Five years after Cuphead and Mugman saved their souls from the Devil, the brothers are ready to embark on a new adventure to a mysterious isle filled with new larger-than-life bosses. Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course (DLC, get it?) is now just weeks away. After getting a hands-off look at the DLC, it’s clear that StudioMDHR gave the same–if not more–love and attentiveness to the smaller-scale adventure that it did while developing the original game. Cuphead fans will likely gobble it up, but there are also plenty of new additions to the Cuphead experience designed to be savored.
About that long wait: StudioMDHR admits that the studio “probably” revealed the DLC too soon. The Delicious Last Course was announced at E3 2018, less than a year after Cuphead released for Xbox One and PC. In the four years since, the DLC has been delayed multiple times and kept largely under wraps. But the gap has brought the base game to a wider audience thanks to Nintendo Switch and PlayStation ports, as well as an animated Netflix show and a series of novels and comics.
While StudioMDHR is keeping the brunt of the DLC under wraps, I got a glimpse at one of the new bosses, the playable Ms. Chalice, a couple new weapons and charms, and the overworld of the new island.
Over on Inkwell Isle, Cuphead talks to a ferryman who says that the Legendary Chalice needs to speak with him. Cuphead and Mugman are taken by boat–which can be used to fast travel between all of the isles–to meet the Legendary Chalice on shore. She gives Mugman a cookie, and once he eats it, the two swap places. The Legendary Chalice is alive again as Ms. Chalice, while Mugman is a ghost. The switch is only temporary, as the town’s pastry guru Chef Saltbaker informs them. However, if the trio can procure the ingredients of the Wondertart, Ms. Chalice can be alive again permanently–without swapping places with poor Cuphead or Mugman. The only problem? The ingredients are held by the island’s dastardly baddies.
The preview showed off one of the new bosses in the DLC, Mortimer Freeze in Snow Cult Scuffle. Mortimer’s stage is a domed ice stadium with creepy onlookers in the stands who look like melting popsicles with soulless faces. Some of the folks in the crowd have mouths. Others only have eyes. That’s weird, right? Mortimer himself is also strange. He initially appears as a floating wizard who flings a myriad of projectiles at you and pulls a giant fish out of his hat to smash down on your cup, mug, or teacup head. Mortimer also enchants his magic orb to shoot tarot cards at you, some of which offer a parry opportunity to fill your Super Arts meter.
Keeping with the style of the original bosses, Mortimer has multiple phases. Once he rings his little bell, a giant shackled snow monster appears. The battle intensifies thanks to a range of attacks, from pummeling toward you as a snowball to slamming his fists to call upon obstacles from the frozen floor beneath you.
Cuphead’s original batch of bosses often delighted because of their creative designs and intricate animations that pulled you into the action and told a story that resembled a cartoon, which perfectly matched the visual and musical styles. Mortimer is no different here, as he seamlessly morphs into a chomping refrigerator that appropriately shoots sentient ice cubes and twin popsicles with wings.
Mortimer Freeze in Snow Cult Scuffle
The final phase harks back to the platforming sequences from one of the base game’s most iconic bosses, Grim Matchstick. You have to jump back and forth between a ferris wheel of small frozen platforms while contending with your new-look foe: an angry snowflake that shoots similarly angry ice cream cones. The snowflake’s face latch opens and the ghost of Mortimer reveals himself behind a food counter and dives toward you. Other times, one of his eyes pops out and shoots vertical electrified beams.
In typical Cuphead fashion, Mortimer offers a lot to contend with, keeping you on your toes throughout the fight. It’s clear that StudioMDHR followed the same general design principles of the original when developing The Delicious Last Course. It’s also apparent that the team paid an extreme attention to detail when designing the animations and bosses. Everything from the small expressive faces of the projectiles to the subtle and seamless transitions between phases pulled me into the scene. It’s the tiny details that make Cuphead so fascinating and enthralling from a visual perspective, and Mortimer didn’t disappoint.
StudioMDHR says the animation influences found in the DLC stretch into the late 1930s and 1940s. Additionally, the team wanted to push the envelope with what was possible with its animation style. In that respect, the studio said the hand-drawn bosses were created using larger animation paper, and the drawings took far more time to create. In all, it estimates that the DLC has around double the number of animation details as the base game. Meanwhile, the musical bits that were shown during the preview were as joyously nostalgic and catchy as the tunes in the base game. The DLC has new start menu music that focuses on Ms. Chalice, while the in-game music offers the fizzling jazz orchestra that made the base game stand out almost as much for its sound as it did for its animations.
Overworld of new Inkwell Isle
In terms of new bosses, we were only able to view the fight against Mortimer, and StudioMDHR would not comment on how many bosses are in the DLC. While Cuphead walked across the overworld, I counted at least a handful, though, and it will feature both traditional bosses and flying ones. What we do know for sure is that the DLC ditches the run-and-gun stages. The base game has two run-and-gun levels on each isle, but StudioMDHR decided to focus on bosses for the DLC. Cuphead has always felt like a boss rush game that merely had a run-and-gun level here and there, so it makes sense that the stars of the show–the big baddies–are the focal point here. That said, StudioMDHR teased “mission side quests” that could offer additional replay value and has called the new isle the biggest one yet. One StudioMDHR developer said that it took them 3-4 hours to complete the DLC. Obviously, your skill level will drastically affect the initial playtime.
But while the DLC looks to be more Cuphead–in a good way–the new playable character and weapons/charms could wind up making the game more approachable for those who may have found Cuphead to be too challenging.
To play as Ms. Chalice, you have to equip the Astral Cookie charm. She’s locked into that charm, but you’re getting more perks than usual this way. Ms. Chalice’s charm gives her the ability to double jump, dash parry, and execute an invisible roll. Undoubtedly, the trio of abilities gives Ms. Chalice more advantages than Cuphead or Mugman possess with any one charm. Ms. Chalice also starts with 4HP, one more than usual. She has a spread shot plane attack as well as rapid fire missiles for her secondary attack, too.
StudioMDHR’s approach to designing Ms. Chalice seems somewhat similar to the one Nintendo has gone with for bonus characters in Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. While StudioMDHR doesn’t think playing as Ms. Chalice is an “easy mode,” it’s clear that the character will be the ideal choice for beginners due to her useful abilities. Outside of the inherent benefits of Ms. Chalice, Cuphead’s default difficulty will remain unchanged in the DLC. You can still play bosses on Simple or Regular difficulty during your first playthrough, though.
Though Ms. Chalice is locked into a specific charm, two other new charms have been added for Cuphead and Mugman. Heart Ring could prove to be very beneficial for those who struggle with the default 3 HP but don’t want to equip the charms that provide extra health points due to the decrease in damage dealt. Heart Ring awards you with up to three HP from parries. Your first, third, and sixth parries net you a heart, which means you can get a total of six health–the most ever excluding the bonus heart opportunities while fighting King Dice. The other new charm is the Broken Relic, which only costs one coin and is described as “a simple bauble of unknown origin.” I didn’t get to see it in action, so it’s unclear what it does.
Heart Ring is a cool new charm that rewards parrying.
All three characters can equip any of the weapons. The arsenal has increased to nine weapons, bringing three new ones into play. At a glance, the most interesting of the bunch is Converge. This handy weapon shoots a three-way spread shot that is ideal for ranged attacks against bosses and projectiles simultaneously. But you can also lock it to focus the spread, concentrating the damage on a specific target. Longtime Cuphead players might have light bulbs switching on in their heads reading that, because there are no shortage of bosses where that type of versatility will prove helpful. The caveat is that you can’t hop around while converging the shots, so you’ll still have to be strategic about how you use it.
The Crackshot goes straight and then breaks apart and homes in on enemies, similar to the Chaser. But if you hit enemies with the initial unbroken bullet, it will do more damage than the shards that zip toward targets. Like Converge, Crackshot is versatile and sounds like a weapon that could make some battles more approachable for those who are trying to learn the ins and outs of each boss. The final new weapon is Twist-Up, which fires rapidly and moves like an arc.
Keep in mind that the Ms. Chalice and the new weapons/charms can be used throughout the entirety of Cuphead’s campaign now. Considering that both Ms. Chalice and a couple of the new weapons and abilities could make Cuphead more forgiving, it does seem that the entire Cuphead experience could appeal to those who originally fell off of the base game due to the difficulty. That shouldn’t be misconstrued as “Cuphead is easier now.” Instead, a few new options may open up the game to more players, which is a lovely thing. Mortimer proved that Cuphead’s bosses will still pack a hearty punch, and StudioMDHR said that the game will offer a challenge that appeals to longtime fans.
On that note, I asked StudioMDHR about in-game achievements in the spirit of Bravo Zulu P-26–the tasking achievement that asked players to beat a boss while only shooting mini-plane bullets. Unsurprisingly, StudioMDHR wants to keep the achievements for the DLC a surprise but there will be “some unique, well-concocted achievements designed to really encourage fans to plunder the depths of the game and explore these great new movesets.”
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course releases on June 30 for PlayStation, Xbox, Switch, PC, and Mac. It will cost $8 and requires the base game to play. While it will only be available as a digital edition at launch, a physical version is in the works.
As for what’s next for StudioMDHR? The studio is starting to work on other projects, and it sounds like this could really be the “last” we see of Cuphead in video game form–at least in the near future.