It’s critically acclaimed.
It’s a blast to play and beautiful to look at.
It’s a commercial success, with over 100,000 downloads in 3 days and on pace to break plenty of records.
It’s currently on the tip of the tongue of every gaming pundit worth their controller as they intensely debate whether critics should pull up their gaming-skill socks after their online reviews showed them coming up short against its hard-boiled, retro-fied difficulty.
The Canadian-made “Cuphead” is a bona-fide, red-hot, smash hit, currently sitting pretty with an 86% aggregate review for its PC version and an 88% for consoles on MetaCritic (the Rotten Tomatoes of the gaming press). And Justin Trudeau’s Liberals- who just rolled out their “Creative Canada” cultural funding review to yawns and furrowed brows- couldn’t care less.
Not that they would know how to care, you see. Because “Cuphead”- developed by independent gaming outfit StudioMDHR Entertainment– has not a single loonie of Canadian government arts grants to its name.
Ground out over a period of seven long years by Regina natives Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, the game boasts a toe-tapping jazz soundtrack composed by Toronto percussionist and National Ballet of Canada Orchestra member Kristofer Maddigan and thousands upon thousands of painstaking, hand-drawn frames of animation by Chad’s wife Maja, making this a labour of love as well.
And for those of you who like your entertainment to have a little bit of a moral message, there’s a nice subtle one about the pitfalls of gambling (another pie in which the government has stuck its grubby fingers, let’s not forget).
The game oozes quality, and not the kind CBC lifers like to talk about. Even if you’ve never played a video game in your life, any boss rush on YouTube will captivate the casual observer and aesthete alike with its high-energy flow. Anyone who’s watched and loved “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” or bopped their head to a Louis Armstrong tune will like what they see and hear a lot.
For a long time, gamers have lobbied for their preferred medium to be classified as true art, and Cuphead just may be the game that broke down that barrier.
But enough raving about the game’s merits. Let’s focus on how the Liberal government seems simply prepared to Netflix and chill when it comes to CanCon, ignoring this hometown success story.
This government, who has signaled that small businesses are nothing more than tax shelters for the wealthy, could stand to come down off their high horses and hear the tale of the Moldenhauers and their small studio, who proved that Canadian independent businesses don’t need government backing or PMO-approved articles in Rolling Stone to promote our brand on the world stage and burnish Canada’s international reputation.
It could be that Trudeau himself, who signaled appreciation for clunky old-school 80’s Mac games a few months back, may be so far behind the times now that he is the oldest leader in Ottawa that the fast pace of the gaming industry- and Cuphead itself- could be too much for him. In gaming parlance, this would make him a “filthy casual” and a “scrub”.
Or it could be that Prime Minister n00b and the rest of the Liberals couldn’t use Cuphead’s admittedly niche success to distract from the problems facing his government, the way his counterpart in Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, used the (possibly manufactured) controversy over another video game- the rather racist Dirty Chinese Restaurant. This creation of the trollishly named Markham developers Big-O-Tree Games was recently pulled after provincial politicians chorused in horror on Twitter last week.
Whether it be malice or incompetence on the part of the Liberals, the inspiring story of Cuphead will not be receiving its own Heritage Moment any time soon. But hopefully the story of the little Canadian video game that became a huge success will inspire other Canadian content creators to resist the tyranny of the arts bureaucracy.