The original Cuphead has aged remarkably. Five years later, it’s as vibrant, charming and challenging as ever, thanks to its painstakingly crafted visuals and tight, white-knuckle action. As fresh as it remains, it’s still been five years with no new content, and that’s where The Delicious Last Course, its new and aptly-named DLC, steps in.
The original Cuphead was so thoroughly successful at what it set out to do that it left very little room for explicit improvement on the formula, instead begging for innovation and more of the controller-gripping, teeth-clenching gameplay we’ve come to love and expect from platformers starring cursed drinkware. Thankfully, that’s exactly what the DLC delivers. I would’ve been satisfied had it only added the handful of new boss battles included in the downloadable finale, but Studio MDHR doubled down on its commitment to building on its already rock solid formula with the addition of Miss Chalice.
Probably the biggest feature for the DLC overall, Miss Chalice plays a bit differently from Cuphead and Mugman. Instead of using the jump button to parry glowing pink objects in the world, pressing the jump button a second time will make Miss Chalice do a second jump in the air. Given that the parry’s a central mechanic to the game, it’d be a mistake to remove it altogether. Instead, Miss Chalice’s parry is tied to her dash.
These might seem like relatively minuscule changes. After all, parrying something grants the player an extra jump anyways, and she’s more or less able to do what Cuphead and Mugman have been able to do, just in different ways. In a game that has much more accommodating systems and gameplay, that might be the case. In a game that’s as tightly engineered as Cuphead, however, Miss Chalice makes a world of difference, especially considering players who buy the DLC will be able to play her in the entirety of the base game.
I found it initially hard to get into the right flow with Chalice, so on my initial run through the DLC, I defaulted to the cup. The new character’s definitely fun, but I felt more comfortable playing as Cuphead nine times out of 10. To me, this seems like an ideal addition for someone who’s having trouble getting the game to click. That’s not to say that Miss Chalice is explicitly an easy mode, as a good chunk of the DLC and base game are still challenging, just in slightly different ways.
The discussion around difficulty in games often devolves into some arguing that it’s an accessibility issue and others arguing that it’s an issue of creative vision. There’s no clear answer, although accessibility is generally not a situation in which a barrier can be overcome with a one-size-fits-all solution. Often, the best answer to the argument lies somewhere in the middle, which is where Miss Chalice fits in. While I’m far from being an expert in accessibility or the Moldenhauers’ creative vision, providing a new way to approach Cuphead’s sumptuous, challenging action is a win for everyone—especially those who’ve had issues with the game in the past—in a way that doesn’t compromise the game’s core.
Miss Chalice may be the biggest get for the game, but that shouldn’t discount the incredible levels added in the DLC. Although the omission of a new run-and-gun level was notably disappointing, the boss battles that were added are all absolutely fantastic, save the final phase of Doggone Dogfight, which features an infuriating mechanic that feels less difficult or punishing than it is outright mean.
Starting with the only negative, Doggone Dogfight sees drinkware of the player’s choice caught in the middle of a dogfight. Throughout the three-phase boss fight, the player’s restricted to a small plane that serves as the only platform that they’re able to stand or land on. The entire level’s structured around dodging fire and enemies while restricted to this little biplane. The plane will move to the left or the right if the player stands on the left or right wing respectively. It’s all really well-executed, and controlling the plane on top of aiming, shooting and dodging adds a great new layer to the moment-to-moment gameplay.
That is, of course, until the final phase of the level. The third flying ace that you take on flips the screen on its side and upside-down. In a game that’s so fundamentally tied to its controls, this feels like a misstep. I found myself frantically leaning—and yes, turning upside-down—to beat the final phase, rather than learning and adapting my play based on an attack pattern or some timing-based challenge. I respect the desire to do something new or different, but to me, this was the wrong way to go about it, especially when the player’s restricted to a somewhat small platform.
One-third of one level aside, this new island is chock-full of brilliantly-crafted levels, characters and backdrops. In fact, the DLC’s backdrops are one of the new, big changes. Many of the new content’s levels keep that same classic, Fleischer Studio animation style, but some include beautifully-constructed models that are reminiscent of those vaguely creepy, stop-motion-animated Christmas specials from the ‘60s. The King of Games’ castle is the standout example here, but they’re peppered all throughout The Delicious Last Course.
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course is aptly named for a variety of reasons, each more on-the-nose than the last. Yes, the player is tasked with gathering ingredients for a special treat at the end, but more importantly, it lays out a smorgasbord of delightfully diverse boss fights that all (mostly) prove the quality that MDHR delivered in Cuphead five years ago was no fluke. Most importantly, each and every inch of this DLC is rich with stunning visuals that add layers upon layers of eye candy onto Cuphead’s already sumptuous art. Miss Chalice is icing on this layered, dense, satisfying cake, giving players a whole new way to approach the beloved boss-rush game. Bon appétit!
Cuphead: The Delicious Last Course was developed and published by Studio MDHR. Our review is based on the Xbox version. It is also available for PC, PlayStation, and the Switch.
Charlie Wacholz is a freelance writer and college student. When he’s not playing the latest and greatest indie games, competing in Smash tournaments or working on a new cocktail recipe, you can find him on Twitter at @chas_mke.