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Cuphead Overflows With Classic Cartoon Surrealism

Cuphead has arrived.

It’s been nearly four years since we started covering Cuphead on Cartoon Brew, so the release of the game yesterday had the potential of being anticlimactic. It’s anything but.

Cuphead delivers on its promise of letting anyone play a classic hand-drawn 1930s cartoon. I’ve watched more than a few of the walkthroughs and gameplay videos that have appeared on Youtube, and the sheer amount of joyful cartoon imagery in this project is beyond words.

The makers of Cuphead, led by creators Chad and Jared Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR Entertainment, didn’t just use superficial elements of 1930s “rubber hose” cartoon design as a gimmick. The game is conceived from the ground-up in the spirit of a 1930s cartoon, packed with all of the outlandish surrealism and anything-can-happen possibilities of an actual cartoon from that era. It’s graphic overload to the max – some reviewers have even suggested that the sheer excess of visuals sometimes impedes the gameplay – but that visual exuberance keeps in spirit with the works of the Flesichers, Iwerks, and other classic animation studios to which Cuphead pays homage.

In the talk below, Jake Clark, an animator on the game, speaks about how they found specific inspiration from classic theatrical shorts and implemented those ideas into the game:

Everything about the production is pure class, including its music. Composer Kristofer Maddigan composed nearly three hours of era-appropriate music for the game’s soundtrack, an experience which he discusses in this interview.

A four-LP vinyl box set of Cuphead’s music is being released by IAm8Bit. Below, you can see clips from one of the recording sessions:

Cuphead is $19.99 and available for Xbox One (console exclusive) and PC (Windows 10 and Steam).

Cuphead. Cuphead. Cuphead. Cuphead.
  • As both a casual gamer and a hardcore old school animation fanboy, this is game is hands down a dream come true! It still blows me away of how each and every single frame is 100% hand drawn!! And as far as the games difficultly, the developers sure weren’t kidding on that statement. But at the end of the day, it’s still a fair challenge. Anyway, Cuphead is sure the first of it’s kind in the video game industry and here’s hoping that this game will garner enough attention to where traditional hand drawn animation will make a big come back here in the states.

  • Jack Rabbit

    I have never played a game, have no idea how it works, and still will have to get this and the gear to make it run. True inspiration for the hand-drawn community. But don’t expect any or all of us to be so lush unless we have the help and the money and the time. So much can be done without the lush.

  • Blond

    Looks pretty hardcore and a bit messy visually..But just for the work behind, I have to give them props and support. Will definitely play some day

  • John Friedrich

    I hope they patch in an Easy mode eventually. From what I’m hearing, many seasoned gamers are getting frustrated by the difficulty. They love the art and music but aren’t able to progress at a decent pace and eventually quit.

  • rotteng

    Also from this year, Hollow Knight and Sundered are two more games with gorgeous hand-drawn art. They’re probably more accessible than Cuphead difficulty-wise.

    • KW

      I don’t know if these are hand drawn in the sense of Cuphead but you should check out Rayman Legends and Rayman Origins. They’re both really well animated and ooze appeal.

  • Marc Hendry

    I probably won’t play it, but I really hope the developers do well with this anyway. The game definitely LOOKS great

  • vgmaster9

    Any indication that the animation for the game was done with Toon Boom?

    • Mario Bros

      No, it’s hand-drawn, pencil and paper, not even inked digitally.
      There’s a video of the process from the latest GDC bootcamp, it’s the second video in the article

      • Barrett

        It may not be “inked digitally” but scanned from really cleaned-up paper drawings, but I’m sure it was “cel painted” digitally.

        • Colored in Photoshop (the characters) but inked traditionally as they did the pencil rough animation. Their craftmanship and discipline are commendable for this project!

    • Kyle_Maloney

      It was drawn and inked on paper, colored in photoshop, then assembled in tv paint. Though some animators used something else. I guess toon boom could be a possibility, but I don’t think they specifically mention it.

      • vgmaster9

        What about the backgrounds? My guess is that they were also drawn and inked digitally, then colored with PS.

        • Kyle_Maloney

          The backgrounds are hand painted with watercolor on paper. There are photos of the actual paintings floating around. This doesn’t surprise me looking at it, watercolor an be very difficult to mimic digitally.

  • Barrett

    I very rarly buy games anymore, but I will definitely be purchasing Cuphead! This looks like a blast (despite/because of the challenging gameplay) and I will be eager to give them my money!

  • Anonym

    Wow! It’s not even that expensive (and works on windows 7, thanks goodnes), I will buy when I get the chance:).

  • Been playing this game for the last few days. It is truly a great ambassador for hand drawn animation, and for having a solid idea to go alone with it. It is very difficult when you play two player, but it’s just as fun! And seeing the animation alone, it brings fresh air for gaming (as we’re not given this all the time). Awesome work Studio MDHR!!!