Ever wonder what would happen if Mickey Mouse or Betty Boop starred in a 2D side-scrolling run-and-gun game? If not, why? This is a totally awesome idea! If so, then congratulations: your fevered dreams of cartoony goodness have been answered. Indie studio StudioMDHR is close to releasing Cuphead, a game about two friends trying to pay off their gambling debt to the devil. Set to launch sometime in 2015 as an Xbox exclusive, Cuphead pairs 1930-style animation with the run-and-gun mechanics of '80s classic Contra for a truly compelling video game.
Anthropomorphized cats and dogs dancing in the background, angry vegetables and a wily pair of boxing frogs -- when I first saw Cuphead, I was immediately nostalgic for Disney's "Steamboat Wille." Cuphead's art pays tribute to 1930s-style animation, from the classic white gloves and big pie-shaped eyes, right down to the grainy fonts. However unlike most cartoons from that era, Cuphead features a beautiful palette of color that draws the eye. The end result makes you feel like you're watching one of those old-school cartoons.
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The world of Cuphead seems rather cute and unassuming, but when you're trying to pay back the devil, nothing is as it seems. There are plenty of things that want to stop you dead in your tracks. During the demo, I squared off with a huge potato which I soon mashed, a carrot with a third eye, and a pair of cantankerous amphibians. Like Liam Neeson, Cuphead has a particular set of skills to help him reach his goal. Holding down the X button shoots a rapid fire stream of blue pellets that can be aimed in the eight cardinal directions similar to Contra. A dash move helps the hero quickly get of of trouble while a well-timed slap move nullifies the power of pink-colored attacks, absorbing them for Cuphead's special attack.
Instead of fighting your way through a stage of lesser enemies, working your way up to a boss, the game features nothing but big battles. Similar to Contra, you have to meld the hero's skills with your own quick reflexes to achieve any sort of success. It's deceptively challenging, and I died quite a few times during the demo. However, I never hit that frustration level I used to hit with Contra. But that might be because I didn't blow $10 in quarters on Cuphead, so who's to say?
When you're not slugging it out with squid monsters or a pirate that looks suspiciously like Bluto from the Popeye series, you're making your way through Cuphead's World Map. The map offers some open world elements, allowing players to tackle bosses in whatever order they like as well as explore and discover secrets.
Overall Cuphead delivers nostalgia in the best way possible -- through the lens of something new and innovative. The fun, quirky art style and the deceptively challenging boss battles make Cuphead the indie game to watch in 2015.
Sherri L. Smith is a Senior Writer at Tom's Guide. When she's not reviewing the latest headphones and speakers, you'll find her gaming on her Xbox One, PlayStation 4 or PC. Follow Sherri at @misssmith11. Follow us @TomsGuide and on Facebook.