Like many other mediums, gaming is no stranger to literature. There have been adaptations, like the Resident Evil series, or prequel material like the Dead Space and Bioshock books. If there was one game that felt like an odd choice for a book though, it would be run ‘n gun shooter based on 1930s cartoons. How does Cuphead: Carnival Chaos work, exactly? Is it good?
Cuphead: Carnival Chaos is an adventure about Cuphead, Mugman, and Ms. Chalice (possibly before the Delicious Last Course DLC?). The three are gearing up to celebrate Elder Kettle’s birthday by getting a wonderful present. However, things go sideways after a series of bad events lands them in a traveling carnival. The place is full of ne’er-do-wells looking to scam them out of their money and Mugman ends up going missing. How are they going to get out of this?!
This Cuphead novel was great. The story is very breezy, each chapter fairly short. There’s always something fun going on every chapter with our characters getting into a new situation, such as sneaking into school to avoid being late, or riding an out-of-control merry-go-round. There’s never a dull moment and outside of a little padding towards the end, there’s not a moment wasted either. Admittedly, the story is definitely aimed more at little kids, but it is fairly entertaining for those into the game or even just fans of older cartoons in general.
On that note, writer Ron Bates does a marvelous job at bringing the Inkwell Isles to life. It just feels so cartoony, like it came right out of the ’30s. The way the world is described in bright detail, how normally inanimate objects have life like a piggy bank, and the energy of the carnival and its cagey carnies all help the audience visualize this world. Probably the highlights of this are the first chapter when Cuphead gets up for bed, and the chapters where the trio try to win a preset against a gang of trouble making ducks. With its sense of humor as well, going for a very matter-of-fact and old timey style, the writing just captures the world of Cuphead perfectly.
Alongside the writing is also some nice artwork, courtesy of Studio MDHR. Each chapter begins with a fun image showing a scene coming up, letting the audience know what to expect. The images are drawn well and match with the story most of the time, outside of maybe one picture. The images even double as a hidden objects game, with secrets to be found in each one. It’s very nice, though the pictures are sadly not in color, lessening the impact of what is a very colorful world. They also occasionally reveal what will happen in the chapter, spoiling some moments. It doesn’t really hurt the book, but it is worth noting.
For fans, there is an issue with the continuity between the game and the book. Where exactly does this story fall into place with the main game? It seems like it would take place before the events of Cuphead, since none of the bosses from the game recognize the gang. Plus, some of the Devil’s minions aren’t even working for him yet. However, Ms. Chalice is a young girl much like brothers and not in her ghostly form, which seems like it would take place after the main game. Also, many of these characters aren’t even associated with the carnival world in the game, so their presence feels odd here. These are some weird points that would probably only bother a hardcore fan admittedly, but, again, it is worth noting.
Cuphead: Carnival Chaos is a lot of fun for the whole family. It’s a cute, silly story about the loveable heroes getting thrown into a wild adventure with a wonderfully realized world, a good sense of humor, and terrific writing and art. There are few minor quibbles here and there, but they do not hamper the experience all that much. If you or your kids like Cuphead, this is definitely the book to get.