Cuphead on mobile. What the heck is going on?

Our mobile gaming experts deliver their verdict on yesterday's App Store debacle

Cuphead on mobile. What the heck is going on?
| Cuphead

You can relax. One of the most talked-about indie games of the year, Cuphead, has NOT arrived on mobile devices. The 1930s-inspired jazz-soundtracked hand-drawn jump-and-shoot fest has garnered an army of PC fans in 2017, and on Monday 18th December it looked like us mobile gamers could join in the fun – it suddenly appeared with no fanfare on the Apple App Store.

Moments later, our joy was dashed when it was revealed by the genuine developer to be an elaborate hoax by parties unknown. It was immediately dropped from the App Store.

But how could this happen? And why should you care? Here's the Pocket Gamer team's hot take on yesterday's cup of disaster...

Dave Aubrey
Pocket Gamer guides editor

It’s not the first time we’ve seen a questionable app leap onto the App Store, but Cuphead’s appearance and disappearance just might be the most shocking. More than anything else, it shows Apple’s absurd lack of checks and regulation when it comes to publishing onto the App Store. This wasn’t an obvious rip off with similar characters, it was the actual game, ported to a mobile platform, under the guise of the official studio - and Apple couldn’t even tell.

At no point between submission and publishing did this rogue developer have to prove with any sincerity that they were the rights holders, or even affiliated with the now-popular Studio MDHR. There will always be posers, but when a reputable studio is impersonated and not stopped on a global platform like the App Store, you have to question what Apple are actually doing to protect both rights holders and customers alike from dodgy, infringing rip-offs.

So, is the process too automated? Or did any actual human being in the chain of events which led to this inferior product being published just ignore the warning signs that indicated that this was a fake? The dodgy website wasn’t proof enough apparently, and I find it hard to believe that the rogue in question could’ve provided any kind of convincing proof that a discerning eye can’t see through.

There is an upside though. It proves that a beautiful game like Cuphead just might be able to move over to mobile devices one day, if Studio MDHR can produce or license a legitimate port. If a rogue developer did it, it’s entirely possible the team could make a far better, more optimised port for the game, and we know for a fact mobile players would love it.

Whether or not touch screen controls would work well for a game which demands a fairly highly level of precision, well, that’s another question entirely. Tiny projectiles and awkward controls could really hamper the Cuphead experience on mobile, but perhaps with a few tweaks, it could be mobile game of the year 2018.

Glen Fox
Pocket Gamer editor

I have no idea how or why this Cuphead knockoff was approved, and can only assume that Apple thought it was the real deal. Given it was almost immediately pulled, it’s clear this was a mistake.

It raises some interesting questions about Apple’s approval policy. It needs to be stricter. Not only to prevent situations like this from ever happening again (I mean, surely it’s illegal) but also to generally improve the quality of games we see on mobile. Straight-up ports of properties that the publisher clearly doesn’t own is one problem, but direct copycats and clones are also a serious issue on the App Store.

The real reason I’m disappointed though, is that I really liked the idea of Cuphead on mobile. I don’t own a PC or Xbox One so I currently have no way of playing one of the year’s better releases. A surprise launch right before Christmas would have been awesome.

I’ve heard it’s super tough, so a version with only touch controls probably wouldn’t be ideal, but I’d rather have a compromised version of something if the alternative is that I can’t play it at all. Besides, you can just get yourself a nice MFI controller.

Man, I really hope Cuphead does come to mobile or Switch soon.

Emily Sowden
Pocket Gamer news editor

Cuphead's brief appearance on the App Store isn't unlike others we've seen before, but this one was one of the few that are incredibly convincing. Perhaps it was the quality of the hoax that had us fooled, or perhaps it was the timing of it that made us more blind to the fact it wasn't real. Considering INSIDE, FEZ, and Life Is Strange had suddenly made an appearance on the App Store last week, who's to say Cuphead didn't miraculously get ported too?

However, the fact it made it through Apple's review is both impressive in itself and a sharp blow to the company. The game's App Store page seemed official, it had the right developer name and no dodgy, knock-off titles under it, it even went so far as to link to a website set up especially for the occasion, but alas it was too good to be true.

Whether Cuphead would make a good mobile game, regardless of its reviews, I'm not so sure. On its good days, it's a brutal beat-em-up with a high graphical demand and a hell of a lot that can go wrong. Converting such a game to touch controls would be a feat and not one I'm sure the developer would be keen to make. Even if it did make the jump to mobile, I'm not so sure it wouldn't be without the sacrifice of some of its combat to make it marginally doable for those without MFi controllers.

I'd love to see it come to mobile or Switch, but realistically I'm not expecting anything for a good, long while.

Read more: the original news story about Cuphead on PocketGamer.co.uk

Craig Chapple
PocketGamer.biz senior editor

Apple is in a difficult situation in that it’s opened up its store to pretty much everyone, making development and publishing more accessible than ever. This is a good thing.

And so comes the near impossible task of policing the App Store, which it does so very inconsistently. It’s also itself chosen to be somewhat hands-off until there’s an uproar. Apple isn’t short on resources, so employing more real people to police the App Store, keep developers happy, and stop them and users being scammed should be a priority.

In this case, the scam artist appears to have gone to great lengths to pretend to be the Cuphead developer. But you wouldn’t see these kinds of shenanigans on console. That would be a huge scandal, so how can it happen to Apple?

It won’t change though. Apple will be investing in some imperfect algorithm to fix the problem of cloning and theft. Like a lot of giant tech companies these days, Apple should take more responsibility for what happens on its platform. Is acting after the fact really good enough? My answer is an emphatic no.

Read more of our experts' insight: we lay into the PUBG mobile ports, and the latest Harry Potter announcements.