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Cuphead's cool, classic vibe will not prepare you for how much you'll die

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When I sat down to play Cuphead, Studio MDHR's upcoming game inspired by '30s-era cartoons, I expected it to be easy.

Its looks are disarming — if you've ever seen a cartoon like Steamboat Willie or Bimbo, you get the vibe. It's hard not to set your difficulty expectations low when you're fighting a giant, grumpy carrot. Or a pirate. Or boxing frogs, or any of the game's kooky-but-brutal big bosses.

Cuphead stars the titular hero and his friend, Mugman. It's a weird game involving a deal with the devil, and it's the work of brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer of Studio MDHR. It is also a game obsessed with boss fights. During E3 2015, I sat down with it to try out a few for myself. The results were ... well, let's just say that I died a lot.

Jared Moldenhauer, who was on-hand to witness my many failures, explained that much of Cuphead revolves around these fights. You're free to go solo or fight with a pal; the game adjusts its enemies' health accordingly. During my demo, I bounced from flying through the sky shooting down a giant bird with a buddy to jumping on tracks and battling a very angry train ghost.

"There's gonna be a lot of different things in them," Moldenhauer said. "We deliberately have some that play a little more like platforming or screen-scrolling. Some are static ... some are a completely different feeling."

The game is nothing if not random, but its variety serves a purpose, Moldenhauer explained. Many of the game's foes are homages to other games or something otherwise personal in nature. The game's dragon, for example, was inspired by Mega Man 2 and the Moldenhauers' desire to put something similar in their game.

"From there there's similar nuances to other cartoons and many other games, but each boss comes from something that was from our past," he said.

Cuphead is heading to Xbox One and Windows PC in 2016, and contrary to what's been reported, the game won't actually be spun into a trilogy. According to Moldenhauer, that was never the plan; instead, the developer has its eye on additional content.

"The idea was more that we would like to get this game out there and, if there is a fanbase, we would like to [release more content] — which does not mean anything," Moldenhauer said. "Not making even a sequel. I don't want Cuphead 2 or 3. I would like to have DLC where, if fans were happy, I would like to add more bosses, new weapons, improve on the game maybe two or three times.

"That's what the idea was. That got turned into 'The game's a trilogy. These guys are going to be working on Cuphead 1, 2 and 3 for the next 20 years.' Not interested."