To say that Enchanted Portals had challenges getting off the ground would be an understatement of the century. It was immediately accused of being just a clone of Cuphead, no thanks to the developers shamelessly loving Cuphead. From the art style looking like a knockoff version of Cuphead, controversies about how some enemies in the game were seen as racist stereotypes, and how the gameplay trailer didn’t show off anything that different and new from the inspiration, a lot was fighting back against this game. With only two people working on the whole thing (Daniel Jiménez as the director and programmer and Gemma Torrellas as the artist and composer), it was just problem after problem for this game. With the game finally out for us to see in its full glory, the results of all the problems and development troubles are now here for the gamers to see, and it’s admirable that this two-person team overcame all these obstacles. Unfortunately, the results and gamers also said this game is the worst game of 2023.
The main characters are wizards in training, Bobby and Penny. The game doesn’t tell you what their names are; they’re only found in outside promotional materials, like their Kickstarter and store page. While cleaning up the shop of their wizard master, they find a spell book and decide to try and test their might by reciting a spell from the book. The problem is that said spell conjured up a portal that sucked them in alongside the book. Now they have to travel across different worlds till they can get the book back.
Let’s start with some positives to prepare the game for a verbal (or written in this case), beatdown. This game wears its Cuphead influence on its sleeve, with the art style looking like a mixture of modern cartoons with classic old-school toons. Not only that, but a couple of bosses even change the art style up to add more variety, like giving off a creepy gothic aesthetic that looks more in place in Don’t Starve, covering the characters with computer code to represent them being inside a computer, and the final boss has a couple different art styles depending on the phase. It does look cool and fancy enough to make the graphics stand out against Cuphead’s rubber hose animation.
The same could also be said for the music, however not as much. Most of the songs are just okay, if forgettable. They do try to blend into the environment and background, so it isn’t all just the same old retro tunes. Some songs sound like they are part of the golden age of the cartoon era, others sound like they are part of the roaring 20s, and there are even some that go all the way up to the digital age. Each stage has a unique theme in terms of background music and location, and it would be disingenuous to say that there is no effort here. However, they don’t do enough. There are only three points in the game where the music and graphics can change and match up together in a way that gives off a vibe as if you’re traveling through time. If they tried to hone in on that aspect more, like with the characters going through animation through the decades with the music and art style slowly progressing along with them, then it could be something that truly would stand out.
And this is the lead into the start of the game’s problems, and the center point for every critique present within the game; it feels like it was rushed out too quickly. Cuphead had an extremely troubling development cycle leading up to the release. Studio MDHR was founded by brothers Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, trying to create a game once during the year 2000 only to fail, getting a small team together in 2010, having to switch game engines in 2014, and even mortgaging their houses and quitting their jobs just to focus on the game, got saved by Microsoft before finishing in 2017. Enchanted Portals meanwhile was started as a two-person team in 2019 after falling in love with Cuphead, released a Kickstarter in 2020 only for it to fail, and released their game in 2023; with a development cycle of only about 4 years. Now yes, it’s impressive that they were able to create the game with a failed Kickstarter with only two people, but it paints a picture of just how it feels like less effort went into it than Cuphead. And yes, there is a genuinely passionate team behind it, and it is impressive that it came out at all, but it not only needed a couple more years in the oven to bake, but it isn’t immune to criticism about its problems, which this game has a lot of unfortunately.
Let’s get into the gameplay. You start in a run-and-gun level, where you need to run to the right, attacking enemies. Enemies with colors around them require you to use a specific spell. It should be interesting, but there are a couple of big problems here. The first problem is that the levels are randomly generated. They have some premade sections, but the real randomly generated factor here is with the enemy placement. Some sections will only have one enemy coming after you, while others will spawn a whole conga line of enemies, with some even spawning within other enemies. Considering how they don’t vanish and follow you throughout the whole level, the best bet is to just stop and deal with them, constantly switching spells to deal with the shielded enemies. It’s also recommended that you ignore Insane difficulty, as it’s less insane, and more cheating with no chances to regain health and having to start over from the beginning of the world upon dying. The boss stages have you dealing with Cuphead-styled bosses. You have to dodge their attacks and keep firing your weapon at them till they go down. They either range from complete pushovers standing in one spot on the stage with attacks missing you easily, or unfair with them spamming attacks with no way to tell when they’re coming thanks to no sound effects or very small visual indicators.
The first big complaint here is that the game more or less just throws you into the deep end. There’s no tutorial stage like in Cuphead, and even the visual prompts the game gives you in the first stage don’t tell you how to perform certain actions. While there is a how-to-play section you can always pull up on the pause menu, you just read over the instructions on how to perform those moves without learning about how to feel them control in battle. As it is now, it’s okay, but feels a bit too complicated. Some of the moves feel pointless, like the impulse move for when riding a broom, and all the different spells you have. You have a spread shot spell, a fire spell, and an icicle spell. However, it’s hard to tell what the difference between them is due to the game being quiet about it. The closest guess as to what they do is the spread shot is the weakest weapon, but has the most coverage, the fireballs are fast and somewhat more powerful, and the icicles are the slowest type of spell yet the most powerful. It could be proven wrong, however, with how the game refuses to tell you anything.
And that’s another problem; the game doesn’t give you enough information. The sound for music can be decent at times, but the sound effects needed a rework. Compared to Cuphead where all the bosses have their special sound effects linked to each attack, the enemies either have very hard-to-hear sound effects if they’re generous or none at all. There is a need for more sound effects and ensuring they’re louder and more prominent. The health system also needs to be reworked. Health is told through a color system, with green meaning that you’re healthy, and red meaning you’re on the verge of death. The problem is that it takes a couple of hits to go down from green to the next layer down, and a couple of hits to finally die after being in the red. This would be bad enough, but with the hitboxes and lack of invincibility frames after getting hit here that the player has to deal with, it’s a whole lot worse. Attacks that look like they would not touch your character just keep hitting you, pitching in cheap shots, especially during the platforming stages with all the extra enemies. Add in the fact that you have little to no invincibility frames after getting hit, meaning you’re more likely than going to be getting hit over and over again by the same enemy or attack, and you have a recipe for a way to easily lose your health.
However, the biggest problem here, aside from the game not being given enough time to cook, is the platforming levels. If you played one, you played them all, no joke. They’re all just straight shots from the left to the right to get to the goal. Some levels will require you to jump over pits, but they’re just the most basic platformer challenges that there could be in a game. There is no verticality here of any kind, no secondary goals, nothing. The most you will be doing here is shooting down an enemy creating a gate blocking your path. If you play them as safely as possible, killing every enemy so they can’t hurt you, expect to spend up to 5 minutes on each level, when you just want to get to the bosses, which are at best, unique and decent, like the Beethoven and Rocky bosses that have a unique gimmick for their fights and use it to their fullest potential, and at worst, more of the trial and error annoyances that plague the rest of the game, like the world three bosses just bombarding the screen with enemies and projectiles with no sound effects to indicate their arrival. If you want to rush out to get to the bosses, then good luck dodging all the enemies and stopping them from knocking down your health with how often they love to abuse the fact you have no invincibility time after getting hit. Given how half the game is doing these stages, it’s easy to see how they can get tiring fast with how little they innovate on them each time.
This isn’t even getting into all the other little problems it has, like the game only having animation for the introduction but only using slideshow stills for defeating the bosses and ending, betraying the cartoonish nature it took from Cuphead, the game being able to be beaten around 2 hours yet costing $20, the same price as Cuphead, a game with a lot more time and content to explore, how there is no ranking system meaning no reason to improve on your runs throughout the levels, unlike Cuphead, and no easy way to replay bosses while skipping the platforming levels, where Cuphead kept them separated. Yes, it’s unfair to use Cuphead as a standard, but when the developers openly admit their love and how the game is inspired by Cuphead, comparisons will be drawn, and unfortunately, here these comparisons serve to show just how weak the game is. At its best, it’s wasted potential for a celebration of cartoons throughout the ages, and at worst it’s an inferior copy to the inspiration in every conceivable way. The magic just isn’t here, unfortunately. Hope there can be some patch that fixes these issues, but as this is their game’s first step onto the scene after being declared done, it’s going to take an actual wizard to fix this game. Hope they can fix it somehow, but for now, just play Cuphead again.