The Cuphead Show is a 12 episode animation series, coming to Netflix on February 18th. It is based on the critically acclaimed run-and-gun 2017 video game Cuphead (aka Cuphead: “Don’t Deal with the Devil”), originally an Xbox console exclusive, before making its way onto the Nintendo Switch, which was where I first encountered it. Inspired by the rubber hose style from the golden age of American animation, Cuphead the game is a real feast for the eyes. And it is also notoriously tough at times, responsible for providing me with many hours of very, very frustrating gameplay. So, I was certainly very interested to see how well the style and content of the game would transfer to episodic TV.
The simple premise of the game is that Cuphead and his brother Mugman have lost a bet to the Devil, thereby forfeiting their souls. The Devil gives the boys a chance to keep hold of their souls, providing they can chase down other debtors and collect their souls for him. This involves a series of wacky and frantic boss battles, interspersed with run-and-gun stages. The setup in episode one of The Cuphead Show is fairly similar – after cheating at a game of soul ball at the local Carnevil (Carnival), Cuphead now owes the Devil his soul. However, aside from a couple of episodes later on in the series, this plotline isn’t something that features very much at all.
Episode one does a very good job of establishing the world of Cuphead and Mugman. The pair live in a small house on the Inkwell Isles, along with Elder Kettle, a kind of father figure to them both. When Elder Kettle tasks the boys with painting the fence, they slack off to go to the Carnevil, setting up their relationship as that of mischievous little boys and a downtrodden parent. The Carnevil itself is packed with characters and visual treats and we even get a song and dance number from the Devil himself! As an opening episode, it manages to pack a pretty solid punch.
Sadly, episode two is the complete opposite. After Elder Kettle leaves the boys home alone, they find a baby abandoned on their doorstep which then sets about causing chaos and destruction inside the house. Not a very original story, and one that’s been executed so much better many times before. From there, the show doesn’t really manage to hit the mark again until the final episode. Characters from the game feature occasionally, and the Devil owed a soul storyline only pops up again once or twice in later episodes to make things interesting. Other than that, the majority of the season just felt bland and far too many times I found myself regularly checking to see how much time was left in an episode. Not good when each one is only about 10 minutes long!
One thing I cannot fault about The Cuphead Show is the visual style. The team behind dedicated hours of research in order to painstakingly match the visuals of traditional 1930s animation that were shown in the video game. And it clearly shows. Hopefully, younger viewers and die-hard fans of the game will embrace and appreciate this show. But for me, the whole thing just doesn’t have the energy and the wackiness that I felt when playing the game.
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Web developer by day, with a movie and TV watchlist that continues to grow as much as my spare time reduces! My favourite movie is Inception and, despite what everyone says, I do not have a man-crush on Tom Cruise.