'Cuphead', for those unfamiliar, was a fabulously successful indie game that was designed to look and sound like a cartoon from the '40s.
You controlled either Cuphead or Mugman, a couple of characters who get on the wrong side of the Devil and his henchman, a zoot-suited crooner called King Dice. Who has a die for his head. Naturally.
'The Cuphead Show' is, in a way, working backwards. The game was inspired by Fleischer Studios and early Disney animations like 'Snow-White', 'Popeye' and 'Mickey Mouse', but its story and concepts were wholly original. With that in mind, the animated series takes these characters, stories, and concepts and fashions something that's delightfully chaotic, cheerfully weird, and probably one of the best adaptations of a video game in quite some time.
It's unusual for a video game adaptation to be this good. So often is the case that spin-offs occur before or near enough to the game's release. In this instance, however, the timing is way off. 'Cuphead' was released five years ago with no sign of a sequel any time soon, and downloadable content not landing for another few months. In other words, 'The Cuphead Show!' feels less like a cash-in, and more like a buy-in.
Kilkenny-based animators Lighthouse Studio have keenly captured the essence of the visual language of the game - the hijinks, the madness, the fluidity and the elasticity of it all - and the scripts by Deeki Deke, Clay Morrow, Adam Paloian, Cosmo Segurson, and Dave Wasson funnelled this into twelve episodes that blast through their shortened runtime with ease. If you played and enjoyed the game, you'll find plenty to enjoy here as 'The Cuphead Show!' takes bits and pieces from it, but ultimately is its own story and its own experience.
The inclusion of a varied cast of voice actors - not random assortments of famous people, as is usually the case nowadays for animated series - helps to make 'The Cuphead Show!' distinct from the game. Far and away, the star of the show isn't Cuphead and Mugman, but Wayne Brady's electric vocal performance as King Dice. Homaging the late, great Cab Calloway, Brady's King Dice is one-part showman, one-part villainous interloper, and one-part slapstick schtick. Each episode are relatively individual, and follow a thin linear narrative across the whole series, but you could quite happily jump in and out without too much hand-holding needed.
Admittedly, 'The Cuphead Show!' does lack for a certain amount of depth in its stories and the humour does get somewhat repetitive. That said, it's all so fun and easy to watch - decidedly different from the game, which is famed for its difficulty - that you can't help but be pulled along by it all.