At the end of June, the MDHR studio is no longer haunted.
At this point, the studio is finally releasing its Cuphead downloadable content extension, Delicious Last Course. First announced in 2018, the DLC began as a series of ideas that didn’t make it into the original game. Things like homages to games and classic cartoons, or inspirations like the spooky Cuphead character known as the Legendary Chalice. As Studio Director and Executive Producer Maja Moldenhauer explained, these were ideas the developers just couldn’t let go of – even if they eventually took five years to come to fruition.
„Auf dem Boden des Schneideraums war eigentlich nichts [when Cuphead was completed]’ Moldenhauer said of the DLC in an interview with GameSpot at Summer Game Fest. “When we made the main game, every piece of paper [used for animation] have made it. They were things that we had in mind [that made up the DLC]like homage to the cartoons we loved, or the moves we loved, whether it was like a hideous snowman or a cowgirl or something, we were like, ‘We’d love a boss like that.'”
“It was all in our heads and haunted us,” she said. “I don’t think we could have closed this chapter without getting her out. The ideas were just too good to give up and move on.”
We had to spend some time trying out these ideas during Summer Game Fest, where Studio MDHR had one of the DLC’s boss fights available to play, featuring Ms. Chalice, the living version of the ghost from Legendary Chalice and the new character from Delicious Last Course. Playing as Ms. Chalice, however, feels very different from the original Cuphead and Mugman characters.
Where the original characters only have one jump but can get more air by using a parry ability on certain types of projectiles, Ms. Chalice comes out of the, uh, jump with a double jump. Her parry ability is a horizontal dash, which may be more reliable than the jump parry, but doesn’t give her any additional movement as a reward for performing it.
Moldenhauer said that Ms. Chalice was an element the team wanted to do more with in the core game – and Studio MDHR realized that ambition in a very real way thanks to the fact that Cuphead was teamed with Ms. Chalice. However, the new mechanic wasn’t about creating a character that’s easier to use than Cuphead and Mugman, Moldenhauer said.
“We were just trying to make it complementary,” she explained. “So if someone doesn’t have a good quick double jump to save time, they have this parry sprint. Conversely, I like playing with Ms. Chalice, but that’s a component I don’t like’ I don’t like the after effect of parrying and what happens to her – I’m not great with that. So I would prefer to play a Parry-heavy level with Cuphead.”
In practice, playing with Ms. Chalice requires a kind of rewiring in terms of the way you think about a Cuphead boss fight. Ms. Chalice’s double jump makes her a little easier to use when trying to dodge large enemy attacks, which required careful timing with Cuphead and Mugman. Parrying is a big part of a Cuphead fight though: not only does it allow you to instantly disable an enemy attack and free up the screen space you sometimes need, but it also helps you charge up special abilities and EX attacks , which allow you to deal massive damage to enemies. While a parry with Cuphead was traditionally enough to knock you out of the way for a moment, Ms. Chalice’s parry works as if she’s completely absorbing the attack, thanks to the way the jumping parry propels you into the air had. That can often leave you out in the open and means you might ignore more parry opportunities or find them more dangerous than you would have with Cuphead or Mugman.
Ms. Chalice has a few other character-specific traits that can give you an edge, but require trade-offs. In order to access Ms. Chalice, you need to equip a specific spell, one of the special items that you can earn in Cuphead that will give your character useful benefits. The spell you get in the DLC swaps Cuphead or Mugman’s place with Ms. Chalice – she comes alive while one of them becomes a ghost. So using Ms. Chalice will cost you this charm slot when you play. In addition to Ms. Chalice’s other gameplay improvements, the result is that Cuphead and Mugman have three hit points, but Ms. Chalice has four, making the use a bit more forgiving.
She also has a roll-dodge ability that is unique among characters and gives you a brief window of invincibility when you use it. The move can be very useful in the right circumstances to avoid damage in an emergency, but it also depends heavily on the situation. In tight fights without much maneuverability or that require precise placement of your character, like the boss fight we played, the dodge roll wasn’t as useful. Like all of Ms. Chalice’s abilities, she is appropriate for some battles in the game and not for others.
Our hands-on session gave us the chance to fight a boss named Mortimer Freeze on the Snow Cult Scuffle level, which GameSpot previously saw as part of a hands-off preview for Delicious Last Course. The sorcerer Mortimer first floats through the boss arena and torments you with deadly tarot cards and living water drops that march behind you like soldiers. Damage him enough and he turns into a giant hideous snowman that also turns into an ice box, throwing angry popsicles at you like flying monkeys and bombarding you with mortars in the form of exploding ice cubes. Finally, you climb across the arena to stand on some rotating platforms where you fight Mortimer in the form of a giant, magical snowflake. The snowflake form spits snow cones at you and likes to poke its own eye out, which flies around chasing lightning across the battlefield. It’s actually a bit gross.
Like Cuphead’s other battles, Mortimer Freeze is no pushover – there are a total of three stages to fight through, each with their own unique mechanic. Staying alive in combat is often a matter of careful positioning, like when the snowman summons icy swords from the ground beneath your feet, or when his ice cubes hit the ground and shatter into smaller cubes that circle overhead. Playing with Ms. Chalice took some getting used to and feels distinctly different than the base game characters. She excels in some areas, like jumping over the snowman, which turns into a giant snowball and rushes toward you, but her dodge parry makes her less than perfect for combat. Playing with the character suggests you’ll want to switch back and forth between Ms. Chalice and the original characters depending on the battle – although playing with her will definitely provide a new challenge throughout the core game.
Moldenhauer said that creating this new challenge with Ms. Chalice was also the most difficult part of developing Delicious Last Course.
“It was easier to develop them with the new bosses that came out because we hadn’t defined what the gameplay would look like, rather than retrospectively fit them and work with the existing bosses because we didn’t want to touch them. They’re all the same, and she had to work with them too,” Moldenhauer said. “That was definitely one of the most challenging components of all of this. Defining and developing different concepts and different bosses and boss fights and things like that comes very naturally , because there are so many gameplay homages that we want to play into or reference art that we look at.”
There are also some new references that will affect what you’ll see in Delicious Last Course, although Moldenhauer said the team made sure the DLC doesn’t differ drastically from the base game, although it does draw on some new sources. Influences still come from 1930s animation, although Moldenhauer said studio MDHR drew from works released in the later half of the decade, like Fantasia, as well as the cartoons that inspired the base game. Since the two parts were so closely linked from the start, they’re still visually very similar.
With Delicious Last Course wrapping up the book on this chapter of Cuphead, Studio MDHR may be looking to the future – but Moldenhauer wouldn’t reveal much about what the developers plan to do next.
“There is no shortage of ideas in our heads. We’re full of crazy, whimsical things that we want to get to at some point,” she said. “We love 2D animation, we love pencil on paper and what magic the digital age brings, so you can definitely expect that from us. We are very open to different genres of gameplay. This was the first out of the gate and we’ll have to see where it goes.”
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