Cuphead review: An iron fist hides behind silly face
Cuphead (XO/PC) ★★★★★ Age: 3+
Cuphead ships with two difficulty levels: "impossible" and "harder than impossible". Or so it seems when you dive into this delightful side-scrolling 2D shooter.
Beneath its charming 1930s cartoon exterior lies a punishing requirement for precision, timing and patience. Cuphead, a seven-year labour of love for two Canadian brothers, doesn't make itself easy to like after you've been seduced by its surreal storyline and artfully retro visuals.
The game mercilessly pits you against a procession of boss characters, usually on a single screen, and frequently unleashes "bullet hell" where avoiding incoming projectiles consumes as much as of your time as firing your own.
The enemies are all quite barmy - giant vegetables, witches, robots, fish, even a tombstone - and the battles are underscored by a terrific jazzy soundtrack with sparky voice samples.
Each fight enables you to choose the misleadingly named "simple" or "regular" difficulty level, where the former teaches the basic rules of engagement and the latter is required to progress fully. In truth, the opposition only looks impossible until you learn their patterns. But there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth (plus endless restarts) before you nail it.
Cuphead's appeal stems from its loving attention to period detail and its scrupulous fairness where you know every failure is your own rather than that of the game.
Project Cars 2
(XO/PS4/PC) ★★★★ Age: 3+
Sandwiched alongside two giant platform exclusives (Forza 7 and Gran Turismo Sport), PC2 chose perhaps the worst release window for itself. It's not as if it can't jostle wheel to wheel with some of the greatest racing sims of our time, but it lacks both the brand name and the mainstream polish to draw punters away.
PC2 spreads its net wide for events, covering disciplines from go-karts to touring cars to F1 to IndyCar, while offering many permutations in between. It boasts a tremendous weather system and its fondness for lesser-known tracks helps distinguish it from the pack.
But a series of niggles detract from a lovingly crafted package. Bugs such as a disappearing or unreliable racing line may not hurt so much but dodgy driver AI and sometimes baffling penalties for alleged race infringements will.
Monster Hunter Stories
(Nintendo 3DS) ★★★ Age: 3+
Less a new Monster Hunter hack-and-slash and more a Pokémon-style RPG, MHS favours the collecting impulse of the latter rather than the traditional animal safari of the former.
In targeting the younger player, MHS shies away from long-winded, complicated beast battles and focuses on a cutesy role-player in which you develop an affinity with your companion monsters. It works up to a point - and looks gorgeous while it does so - but has an aching familiarity than only a truly new Pokémon instalment could cure.