When I was a young boy playing games on the NES, I dreamed of the day when 2D games would grow from the blocky, pixellated graphics of the time to controllable cartoons that resembled the detailed cartoons found in the instruction booklets. Perhaps more than any game that has come before, Cuphead is the realization of this dream; a fully controllable wonderland that plays like a controllable version of an early 20th century animated film short. It's also a throwback to those 8-bit days of "Nintendo hard" games that extended their limited content mainly by being controller-throwingly difficult.
Let's start with the look, which is the first thing that will attract anyone's potential interest in Cuphead. An in-game conceit puts a "1930" (sorry, "MCMXXX") trademark on the entire production, and the animation is an almost perfect throwback to that era's style of ultra-expressive, bouncy animated shorts. Characters, objects, and even pieces of background scenery wind up, squash, stretch, slide, and bounce with infectious energy.
Cuphead's cast is almost as ridiculous as it is diverse. Monstrous flowers, spear-wielding seeds, oversized bouncing candies, somersaulting frogs, and a woman who transforms into various Zodiac creatures are just some of the game's many wild characters. They already look detailed and lively in static screenshots, but that's only the beginning. Each character vibrates with a manic, animated energy driven by the game's peppy, big-band jazz soundtrack. Idle characters don't just flip through a couple of frames of placeholder animation, but, rather, they twist and coil with the hidden menace of potential energy waiting to be let out. Every screen is a riot of color and motion that I can say without hyperbole is like nothing I've ever seen in a game before.