One thing that stood out to me when I saw Studio MDHR show off Cuphead's long-awaited DLC – the Delicious Last Course – in a preview session last month was the comparisons the studio made to Fantasia.
The developer – as it showed off a soundtrack recorded with more musicians, animation done on larger paper with more frames of hand-drawn art, and bosses with more phases and backgrounds than anything we saw in the base game – compared the DLC to how Disney lead up to the launch of Fantasia with everything it learned in the 30s; bringing in all the lessons it learned from previous blockbuster releases into this new, ground-breaking project.
Yes, it's a lofty comparison, but then Cuphead is a lofty game; I'd argue it goes beyond just 'being a game' and is actually one of those rare projects you'd see happily installed in museums. It's got enough traditional art in there to make even the non-gamer types go "alright, yeah, that's pretty impressive". And pretty much anyone that's consumed any media over the past 100 years can look at Cuphead and say "I see what this game is doing, cool".
But the DLC doesn't just build on that aesthetic stuff, nah – that'd be too easy for a company as given to scope creep as Studio MDHR is. Rather, after finishing the DLC, I have to say the most impressive thing about it is the new playable character – Ms. Chalice. She takes every aspect that made Cuphead's base game enjoyable and elevates it, taking the game from a hardcore curio into an essential, must-play all-timer.
The DLC is priced at a very agreeable $7.99 / £6.79, and adds quite a lot of new stuff to the overall Cuphead experience; you get to traverse a brand-new Inkwell Isle, find new weapons and charms to add to your smorgasbord of nutty abilities, face off against 12 brand new bosses, and – most importantly – play as the once-banished Ms. Chalice.
In the base game, you could play as Mugman and Cuphead. The two impish cups had the option to equip charms and alter their supers, as well as modify the weapons they used to better get one over on bosses. Ms. Chalice can also do all of these things – with one caveat. You need to equip a charm to play as her – so maybe you don't get bonus life at the cost of damage output, or the ability to 'blink' and avoid damage whilst dashing in mid-air.
Better than that, though, you get access to her own style of combat; Ms. Chalice can double-jump, dash parry, and dodge roll. Souls players, Elden Ring converts, and Hollow Knight stans, look sharp – yes, I did say dodge roll. And yes, there are invincibility frames to it. And yes, it is stupendously satisfying when you kill a boss right after rolling through its most irritating attack.
With a lot of new utility, Cuphead feels fun to play all over again. Not content with simply battering all of the DLC's bosses, I've played through the base game once more with Ms. Chalice. Because why not? It's almost like playing a new game. There are those out there that ask whether adding Ms. Chalice is like adding an 'easy mode' to the game – and whilst I will say, yes, I find the game easier after trading in Cuphead and Mugman for their femme-coded counterpart, I don't think she's an 'easy mode', per se.
Let's look at how it breaks down. Ms. Chalice can double-jump, but her vanilla jump is worse than the original characters’. She has a dodge roll, but that kinda works like the Smoke Bomb charm from the base game – and it only works on the ground, versus the Smoke Bomb's air utility. Her dash parry makes some projectiles easier to dodge, but others much, much harder thanks to the auto-hop that happens at the end. This is especially true outside of the DLC.
Personally, I think the trade-offs are good; I like the roll, I like the double jump – it makes the game's platforming during boss fights more bearable. But Ms. Chalice's real power is in her four base HP; one up from Cuphead or Mugman's. Yes, to play the game 'properly', you're going to want to not take any damage during fights. But if you're just trying to play the game for fun (can you imagine such a thing!?), the DLC's new character is definitely something you should check out and get used to.
The 12 new bosses themselves in the DLC are, by no means, easier than the base game – in fact, there's one in particular that I had more trouble with than anything in the first three isles. Could that be my muscle memory taking its time to come back, or suffering at the handicaps Ms. Chalice confers? I don't know. But what I do know is this; the game feels easier to me, post-DLC, but that's not made the whole experience worse.
No, it's made Cuphead – more than ever before – feel like a game that respects my time and my skill. And I can't wait to show it off to everyone that comes within view of my living room TV.