The Art In This Infamous Cuphead Clone Isn’t What You Think


  • Enchanted Portals’ animation captures some of the rubber-hose charm of Cuphead, but it’s not quite on the same level.
  • The game’s animation is a mix of different styles, not just a recreation of the classic 1930s cartoon style.

Undoubtedly the most praised aspect of Xixo Games Studios’ Enchanted Portals is its animation. Over a 4-year-long period of controversy from announcement to release, nobody’s been able to deny that this Cuphead clone captures some of that rubber-hose charm. However, neither can anyone deny that the animation isn’t quite on Cuphead’s level, which is to be expected. Enchanted Portals is a much smaller game with a two-person development team, so to even have anything approaching the whimsy of animation’s golden age while also working on all the other nuances of game creation is damn impressive.

However, the animation for the game is actually a pretty deep rabbit hole, and it can tell us a lot about how to create something that looks good with limited resources. The artwork for Enchanted Portals is only partially an imitation of the rubber-hose cartoon style seen throughout early Disney and Fleischer Studios animation. It mixes in some other styles, both ones that seem like accidental inconsistency and others that are intentional style shifts, and that limits the 1930s style rather than embracing the chaos of it as Cuphead does. I wouldn’t call it a videogame adaptation of that classic cartoon style, but rather, its own thing entirely.

So let’s start with some immediate differences between this game and its spiritual predecessor. You’ll notice that it’s lacking Cuphead’s filters, the slight desaturation and the film grain. Less obvious is the fact that Enchanted Portals is drawn digitally, whereas Cuphead was drawn on paper and inked onto physical cels (only color was done digitally). There’s also less consistency in design; some enemies might carry a faithful resemblance to a ’30s toon, but others look like they’re from a completely different game—lacking the pie-cut eyes, white gloves, and rubber-hose limbs of the early 20th century. The latter style is much more pronounced in the material that can be seen in the original trailer, the trailer that also emphasized boss fights and featured a jazzy soundtrack (both elements that have been toned down or removed entirely in the final release). This is 100% conjecture, but the style inconsistencies may have been part of an effort to differentiate the game more from Cuphead.

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What’s common among both styles is a far-more-limited vibe when compared to something such as Cuphead—something I’d put down to the lack of line boil. Line boil refers to wobbly outlines in hand-drawn animation, created from inconsistencies in the outlines between drawings. While this is typically seen as an animation error, Cuphead uses it to ensure everything seems lively—with poses that stay still for a period of time drawn over to create slightly wobbly outlines. Even when a character is motionless in Cuphead, its outlines move just enough to maintain the illusion of life. We also see evidence of limited animation with many flying enemies, which seem to float absent-mindedly across the screen like a moved PNG (even if they have wings).

Enchanted Portals Mosquitoes Without Flight Animation

Like, I know it’s not moving but trust me, those wings ain’t flapping.

Conversely, some degree of this more-restrained feels comes from how smooth the animation can be, if you’d believe it. This video from Xixo’s YouTube channel is not only a really cool behind-the-scenes look at the game’s animation (like seriously, if the makers of Enchanted Portals are somehow reading this, I’d love to see more of these), but it really made an issue I’d been having with the animation click for me. See, the video first shows an animation with just keyframes (the first and last frames of a motion in animation) before showing the poses in between being filled in. The snappiness between these key poses gives the animation a bit more life than the finalized version—many animators drop frames in places for these exact reasons. Moreover, there weren’t really any smear frames (frames where a pose is blurred to imply motion), adding to the feeling that the movement is overly smooth, making it feel restrained.

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None of this is to imply that the animation is bad, though dropping a couple frames at points could’ve sold some actions better. Honestly, Enchanted Portals is a pretty good look at how to pull off the 1930s style with a pretty miniscule crew. By skimping out on some idle animation (particularly by avoiding line boil on longer-held poses), it saves a lot of time—as does not animating flight or pickups such as hearts.

Enchanted Portals Boss 2 Second Phase

If I were to make a list about all the Enchanted Portals animation that I took a particular fancy to, we’d be here all day. Boss 2 has a bunch of lovely animations, particularly hands that throw bowling balls at you, which have the liveliness and smears that I wish popped up more in this game. The bats in world 1, the crocodilians (I don’t know which type they are) in world 3, and the mobster car from world 5 are among the designs I thought best captured the 1930s look. The shifts in art style were also a pleasant surprise when they occurred, especially the shift to a Burtonesque look part-way into the first boss, with those wide eyes and tiny pupils you’d see in something like The Nightmare Before Christmas. There’s a lot to love here.

I know I’ve been sorta critical of Enchanted Portals, but it still kinda breaks my heart to watch it get eviscerated by the gaming public. The criticism isn’t wholly undeserved, but there’s so much effort on display that’s going underappreciated. Sure, it doesn’t get the rubber-hose cartoon style down to the finest detail as Cuphead does, but it can really shine both when imitating a look or when striking out on its own. By no means is the animation always great, but you can always tell that a hell of a lot of effort went into creating a visual treat.

NEXT: Cuphead Does Boss Fights Better Than Elden Ring

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