Monday, February 19, 2018

Tech: Cuphead review

The "run and gun" shooter genre may be decades-old, but it's more popular than ever thanks to indie games like Broforce, Mercenary Kings, and the subject of today's review, Cuphead:

Cuphead is a brilliant mashup of Fleischer and Disney-style '30s animation and the pitched shooting battles of Gunstar Heroes. In the game, you guide your beverage-containing hero through a manic series of bossfights, platforming levels, and the occasional horizontal biplane shoot-em-up stage. Every single artistic element in Cuphead, from the hand-drawn animation to the brassy jazz soundtrack, perfectly evokes the period (albeit with some bonkers surreal twists - a pair of frogs turn into a giant slot machine, for smeg's sake).

But it would all be nothing without good gameplay, and Cuphead delivers. Most of the game is devoted to battles with multi-stage bosses, whose constantly shifting forms and semi-randomized attacks require different tactics, even when retrying the same boss again. The difficulty is high, though not quite Nintendo hard, since the game allows you to instantly retry bosses without any penalty. Frustration is also mostly avoided thanks to the excellent controls and varied arsenal, which ensures you seldom feel stuck.

That's not to say there isn't a little uneven difficulty - I beat most bosses in a few tries, but several had me pulling my hair out. I will also fault the game for a lack of straight platforming stages (there are only six in the whole game) and no online multiplayer (at least, not without some hi-jinx). Still, this is easily the best Xbox One game released last year, and a must-buy if you're a fan of old-school shooters.

Rating: 91/100

P.S. - I didn't realize it until after I was done playing the game, but if the phrase "labor of love" ever applied to something, it does to Cuphead. The developer, StudioMDHR, is essentially Chad and Jared Moldenhauer and their friends and family, and it's quite incredible that they could develop a game like this in their first go-around. It didn't affect my score or anything, but I really hope we see more artfully crafted titles from them:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guns: Mossberg 590 Shockwave review - What Was I Thinking?


The Reformation raised a lot of eyebrows this year at SHOT Show, but Franklin Armory isn't the first company to test the limits of the National Firearms Act. From Taurus's Judge to SB Tactical's pistol brace, America's gun industry has long had a knack for devising creative ways to avoid the arbitrary restrictions of federal law.

One of the most recent examples of this ingenuity is the Mossberg 590 Shockwave, a 14-inch barreled "firearm" that just happens to shoot 12 gauge shotshells. It's not much different than the pistol-grip pumps that have been on the market for years, but it looks close enough to an NFA short-barreled shotgun that there's a letter from the BATFE posted on Mossberg's website.

Of course, just because it's legal doesn't mean it's a good idea. A Mossberg 590 with a regular shoulder stock is one of the best defensive shotguns you can buy, but a 590 with a conventional pistol grip is almost useless. Where does the Shockwave fit in?

Shooting Technique

The bird's head grip and short barrel make the Shockwave compact, but they also make aiming the gun fairly difficult. Some people shoot from the hip, but I've had my best results with the technique demonstrated by Clint Smith below - extending the gun out and sighting along the top of the barrel:


Used in this fashion, the Shockwave is indeed easier to hit with than a regular "pistol grip only" gun. You have 5+1 rounds of 12 gauge firepower to work with, too. It's very similar to the old "Witness Protection" 870s used by the U.S. Marshals - a lot of firepower in a relatively compact package.

Range Report

There are two obvious downsides to the Shockwave's lack of a stock: the gun recoils hard into your hands with full power loads, and it's much slower to shoot than a normal shotgun.

The recoil isn't painful, but it fatigues your hands fast. Still, with some careful aim, you can get pretty good patterns with the Shockwave. Here's five rounds of Rio Royal 00 buck at 10 yards - all good hits, though a bit high for my taste.

Federal Flite Control 00 buck performed well, as usual - at 10 yards, all nine pellets basically rip one ragged hole into the target:

Here's a group of Spartan 00 buck at 10 and 15 yards. For my money, 15 yards is the gun's effective range:

The unexpected winner of the patterning sessions? Fiocchi Exacta Low Recoil, which patterned well and was fairly gentle:

The Shockwave is not the ideal platform for launching slugs, even Rio low recoil ones:

The worst performer? PMC "One-Shot Low Velocity Buckshot," which actually recoiled worse than the regular 00 loads I tested:

I didn't like the 8-pellet reduced recoil Federal Flite Control load. It patterned too tightly for my taste, and didn't seem any gentler than normal Flite Control ammo:


Not every gun has to have a purpose. The Shockwave, even just as a novelty, is probably worth the sub-$400 price you'll pay for it. But if your system can take a gun that's 12" longer, a stocked 590 is a much better choice.