A formidable snow giant is belching green and purple bubbles at me while a battalion of plucky gnomes hide beneath the snow, the tips of their pointy hats sticking out and threatening to impale me. Once I damage the giant enough with my trusty finger gun, he changes tact, bruised and battered, and within seconds has sock puppets over his hands that hug the left and right edges of the screen. They proceed to bounce a deadly ball between them, while a rapturous audience of delighted, bloodthirsty gnomes cheers on in the foreground; some of them jump out of the audience, sneak in under the snow, then spin-jump through the air towards me (I’m pretty sure they’d never have allowed this in gladiatorial arenas of yore).
Once the puppets are bested, the giant smashes the ground beneath my feet and swallows me whole, the scene transitions, and I’m fighting inside the belly of the beast, against what appears to be a dangling uvula while I try to balance on precarious platforms floating in stomach acid. I’m pretty sure an uvula doesn’t exist in the stomach, but it doesn’t matter. All I know is that it’s throwing chicken bones at me and I must destroy it.
The thing is, I’m so enraptured in the bullet-hell platform-shooting gauntlet that this guys’ putting me through, that it’s down to my partner, sitting on the couch next to me, to observe the finer details of the scene around me: the fact that in the background every mountain bears the face of another giant, that every gnome in the audience is separately drawn. I didn’t even notice that, despite the snowy setting, the ground beneath my feet isn’t a snow-covered mountaintop, but in fact the giant’s pristine white beard rolled out over a plateau.
I don’t use the word ‘charming’ lightly – it’s too much of a catch-all for any game that’s cutesy, quaint, endearingly written, and possibly containing anthropomorphic characters whose written dialogue comes out as goofy noises – but man is this Cuphead DLC charming. It’s quite possibly the nicest thing to behold in videogames, while at the same time being one of the most fiendishly challenging things to play.
The Delicious Last Course is more of an expansion pack than mere DLC, popping up five years after the original game to remind us that it’s still ‘got it.’ The grainy filter over the old-school Disney rubber hose animation style the majestic, bombastic bosses – it’s all back, and if this really is to be the last course them I grant it the chef’s-kiss of approval because it’s a delight not quite like any other.
This much-delayed expansion introduces a new playable character, a bunch of new skills and, most importantly, a whole new island containing six spectacular new boss battles. There’s also a welcome optional area called King’s Leap, which contains a procession of mini-bosses who you fight exclusively by parrying.
Ms. Chalice is the friendly new face you can play as – in both the new content and base game – and comes with a few mechanical quirks. Instead of using charms like Cuphead and Mugman, she has a few extra moves like a double-jump and a parry dash, which offer her extra manoeuvrability. This is a tough game that’s had its share of criticism for being inaccessible, so Miss Chalice, with her hefty moveset, represents a bit of a foot-up for new players.
On the note of difficulty, The Delicious Last Course doesn’t just continue escalating from where the base game left off. That’s a welcome move, given that most returning players won’t have played the game for a good few years and their bullet-hell muscle memory will need some reigniting. The Snow Giant is considerably tougher than the root veggies that kick off the base game, but the escalation in challenge from there is nice and smooth. You’ll likely get blitzed on your first few attempts against most bosses, but this is a game designed for relentless repetition, and at no point do the battles feel unfair.
Make no mistake, despite the extra weaponry and little foot up via Ms. Chalice, this remains much the same tough old game as before. Even the ‘Simple’ mode, which slows down the pace a bit and cuts out the final phase of each fight, is not designed to be breezed through. That’s kind of the point; as with From Software games, memorisation of a given boss’ moves is part of the process, but in my eyes it actually does a better job than Elden Ring of being clear and rhythmical with the challenges it throws at you, which prevents the battles from ever becoming a chore.
To beat these wonderful maniacal machines – which include the aforesaid Snow Giant, a wild west cow that becomes more and more food-processed with each phase, and a jazz band of bugs – you need to become part of them; eventually, you’ll weave between their projectiles, playing cards, sausage strings, bouncing gnomes, and yarn balls with the kind of finesse you maybe never knew you had in you.
The intensity of the encounters means that you may not soak in and appreciate the incredible artwork all in one go, but don’t worry: you’ll be fighting each boss enough times that in each run you’ll notice something new that you didn’t in the previous one. I can understand the holdouts for whom the challenge level – very much that of an old-school run-and-gunner like Contra – will remain a barrier to entry, but design-wise the difficulty and the eye-candy animation actually work together very well.
StudioMDHR even pushes out into some all-new animation territory here. Get up to the King’s Leap challenge arenas, and you’re treated to a stop-motion feast – an airborne castle flying over the land by propellers attached to its towers. Each time you win a fight in King’s Leap, the king pulls a lever to rotate the castle and present you with the next gate, and the whole scene is delicious. It almost makes me wish that this whole side-section of the game – mini-bosses and all – was in stop-motion, just to see how the wonderful minds at StudioMDHR would implement this new animation style on a larger scale, but given the amount of imagination they’ve already poured into this, perhaps I’m just getting greety.
The pace and presentation barely dip, and on the odd occasion they do it’s never for more than a single boss phase, before the next phase comes along to shift the battlefield (sometimes literally turning it upside-down), the animations, and the challenge you face. After the absolutely breathtaking snow giant fight, for instance, the snow wizard Mortimer Freeze lacked the same level of jawdropping spectacle, but I quickly forgot about that once he summoned what can best be described as a ice oaf to fight me, capable of turning into an ice-cube spitting fridge and summoning little ice lollies to its aid. There’s barely a moment when the game lets up, its compact length brimming with a creative flair that beckons you to play it over and over again.
After all that, it seems a bit dreary to talk about things like price (bleh), but at $8/£6.79, it really is a generous price that pretty accurately reflects the price of a dessert in relation to the main course. Despite calling itself ‘The Last Course,’ it’s hard to imagine that this is the last we’ll see of Cuphead, though the prospect of seeing what else Studio MDHR could come up with is no less tantalising as a continuation of this series.