Previously a console exclusive for Xbox One, Studio MDHR's Cuphead is now available on Switch and speaking as a big fan of the game, I highly recommend it! In fact, the port to Nintendo's hybrid is nigh-on flawless - indistinguishable from Xbox on a living room display and with the added bonus of portable play that holds up beautifully for gaming on the go. Put simply, it's a lovingly crafted, zero compromise port that exceeds expectations.
And it's worth remembering what makes Cuphead so special in the first place. It combines classic retro-style shooting gameplay with an absolutely unique 30s cartoon aesthetic. Traditionally drawn and animated characters mix it up with water-coloured painted backdrops that scroll independently for a cool parallax look. Studio MDHR adds an extra layer of authenticity to the visuals by using a distinct range of post-processing effects that help to sell the impression of the action taking place on aged film stock, displayed through the lens of an old projector. Taken as a whole, Cuphead is the closest we've seen to an interactive cartoon in this generation.
Back in the day, the developers started out by using the now-obsolete XNA framework, before taking the decision to move onto Unity as the engine of choice. It's a technology that's delivered uneven results - even in predominantly 2D-based games - but polish and performance on the original Xbox One and PC versions was second to none. We even managed to play the game smoothly on an old Dell XPS 13 with integrated graphics. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the Switch conversion is just as good.
The 2D art certainly helps in the sense that Cuphead is essentially 'resolution proof'. Scale up the Switch's mobile 720p output to match docked mode's full HD presentation in a side-by-side comparison and the results are indistinguishable from one another, and in turn, identical to the PC version running at 1440p or Xbox One X outputting in its 4K display mode. The way the artwork was crafted means that there are no harsh pixel edges to give away a 'native resolution' as such.
Interestingly, the Switch download weighs in at just 3.3GB - around a quarter of the size of the Xbox version. However, the graphics are identical to the Xbox game and animate in exactly the same way, while audio quality is a complete match. Cuphead is receiving a physical release, so reducing the file size footprint means that Studio MDHR can ship the game on a smaller, cheaper cartridge. Perhaps this explains the game's radical shrinkage in the move to Switch, but thankfully this does not seem to come with any kind of noticeable compromise.
Whatever compression system the developer uses does not seem to cause issues with loading times either. Cuphead on Switch actually loads its levels faster than the launch code on Xbox One, and initially, I wondered whether the move to NAND may give the Nintendo handheld an edge over the Xbox's mechanical HDD. Well, excessive loading times were one of my very few complaints about the original release but on revisiting the game, it's clear that Studio MDHR took the criticism onboard and drastically reduced loading times on the Microsoft console, which is now faster than Switch. Incidentally, the stutter I noticed in the Windows Store PC release back in the day has also been fixed.
Performance-wise, it's business as usual for the new port. Cuphead delivers a locked 60 frames per second on both docked and mobile Switch configurations, meaning that it's absolutely on par with the Xbox One version in terms of fluidity and consistency - a boon for a sideways shooter like this one. Some early reports have flagged slowdown on super moves and parries, but this was always there - the game emphasises these moves with split-second freezes in a similar way to weapon impacts in The Legend of Zelda. We can tell it's not game slowdown as such as the post-process pipeline continues on regardless, subtly altering each and every frame. In fact, the only issue I found was a slight animation stutter in one round that I never noticed again. The bottom line is that beyond the technical minutiae, the takeaway here is simple: Cuphead on Switch is a complete match to Xbox and PC in terms of both visuals and performance.
I played and completed Cuphead when it was first launched and now that it's available on Switch, I'm likely to do so again. This new release adds a new dimension to the game in that I can play it in handheld form, without any compromises whatsoever. Meanwhile, in the home and docked to a TV, Cuphead remains just as good as it always was - it's one of the few Switch console ports that is absolutely identical to the other current-gen versions. The icing on the cake? Cuphead is indeed getting a physical release. This may not matter to many in the digital age, but the demise of the Wii eShop demonstrates the importance of preservation and I'll definitely be adding this brilliant game to my physical games collection.
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