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E3 2015: How ‘Cuphead’ Became The Sleeper Hit Of The Show

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While taking my Uber to the last day of E3, I was sitting with another reporter who asked me what my favorite games from the show have been so far.

I gave him the basics: Star Wars: Battlefront, Metal Gear Solid and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. Pretty standard answers, I thought, but you couldn’t really argue with them.

The conversation then dropped for a beat, and he asked, “You see Cuphead yet?”

“What the hell is Cuphead?,” I thought. But not to sound like the E3 rookie that I am, I answered, “Oh definitely, that’s on my list for today.”

Less than an hour later at the Microsoft booth, my eye was caught by a cel-shaded side-scroller featuring two cartoonish heroes doing battle with a burly pirate, not unlike Bluto from the old Popeye cartoons. I looked at the name of the game, and there it was…the mysterious Cuphead.

Set up like a simple side-scroller, Cuphead focuses on just that, two protagonists—one red, one blue—with cups for heads that shoot out projectiles. But it’s not the gameplay that makes Cuphead work so well—it’s everything else.

The game is awash in a '40s animated style, much like the old Walt Disney or Fleischer Brother cartoons. Developers, and brothers, Chad and Jared Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR went above just recreating character models from '40s cartoons, though.

Everything here has an authentic feel—from the exaggerated animations and facial expressions to the scratches on the film and the depth of the cel. The game itself even has a slightly fuzzy quality, as if you’re viewing a 70-year-old print of a cartoon.

My time with the demo was short, but I got to see plenty. After a brief tutorial, my partner and I journeyed into the game’s nightclub level, where we fought a pair of massive frogs decked out like old-timey boxers. 

Within moments, we were both dead. That’s the other thing about Cuphead—it’s like the Dark Souls of side-scrollers.

My partner and I died…and died…and died again. We then left the frogs and went to fight a very angry carrot—which just resulted in more death. But this was death that elicited more laughter than frustration. There was a feeling of fun near the game that I didn't see as I sat with jaded gamers on line for Battlefront and Call of Duty.

Cuphead doesn't exist to make sense; it exists to transport gamers into a world lost to time. There’s no vast plot to speak of or complex dialogue chains. The game is just an exquisitely detailed experience that is, frankly, unlike anything at the show.

Other games have bigger budgets, deeper gameplay and more hype, but I guarantee if you put anyone in front of Cuphead for a couple of minutes, they won’t forget it.

Cuphead will be out on Xbox One and Steam in 2016.

Stay tuned for more E3 2015 coverage all week from TechTimes and T-Lounge.

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