Mmm Mmm Mmm
Nothin’ blows my wig quite like the keen sounds of a doghouse and gobble pie
pitching woo to the beats of a skin tickler!
Oh come on, don’t be a tin ear!
This platter is a ring-a-ding-ding, baby!
*start rap music in background*
Man, they talked weird back then.
Speak to me bro.
Oh, yeah. I know! Tonight’s party is gonna be lit AF!!!
I’m low-key excited to get turned up!!!
We gonna get savage tonight!
Hit me later with the DM fam. Stay woke!!
*Game Theory intro*
Hello Internet! Welcome to Game Theory!
The thickest show in gaming.
That’s thicc with four C’s, a K, and a silent Q U E.
If you’re looking for a break from these
Well you’re in the right place.
In a year FULL of great games,
Cuphead is easily one of the best or, at least best from a gameplay standpoint.
On the theorize-ability side there seems to be a little less meat on the bone.
I mean the story seems pretty darn straightforward
Our heroes Cuphead and Mugman find themselves in hot water with the Devil after gambling their souls away.
Since neither of them really want to lose their souls,
they strike a deal with the Devil and are sent out to collect soul contracts
from the other inhabitants on the island to give the Devil his due.
It’s all pretty cut and dry.
But before you go running off to your kitchen to explain the dangers of the real world to your cutlery,
I’m about to let you in on a secret that will completely
shatter the way that you perceive our heroic bowl headed boys.
For as innocent and heroic as Cuphead, Mugman, and Elder Kettle may seem,
they’re actually no better than the Devil himself.
When you look at the evidence it is clear that these three are active criminals.
Participating in an industry of sin. Not gambling like the Devil and King Dice, but instead illegal alcohol sales.
That’s right! Cuphead, Mugman and Elder Kettle are all moonshiners.
Smack dab in the middle of Prohibition.
Okay so you’re probably wondering just how in Inkwell Hell did I figure that one out?
So let’s take a big gulp of liquid from our heads and start looking at the game.
First it’s immediately obvious that this game is set in the 1930s.
I mean if the animation and music didn’t already tip you off, the game reminds us of its setting VERY frequently.
We’ve already covered this era of animation in our analysis of Bendy And The Ink Machine to death, so, no need to belabor the point here
But, on this subject
Here’s a really fun fact:
When called out on Twitter for the inconsistent coloring of Cuphead’s hands and shoes,
Sometimes white, sometimes yellow, brown, even the color of their shorts,
The makers of the game, Studio MDHR, responded that it was to mimic the inconsistent coloring practices used by cartoons at the time.
It’s just another reason to absolutely love this game and its attention to detail.
Anyway, the reason I bring up the setting of the game is because it has everything to do with the Devil’s evil scheme
on Inkwell Isle, and how Cuphead fits into that.
You see, between 1929 and 1939,
the world as a whole suffered from the Great Depression.
An economic crisis that began in the United States with a crashing stock market
but had devastating effects on markets around the world.
In the US, the unemployment rate would eventually rise to 24.75 percent.
Which meant that out of a workforce of 51 million people, 12 million people were left jobless.
It was so bad, that the US Dollar wouldn’t be worth a whole dollar again, until 1944.
So you had prices rising, the dollar losing its value,
and people losing faith in the government to help with this job crisis.
With no hope in sight people started to look for hope in… other places
Like a big win on the craps table or at the bottom of a stiff drink.
Tobacco, alcohol, and gambling all saw huge up swings during this period
And thus, America saw the rise of what became known as the sin industries.
Businesses that got their name by exploiting human addiction to… less than savory practices
Think it’s a coincidence that the casino in Cuphead is run by the Devil?
Absolutely not. In fact, the Las Vegas we know today
owes itself to the sin industry boom of the 1930s.
The legalization of essentially all forms of gambling happened in 1931.
Everything from slot machines, to cards, to craps.
And where have we seen all of those before?
Across Inkwell Isle.
Tobacco use, meanwhile, took on a completely different tone from how we perceive it today.
Cigars were associated with tough guys
While smoking cigarettes was meant to make you look sophisticated and refined.
Now look how we see smoking portrayed throughout Inkwell Isle.
On the gambling boat with Ribby and Croaks, we see classy lady flies in the background
And if you can make it out behind the fight with Mr. Wheezy, a living cigar,
You’ll see twisted images of mysterious men in trench coats all smoking together.
And again, both those fights are tied to gambling in some way
By proxy, the devil.
This is the 1930s sin industries.
But of the three sin industries during this era, the most interesting was alcohol.
Because this was smack dab in the middle of Prohibition.
For those of you who don’t know, the Prohibition was a ban on alcohol
that happened between 1920 and 1933 in the US.
It was a governmental effort to reduce crime, solve social issues, and make Americans healthier
By ceasing the production and spread of this so-called Devil’s drink
But it actually just ended up doing the exact opposite.
Organized crime and gang violence surged during this period
as underground booze trafficking became big business.
It was just… a total failure across the board.
Just because it was illegal, people were still finding ways to get a hold of their alcohol.
And if you pay attention to all the little details in Cuphead,
you’ll notice that the only places you see alcohol are in areas owned by the Devil.
The aforementioned gambling boat, and the Devil’s casino where you actually throw fisticups
Haha, fisticups. Couldn’t resist.
Fisticuffs against whiskey, rum, and a martini.
But remember, this is 1930. It is literally in the middle of Prohibition.
All of this is illegal. It would make sense for the Devil to be breaking those anti alcohol laws
But it would be something else entirely for poor, innocent Cuphead to be doing it.
Sadly though, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Cuphead, Mugman and Elder Kettle. Heroes by day, and moonshiners by night.
Moonshiner was the name given to someone who made homebrewed illegal alcohol during the Prohibition.
And while many were unsuccessful,
And I mean REALLY unsuccessful, we’re talking “65,000 people dying from poisoned liquor in one year” levels of unsuccessful.
Eventually the science did become refined enough that alcoholic beverages were being produced
that didn’t necessarily need to include: “May cause death” on the label.
Since making the stuff was illegal, most moonshiners tended to work far into the woods, near a water source,
and in places that only they would know how to get to.
You can make moonshine using practically anything,
But at its most basic, all you need is a pan, a kettle, and a rubber hose.
Once you have your juice it would be placed into jugs
marked by X’s to indicate how many times they were distilled,
AKA how much punch your moonshine was packing,
and then they were delivered in secret to various businesses.
From there, it would be common for your drink to be served by tea kettle or coffee pot
into a tea cup or coffee mug to avoid suspicion.
Now where have I seen all those things before?
Moonshine, made using a kettle served in tea cups.
But that’s not all. Think about where Cuphead starts his journey: Elder Kettles’ home.
The only place that’s away from town and completely surrounded by woods.
Just like where the moonshiners lived during the Prohibition era.
And right next to a water source. Coincidence?
Maybe, but consider this:
You ever wonder why Cuphead lives on an island? It seemed like a weird choice to me,
that Inkwell is just a series of small interconnected land masses all sharing the same name
Well, the size, shape, and general topography of Inkwell Island is actually fairly similar to the Bahamas,
a series of closely connected islands just off the coast of Florida.
Now, have you ever heard of rum row?
It was an alcohol smuggling operation that ran between Florida and the Bahamas during the Prohibition.
They were producing alcohol at the edges of the Bahamas and using boats to smuggle that booze into the mainland, US.
Now those boats around Inkwell start to seem like they have a real purpose.
And it doesn’t just end with a few geographic similarities.
Let’s stop for a minute and examine the fluid in Cupheads’ head.
Some have speculated that it could be a Non-newtonian fluid,
the kind that acts like a liquid, but when force is applied to it, hardens like a solid.
Others have said that it could be similar to the water of life that Japanese Kappas have in their heads,
But given the circumstances, it’s incredibly unlikely that the fluid is something magical.
it behaves just like any other liquid in the game.
You see it splash when the characters are hit, or do anything that shifts from side to side.
In the opening scene, they’re kicked out of the casino
and we get the best view into Mugman’s head,
and we see that the liquid is white.
Seeing a white liquid makes you immediately think it’s milk, right? Or… eggnog, I guess, but that would be really weird.
Well, it’s not necessarily either of those.
Researching animation techniques you immediately learn that when drawing a clear liquid,
white is the color of choice for just about any artist.
Given this old-timey style of animation, one that doesn’t use transparency,
If they didn’t color it in, it would just look incomplete.
Or on the flip side, if they were to use blue it would be more reminiscent of water,
so cartoonists of this era tended to use white.
In other words, yeah, it could be milk,
but it could also just be any form of clear booze, specifically moonshine.
Now consider this: before a fight the timid Mugman takes a huge gulp from his head to get himself pumped for battle.
You’re not taking a swig of milk, and then suddenly being infused with courage and doing flips.
But there is the stereotype of taking a stiff drink of liquid courage, alcohol, before a fight to get yourself all charged up.
But for super solid evidence we need to keep looking back to the past,
but this time not as far back as the 1930s.
Instead back to 2015’s trailer of Cuphead,
where he pours white liquid from a jug marked with three X’s into his head.
Three X’s, the mark of bootleg alcohol.
A triple distilled jug of moonshine. Which, in 1930, is expressly outlawed.
So there you have it. Our innocent heroes are actually no better than the Devil in his casino.
They’re agents of one of the Prohibition eras most nefarious sin Industries:
Distilling illegal booze with Elder Kettle in their secluded shack in the woods on the outskirts of Inkwell.
Can’t make it anymore black and white than that.
But the editors can!
But hey, that’s just a theory.
A Game Theory!
Thanks for watching.