The Cuphead Show! is now streaming on Netflix.
By Greg Wheeler
When Cuphead originally released back in 2017, it immediately took the gaming world by storm. This grueling run and gun title was a tough and difficult Indie, but an extremely rewarding one all the same. With a simple premise, a beautiful art style – paying homage to the 20’s cartoons of old – and a brilliant soundtrack, the game still stands up to this day as one of the best in the genre.
So naturally, with the recent slew of videogame adaptations, and coming right off the back of last year’s fabulous Arcane, Cuphead is given a new lick of paint, a new story and a classic slapstick coat. The result? A bit of a mixed bag.
On the one hand, the wacky stand-alone chapters work well to play on the bombastic action and violence that made cartoons like Tom and Jerry so good in the past. The singular nature of these stories make it easy to dip in and out too, while the numerous nods to the game offer up lots of little Easter eggs that fans are sure to appreciate.
The problem, however, stems from the fact that Cuphead feels like a bunch of sketches thrown together rather than one consistent story. Not only that, the entire premise has been reworked and lacks drive, urgency and the endearing feel of the game’s plot.
The jokes largely revolve around slapstick shenanigans or characters shouting their lines, which is a style of comedy that gets old very quickly if you’re intending to binge through this. While there is fun to be had here, there’s an equal amount of frustration too, and those familiar with the game may find themselves conflicted about the wasted potential with this.
You see, the story in Cuphead worked because of its brilliant simplicity, riffing on ideas of consequences for ones action. For those unfamiliar, the plot centered on Cuphead and his brother Mugman ignoring their father, Elder Kettle, and his warnings. Instead, they wander into the Devil’s Casino to play craps.
The Devil soon gives them an enticing offer to raise the stakes; if Mugman and Cuphead can win one more roll, they’ll get the riches in the casino. If they lose? Well, the Devil will take their souls.
Cuphead loses, Mugman begs for mercy and all seems lost. That is, until the Devil makes a brand new deal with them. If they can collect up the “soul contracts” from various miscreants who have run away from their debts by midnight the next day, he’ll contemplate sparing them. None of these creatures however, are going down without a fight.
The premise is simple and it’s surprising that Netflix haven’t just copied the plot right from the games because it works so well in this short chapter form.
Away with the gambling and casino malarkey, The Cuphead Show instead centers on the devil intending to gain Cuphead’s soul because the brothers wander into the Carn-evil and realize too late that this is all a big swindle.
With no soul contracts to gain, most of this series doesn’t even focus on the devil or the main drama involving his search for Cuphead’s soul. Instead, most of these chapters are throwaway, disposable episodes that border on filler.
There’s a whole chapter about Mugman losing his handle, another about helping to stop a mean gang of vegetables from entering Elder Kettle’s garden, and a reworked script involving many of the familiar faces and villains from the games.
The actual main plot line (if you can call it that) is pretty much wrapped up by episode 9, leaving three episodes of random shenanigans to close the series out.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the show works in the sense that it’ll be accessible for the whole family. There are a few good jokes in here, and the way the two fighting toads have been reworked into the story is brilliantly done. The Cuphead Show also pays homage to the revered animation of old but it doesn’t have that same grainy feel the games did.
Instead, the art here feels much crisper and visually pleasing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it also loses some of the charm that the game had in abundance.
The soundtrack does maintain the same jazzy vibes which is good, but given how iconic some of the tunes are, it’s a shame that those same tracks haven’t squeezed their way into this production.
However, with 12 episodes, each clocking in at around 15 minutes or so, this is an easy series to slip into and the individual episodes have enough enjoyment within them to see this through to the end.
Some of the jokes work, some don’t. On that same note, the story misfires more than it strikes and the improved art style will please some and irk others. Ultimately, this is a bit of a mixed bag; a wasted opportunity of what could have been a solid game adaptation. Instead, the show has glimmers of brilliance stuck behind a slapstick script that doesn’t quite have the soul needed to make this one shine.
I give The Cuphead Show! a C+.