character, the brothers had created around 150 different character designs, including a kappa in a tophat and characters with a plate or fork for a head.

The animation techniques behind Cuphead are similar to that of the 1930s cartoons. Chad Moldenhauer, who had previously worked in graphic design, would hand-draw the animations and paint the backgrounds using watercolors, colorizing them in Photoshop. The gameplay runs at a framerate of 60, while the animation runs at 24, which is a film standard. Chad Moldenhauer also saw his process with its human imperfections as a reaction to the perfectionism of pixel art. Jared Moldenhauer worked on other aspects of the game, though they would discuss gameplay design together. Their studio hired a Romanian developer, a Brooklyn animator, and an Ontario jazz musician for the project. They sought to keep the recording processes of the time period as if the team were developing in that era.

The Moldenhauers described Cuphead as having a difficult, “retro game” core for its emphasis on gameplay over plot. Kill Screen described the developers as “obsessed” with run and gun fundamentals of “animations and exploits and hitboxes”. Over the development process, they have made multiple revisions to many gameplay elements, including how gameplay actions feel at the edges of platforms and how long players are disabled after receiving damage. They planned multiple difficulty levels, and chose to abandon a typical damsel in distress plot for one where Cuphead perpetually creates trouble for himself. The developers planned to surpass the Guinness World Record for number of boss battles in a run and gun game by having over 30 to the record’s 25. The game’s implementation and visual design, combined with the limited number of people available to work on the game, proved to be StudioMDHR’s biggest challenge, so the Moldenhauers had to go the extra mile to bring the game to life, even remortgaging their house in order to finance the project.

Music

Main Article: Cuphead Original Soundtrack

Promotion and release

Though the game was shown during the Xbox press event of Electronic Entertainment Expo 2014 to audience approval, Cuphead was not available to play and was estimated to be 40 percent complete. Cuphead was expected to be extended via expansion packs with 10 to 15 bosses each, similar to how Sonic & Knuckles added atop the Sonic series formula. Cuphead was released on September 29, 2017 for Microsoft Windows and Xbox One, with potential later releases for macOS and Linux. Cuphead is an Xbox console exclusive, and supports Xbox Play Anywhere. King Features Syndicate has the licensing rights to Cuphead merchandise and assorted paraphernalia. A port of Cuphead for macOS was released on October 19, 2018, and advertised with an animated short titled “Crisp Apples”. A port to Nintendo Switch was released on April 18, 2019.

In June 2019, an adapted port for some cars manufactured by Tesla, Inc. was announced by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who expressed his appreciation of the game. Due to the cars’ limitations, only the game’s first section will be playable. A port for PlayStation 4 was announced and released on July 28, 2020.

Downloadable content

Downloadable content for the game, titled The Delicious Last Course and featuring a new playable character, levels, and bosses, was revealed at E3 2018 for release in 2019. However, the new content was pushed back into 2020 as to avoid putting too much pressure and crunch time on their development team. It is set to release on June 30th, 2022.

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