It has been five long years since the release of Cuphead, but the cartoon party isn’t over just yet. On June 30th, a brand new chapter will launch, titled The Delicious Last Course. As well as being an inspired DLC pun, the swan song expansion will arrive boasting new bosses, characters, trinkets and more. Ahead of its gameplay reveal at Summer Game Fest, I was invited to see an in-depth preview of the add-on, led by the studio’s developers.
If you’re unfamiliar with Cuphead, this is a combat platformer with a keen focus on tricky boss battles, delivered in a meticulous hand-drawn style inspired by 1930s cartoons. The game is known for its unforgiving brutality and eye-popping visuals, and Studio MDHR appears to be addressing this reputation with The Delicious Last Course by giving players more options in gameplay while doubling down on its aesthetic prowess.
The most meaningful change to Cuphead’s core with the coming expansion is the addition of Ms Chalice, a new playable character with special abilities and moves such as a double-jump, an extra hit point, a dash parry and an invincible roll. Studio MDHR was clear that she isn’t “an easy mode”, but that some players may find Chalice easier to control, while veterans may enjoy the variety she brings to Cuphead’s combat.
To set the scene for her arrival, players are whisked away to a new Inkwell Isle by a ferryman, but before Cuphead and Mugman even make it off the dock, a ghostly Ms Chalice appears through a strange portal and tricks Mugman into eating a cosmic cookie. This action lets Chalice trade positions with Mugman – she gets a physical presence while he becomes a floating spirit, but the effect doesn’t last long, and the two characters swap back. In-game, you’re given a cookie charm that lets you access Chalice whenever you like, the tradeoff being that her access to charms is far less versatile than Cuphead and Mugman. However, the charm is retroactive, so you can go back and play the base game with Chalice as an extra challenge.
We’re soon introduced to the cookie’s creator, Chef Saltbaker, who says that the characters need to gather a set of ingredients to make a ‘Wondertart’ that will give Chalice a permanent physical presence. As you might expect, these ingredients are acquired by defeating a rogue’s gallery of devilish levels that are set to challenge even the most confident of Cuphead players. It’s a smart premise, and within minutes, you’re back in the saddle.
The new Inkwell Isle is the game’s largest, but it is just as gorgeous as its forebears and positively packed with secrets and nifty NPCs. Paperboys, cute cacti and goofy ghosts abound, as well as interactive cobweb caves and ominous ladders that hang from the sky. The world feels alive thanks to its plinky new Pixar-esque soundtrack, which I’m told boasts over 110 musicians all-in.
Studio MDHR “still did things the hard way” when it came to the game’s hand-drawn animation style, taking things to the next level for the DLC with “larger animation paper,” and “drawing for a longer time”. One exciting note MDHR mentioned is that the “magic of the later Disney years” has started creeping into the game with the DLC, so players can expect an even wider palette of influences than seen in the base experience.
Fans of Cuphead coin-collecting will be pleased to hear that as well as a mysterious new way to gain coins, all new items have been added, including attack styles, health upgrades, parry modifiers and even a few that are shrouded in mystery, like a Broken Relic of unknown properties that quickly caught my eye…
One new attack shown off was the Crackshot, which shoots straight with solid damage but breaks into weaker aimed projectiles as it fires. This came in handy during the boss battle Snow Cult Shuffle, where a frosty wizard (evocative of Ice King from Adventure Time) ran rings around Chalice by turning into a rolling abominable snowman and a bursting fridge, complete with popsicle projectiles.
In a later stage, Chalice ascended to the Aurora Borealis and battled a snowflake successor, complete with phenomenal fluid animations that would make craft animators cry. My favourite was when the boss used a baking roll to pop his own eye out as a horizontal projectile. Apparently, some single boss stages in The Delicious Last Course have more animations than entire bosses from the base game. Gnarly!
It’s been a long while since I’ve played Cuphead so seeing the sheer speed of this boss nearly brought me out in hives, but the visual style is so detailed that I was enticed to return and learn it, both to appreciate its intricate beauty and eventually topple it. There is no game that looks like Cuphead, and Studio MDHR is proving once again that it is a master of this niche.
To prove how Chalice works throughout the base game, I was also shown the early level Clip Joint Calamity, where Chalice was given Converge, a 3-way shot which you can hold down to narrow the spread. Even if the Studio MDHR employee made short work of both bosses, it’s worth noting at this point that Cuphead is still a brutal game, even with these new additions. It’s not that Studio MDHR has made the game any easier, the developers are just providing more options on how to approach it, which is welcome in a game so challenging that it could be off-putting. The cross-game interaction is an exciting aspect for players such as myself, who may be seeking a replay of the base game with the new features in tow to prepare them for The Delicious Last Course. I think we’ll need it, based on what I’ve seen!
But if you’re looking for a challenge, Studio MDHR’s approach was “what if every boss was the equivalent of a last boss,” so don’t go into The Delicious Last Course expecting an easy ride. The expansion’s bosses have been designed to “throw people for a loop,” and the developer is keen to warp muscle memory and push you in different directions to test the limits of its game, goading players into using the new items and abilities. Studio MDHR didn’t want to call them “evil,” but there are new achievements for the die-hard, and “missions and side quests that push players to play the game differently”. For example, the DLC doesn’t feature platforming stages, but there are going to be “unique challenges” in their place that are still under wraps.
Due to the game’s original release on last-gen consoles, the native SKU for the DLC is PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, but Studio MDHR said the game will “play wonderfully” on current-gen consoles like Xbox Series X|S and PS5. Speaking of the future, Studio MDHR also told us that their “head is in a good space” now that the DLC is wrapped, and that there are new games and styles they want to pursue. The team rounded off by teasing that they will “hopefully have a few surprises for people in the future”.