While Microsoft finished the year on a strong note in terms of hardware, with the release of the Xbox One X, 2017 hasn’t been the best year for the company in terms of great games. There weren’t a lot of first-party blockbusters or major exclusives. But there was one big-time indie game that looked to fill that void. That game was Cuphead, Shacknews Best Xbox One Game of 2017.
Studio MDHR’s debut effort took years to get off the ground, but the time and effort proved worthwhile. From a visual standpoint, there isn’t much to say about Cuphead’s art style that hasn’t already been said. It’s a gorgeous 1930s cartoon come to life. Everything from the front-end menus to the credits all the way to the system notifications are rendered in that old-school, grainy film aesthetic. And the game’s characters are all unforgettable, looking like they could fit in any number of classic shorts from Disney, MGM, or Universal.
Of course, all of that precedes the fact that Cuphead is brutally difficult. It will chew you up and spit you out, all while offering a different quip from every boss, for every one of their phases. But what helps make Cuphead so great is that the difficulty is both crushing and entirely fair. Yes, more often than not, players will die again and again. But because the boss patterns are so consistent, it allows for continued improvement. It’s a matter of reflexes, memorizing enemy patterns, and persistence. While Cuphead’s art is the essence of classic cartoons, its gameplay foundation is the very essence of old-school gaming.
No matter how frustrating Cuphead can get, the stylish art, whimsical characters, and toe-tapping soundtrack are enough reason to keep trying. But the gradual push towards perfection is the ultimate incentive. It’s the belief that these titans can be toppled. And once they go down, the sense of triumph that courses through the veins is the very best of gaming.
Cuphead is a 2D masterpiece, both a nostalgic throwback and a modern classic. It’s the very best that the Xbox One has to offer this year and a victory for the ID@Xbox program.
Be sure to keep up with the rest of The Shacknews Awards as we celebrate the Year of the Games: 2017.