Our Review of Cuphead

With the hype for Cuphead reviving a bit with their latest E3 announcement, I thought it would be a good time to share my thoughts and review Cuphead. Cuphead is a Run n’ Gun/Platformer style game with a high difficulty curve where most of the gameplay happens in the form of boss fights.

Gameplay

You play as the character Cuphead (or his pal Mugman if you play co-op), and the two characters gamble at the Devil’s casino and are bound to a contract with him when a gamble goes south. You’re tasked with collecting the contracts of other beings in the land, and then you’re sent on your journey. So the storyline is simple and not emphasized, which is perfect for a fast paced game like this.

When it comes to the gameplay itself you’re given a basic pea shooter as a starting weapon and you unlock more as you gather coins from the game’s Run n’ Gun levels. And while collecting the upgrades feels fun at first, it doesn’t take you very long to realize that a lot of the upgrades aren’t actually very useful, and probably could have been done better.

The progression of difficulty is pretty fair, starting you off with fairly easy boss fights and moving up to much more challenging ones as you reach the more difficult zones. But of course, all of this is supported by the games’ visuals.

The Cuphead "Feel"

With hand drawn artwork, you’ll be amazed by the artistic talent that went into this game, with mere seconds of gameplay involving hours of work. This allows the developers to come up with these crazy bosses where they take up the entire screen, and their attacks disorient and confuse the player, making for a challenging fight.

For the most part these fights are fair, the attacks are cued well visually, and usually you can predict attacks as they come. There are however a few bosses that have attacks which aren’t related to the theme of the boss itself, making those fights seem a bit more unfair than the others. But overall you should be able to get through every fight with multiple attempts, and it is well worth it to see all that the game has to offer.

The only other point of controversy this game faced is that if you choose to fight bosses on the “simple” difficulty, you are barred from fighting the final boss. Some think that this is wrong since the player paid for the game, but personally I wish more games would take this approach. In a lot of games, if you couldn’t beat a level, you couldn’t get to the rest of the game. And other challenging games will do this same thing, just not as blatantly as Cuphead does. But I don’t see this as a bad thing, as it’s the developers telling the players that they must achieve a certain level of performance before being rewarded with beating the entire game.

Conclusion

Overall Cuphead pulls together all of its individual parts to make a wonderful, and sometimes painfully difficult experience. Visually stunning, fast paced and rewarding upon completion, Cuphead is a great buy. If only they could have pulled together those upgrades to give the player more options for the boss fights, they would’ve have an even better experience, and I’m excited to see what the DLC has to offer next year! I give Cuphead an 8/10!

— Joseph Musgrove

We also recently reviewed No Man's Sky and Other Games, take a look!

No Man’s Sky NEXT: The Revival?

Before Today

   Back in August of 2016 I was witness and part of one of the most overwhelming hype trains in gaming history, some might’ve even called it universal in scale — I apologize.

   Nonetheless reporters and gamers alike were sucked into the black hole of hype that it became impossible to have a realistic view of what this game would actually be. Sean Murray, the head developer of No Man’s Sky, did not help this situation with his interviews and tweets brimming with excitement about his game. But once the game released, people began to realize that it wasn’t anything close to what the hype said it would be, naturally this caused waves of frustration and anger towards Hello Games. I think that Sean Murray got caught up in the hype of his game, and went down a path that he could foresee ending badly, overall the launch of this game was nothing short of a disaster.

   It is now May of 2018, coming close to the two-year mark of No Man’s Sky being released, and a lot of people are asking the question: did they make up for what happened? So far we’ve seen three major content updates, The Foundation Update, The Pathfinder Update, and Atlas Rises. All of these added many new features such as base building, ground vehicles, improved AI and new story content. That short summary doesn’t do these updates justice, as the game really does feel more optimized and improved overall, but have they redeemed themselves?

Thoughts on the Game

   Even though I don’t have a lot of hours in the game, there are aspects that I will cover that I like and dislike, because that will help set my perspective for how I answer this question. Initially this game is a blast to play, because you’re exploring brand new worlds, everything seems fresh and the universe is yours to explore. However, as you get further things start to slow down a little, as you are sort of repeating the same process with each planet you reach. Of course this is changed at two points, when you get a base, and when you get a freighter. Both of these allow you to customize your world and make something truly yours, which is an excellent feeling.

   Besides those two things though, the only other motivation you have for progressing is the story, which is mysterious and somewhat vague during your travels. Unravelling the story can be entertaining, but to me it seems like a lot of grinding to get there. In addition, there is the achievement of reaching the center of the universe, though most people know by now that it is hardly a gratifying experience.

   No Man’s Sky has some walls that you run into while playing, and sometimes this will make players want to avoid the game entirely. At the same time, it does provide the player with a good sense of exploration, discovery and hard-earned progress if you choose to climb those walls. It may not be my favorite game, but with the changes made so far, it is a game with a solid amount of content.

Moving Forward

   July 24th is the date set for the fourth large expansion, and I think it will be the update that really answers our question. One of the main reasons for me saying this is that Sean Murray in an interview said that a proper multiplayer mode will be added in the NEXT update. I checked the No Man’s Sky subreddit and already it’s teeming with life, and those who play are very excited about what this multiplayer update will bring. Though I am a bit hesitant to give in to the hype, because it feels eerily similar to the hype the existed before the game was released.

   I think that this update will be what redeems No Man’s Sky, but only if it adds multiplayer in a way that really counts. I personally would love to see some sort of clan system implemented, so that you could make your mark on multiple planets and solar systems. But realistically they will probably just allow you to group with friends, play with each other and work together on bases and freighters, and explore the stars as a team. This is what people wanted originally, and now that they are gonna get it the game will be tested yet again. The true fans will love it regardless, but it is getting another chance to redeem itself in the eyes of the public, and I have a feeling that it will be a success leading to a satisfying and enjoyable gaming experience.

Author: Jospeh Musgrove

The Modern Competitive Gaming Scene

            In the modern age of gaming, we’ve moved past the simple times where people would aim for the high score or where speed runners would compete with each other for the fastest times. With eSports being founded in 2000, we’ve seen games like Dota 2, Starcraft II, and Overwatch become extremely popular to watch as professionals duke it out. The earnings are big and the hype for these competitions is even bigger, with thousands and thousands of people viewing these competitions. In addition, even without a formal competition, those same games all have a competitive game mode where players are ranked and can work their way up the “ladder” of ranks.

            This has enabled developers to take a new perspective when making their games, and it gives them the choice to even allow players to compete within the game. In addition, it gives developers tools for letting the players choose whether or not to compete with others. For example, a game recently released is Sea of Thieves, where you focus on being a pirate and gaining reputation in a world filled with other players. Players can choose whether or not they want to be aggressive or passive, which adds a certain level of competitive gaming. If someone steals your loot, more than likely you’ll want revenge and then challenge the other players in an attempt to get it back. Of course this a very informal method of competition, but I would still consider it to be a competitive aspect that the developers had to think about.

            Then there are games like Minecraft or Ark: Survival Evolved where players can set up servers that have varying degrees of competition. This can be done in the forms of games, actual competition, or just plain PvP.

            With this in mind, we can see that there are many options for game developers to choose from when it comes to competition. And as always, players will usually find some way to compete with one another regardless of what kind of game it is. But with this rise of competitive mindsets, we can also see an attitude shift among players and developers.

            One of the first games that comes to mind is Overwatch, where recently it has made a big entrance into the competitive scene, along with that comes a lot of changes. When playing the competitive game mode, players tend to be much more serious and les patient with others, which can lead to toxic behavior and poor gameplay experiences. Over time the developers have added more tools for reporting and communication, but there are still problems in the game. In addition, developers will make balance changes to the characters based off the high level players who play at those high ranks, which can feel a little unfair to those who play at lower ranks.

            This is just one example, and even within the same company we see a better approach with the game Starcraft II, but there are games that have a difficult time with the balancing act of competitive. It’s mostly difficult because since it is a competitive game mode with consequences for winning or losing, you want the players to play their best. But at the same time, it is still a videogame and for the most part people are not playing for real life consequences like money. So maintain that line where you let your players have freedom and fun while also being serious can be difficult.

            The last point I wanted to cover was the player’s attitudes. Whenever I play a competitive game I find that I can get pretty frustrated when I have a losing streak. I’ve touched on the subject of losing in videogames in one of my other articles, but I just want to remind those reading about how they should treat others. If you have a teammate who you don’t think is performing their best, just try reaching out in a kind way to see what is going on. If that doesn’t work, try and adjust your gameplay to adapt around theirs. Finally, if that doesn’t work, just accept that it is what it is and that you won’t be able to change how they play. If they are intentionally doing something wrong, usually you can report them. But if you just don’t think they are good at the game, don’t be rude, try and stay positive and just look forward to your next game!

Author: Jospeh Musgrove

Adjusting Attitudes Towards Gaming

The other day I overheard a conversation between a few adults who were talking about teenagers today, and at some point I heard one of them mention videogames upon which all the others let out a collective sigh. I realized that they were probably annoyed with videogames and how their own children used them, but in our day and age where gaming has become a popular hobby there are plenty who think it is doing more harm than good. Along with this we see plenty of people who will hear that you play videogames and immediately assume that you are lazy or sheltered because of that. Today I want to talk about why this sort of attitude is bad and how people can simply accept videogames into their daily lives.

            If you are a Millennial reading this, more than likely your parents have only ever played on classic consoles or perhaps they even just went to arcades and played games there occasionally. As we all know since then things have changed in major ways. Games are extremely interactive, providing deep challenges and some will present a story to the player in a way that makes them feel immersed as if they were a part of a movie. On top of that with Virtual Reality becoming more popular and the technology improving, videogames are only getting more involved. Because of this, we spend more time playing and watching videogames than we ever have before, which is probably concerning to those who are not used to them.

            These concerns should be taken into consideration, because videogames when played in excess can have different effects, especially for younger minds. In addition, they can cause addictive behaviors if players develop bad habits. However, even when you recognize issues that may come up, it doesn’t mean that videogames will always have negative effects on the players, and this concern is the root of the issues here. So to adjust your frame of mind, one has to recognize the benefits of playing videogames.

New Mindset: There Are Benefits To Gaming

            There are many articles explaining all sorts of benefits to playing videogames, with a few examples being they improve hand-to-eye coordination, they improve your decision making abilities, and they help you connect to like-minded individuals. But seeing these lists won’t just change someone’s mentality by themselves, because this issue is a little deeper than that. Videogames have progressed very rapidly and, like other things that have advanced in a similar fashion, it takes time for people to adjust. And I would argue that there is a mentality set in people’s minds that if you aren’t doing some sort of physical activity then you are wasting time. Also keep in mind that there was a time where people thought that reading was a poor way to spend your time, since then we now realize there are many benefits to reading, so videogames could be the next thing that people will grow to accept.

            I encourage readers to take some time to reflect on how they spend their time, regardless of whether you play videogames or not it is important to keep this in mind when you judge others for how they spend their time. Overall videogames are an excellent platform for players to have fun, improve skills, and join a community of people who are interested in the same thing. If those sound like bad things, then I suppose I’ve lost track of what good things are. Just like reading, playing sports, and making art, videogames are an excellent way to spend time and enjoy yourself. Just be careful not to ignore those around you, because people always come before hobbies.

Author: Joseph Musgrove

Genre Highlight: Survival

            It’s 2018 and the Steam store is so chock full of indie/early access survival titles that most people are hesitant to get into the genre at all. Luckily there are also quite a few that have stood out among the rest and have made the genre a fun one to enjoy, and we will be looking at a couple of those games today.

            For a brief history of the survival genre, there were a few games like SOS by Nintendo that were made when we started seeing consoles in homes more often, however none of these survival like games really made the full dive into the genre and therefore it wasn’t something of discussion. It wasn’t until 2009 that we would really see a game that people started following in large numbers, Minecraft. Back then it was still an early access title and wasn’t properly released until 2011, and as most of you know has grown much more since then. That along with DayZ (released in 2013) helped show players what the genre has to offer and the potential that it had, leading to the mass amount of survival games made within the past five years.

            Minecraft is such an intriguing game because of how simple it is at its core, you spawn in a randomly generated world with nothing, and you get wood, mine materials, build a house and upgrade your gear as you go. Of course today there is a lot more to do and an actual end to the game, but the core gameplay hasn’t changed since the beginning. In addition, Minecraft has paved the way for many other survival games that use a similar formula.

            There is something satisfying about mining and placing each block, because you know you have complete control over your environment, and before you know it six hours have passed as you stand atop your refined castle. You can keep things simple with your basic blocks, or can you get into the complicated redstone components and make fortresses that are fully automated to your design. Or you can live in a basic dirt hut and focus purely on exploration or progression. But that’s the beauty, you can choose exactly how you want to play the game, and it gives you the tools to do just that. This is what keeps me coming back to Minecraft year after year, and what will continue to bring people back for years to come.

            The other game I wanted to specifically mention is Subnautica, a recently released survival game where you play as a member of a crashed spaceship on an watery planet, teeming with vibrant and unique life. Even though this game came out recently, it has been in an early access state since 2014 and made a lot of good progress from then until its release. We can look at Subnautica and shove it into the survival category, but to do that and nothing else would be a crime as there are a lot of good things going on beneath the surface that you don’t see from a trailer.

            First and foremost, unlike a lot of other survival games, the world is not randomly generated. Every piece of coral and every biome is thought out and constructed to fit what the developers were going for. Some might say that makes the game a bit stale when replaying it, however I would argue that it instead gives the player a feeling of nostalgia as they explore the same world on a fresh play through.

            The second part of Subnautica that grabs me is the amazingly unique creatures you encounter in your journey. The basic fish don’t serve much purpose besides being a food source, but they are all visually appealing. However, the “enemies” of the game are what give this game a unique feeling of curiosity and fear as you play it, causing you to constantly watch your back and it gives you the sense that you are not welcome on this alien planet. Combine this with a very subtle storyline that moves along as you progress, and you’ve got yourself a deep, immersive experience that will suck you in and give you a good time.

            Of course these are just two examples of good quality survival games, there are a lot more that could be written about but we’ll save that for later. To wrap things up I want to take a look at this genre’s future.

            Unlike other genres, repeating the same thing can get tiring rather than exhilarating in a survival, and if you aren’t careful you’ll end up sick of the genre. So that begs the question, what will survival games do to remain relevant?

            Perhaps they’ll simply continue changing how crafting systems work besides a UI change, turn-based survival games have some potential, and we could even see a shift where they introduce more strategy into survival games for a more challenging experience. Regardless of what changes we see, I definitely think that the genre will have to find a way to bring people back; otherwise fans of the genre will simply continue playing the survival games they know and love forever. No matter what happens, I am confident that this genre will keep moving forward and stay just as relevant as it is today.

Author: Joseph Musgrove

The Mindset of a Successful Gamer: Dealing With Loss

Hey everyone, so this week I was thinking about gaming as a whole and all the different aspects behind it. Motivation for playing, the feelings you get while playing, and what happens when you win or lose a game. Most people can agree that winning a game is a satisfying feeling. Whether it’s a simple game of cards to something entirely more complicated and thought out like chess, a win is a win. But on the other half of the coin there is something everyone has to deal with at some point, loss.

Of course everyone is taught to deal with loss for much more important things in life than games, but that is a different type of losing. One can’t compare losing their favorite pencil to losing a videogame, they are two different worlds and I’m here to talk through one of those.

As soon as you start a game, you usually go in with the mindset that you are determined to win, and while there may be other goals you have along with that such as practicing a skill or simply to have fun, usually the goal is to win. Mentally that sets up your brain to have a negative reaction when you lose, of course this will look different per person, but most people don’t walk away from a loss entirely happy. Then dealing with the negativity after losing can be a challenge of its own, especially if you’re like me in that a loss can cause a considerable amount of anger. But getting on top of these negative feelings is important for anyone who wants gaming to be a positive thing in their life rather than a negative one, let me show you why.

When I play games for a few hours and win most games or do really well, I’ll walk away after wrapping up for the night with a happy attitude and my brain will shift its focus off the games and onto the next thing such as dinner with my wife. However, if I lose multiple games I have the tendency to keep playing until I win which usually leads to less patient gameplay which leads to more losses, and the cycle continues. In the past I’ve played for many hours longer than I should have, desperately yearning for a victory before I sleep, and without realizing it the clock says 2:30 AM and my wife is asleep. At this point I would get up from my computer with an unsatisfied feeling and drag myself to bed, feeling terrible for wasting time and getting so frustrated.

This is the type of thing I have been actively trying to avoid more and more in my life, as it only makes me disappointed and feeling like I’m not good enough. Some may say that it’s just a game, therefore I should just get over it, but it never is really that easy.  But I have found a few techniques that help me stay away from negativity and simply enjoy playing games.

First, I would say that its important to recognize which games are giving you problems. For example, Overwatch is a game that can cause me to rage about a loss. But since I know that, I can avoid that game when I know I will have troubles with it.

Second, figure out what moods can set off anger when you lose. Different moods will affect how you deal with a loss, so if you can figure out which moods make losing difficult, you’ll know when you should probably avoid playing games.

Finally, if you play with friends, you are much less likely to get overly mad at a loss. Typically when you game with friends you want to just have a good time and treat it more like a fun social interaction. So if you do end up losing, you probably won’t feel as bad about it (unless you’re the extremely competitive type, which is an entire article of its own).

With all of this in mind I will end this with a friendly reminder. Games are designed to be enjoyed by those who play them, so no matter what happens remember that you’re playing to have fun, and that you’ll always be able to try again in the future!

Guest author: Jospeh Musgrove

What is on The Horizon for Nintendo in 2018?

Nintendo has been a game development company since the dawn of gaming itself, and recently with their newest console—the Nintendo Switch—they’ve made changes that are worth taking a look at. Notable games last year, like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, grabbed most everyone’s attention in the gaming community. I think that Nintendo has positioned themselves well for another successful year as they continue to work on major titles. Of course with this in mind there is the chance for them to take a misstep, which we will be discussing as well.

First let’s take a look at their general direction. With the Switch introducing some pretty neat ways to use hardware, I have a feeling they will make some bold moves with new ideas, with the first of these being the Nintendo Labo. In regards to the Labo itself, I think it is a fun way to showcase what the Switch can do in addition to giving tools to creative minds to make simple games. But overall not something that will be loved by the majority, and I have a feeling they know that as well. But we will have to see what other crazy ideas they introduce as the year goes on.

As far as games go, Nintendo has always had a basic formula to use. Make a few big games for their iconic characters, release a few sequels to well known games, and introduce some new type of game which gets close to the edge of simply being a failed indie experiment. With this pattern they have been successful, however I think that now the Switch has solid titles on it in addition to the addition of classic third party games, Nintendo may start introducing new styles of gameplay that they don’t usually branch into. For example the new Metroid game that’s in the works, if they try something new it could be a huge success. But knowing Nintendo and their fans, going with what they know works might be their best bet. 

Though with new ideas on the horizon, there is always the potential for those ideas to crash and burn. If Nintendo isn’t careful and they don’t continue to deliver those iconic titles we’ve come to know and love, they could get in trouble. On top of that, they have had gimmicky products in the past such as their Virtual Boy, so if they start trying too much out of the ordinary, they may find themselves back in the age of the Wii U… and I know that no one wants to go back there.

The future of Nintendo looks stable for the time being, and this year is a good year for them to continue moving forward with leaps and bounds, or to go backwards and lose their customer’s confidence. But I guess for now we will just have to wait and see.

Author: Joseph Musgrove