Enchanted Portals isn’t exactly spellbinding

Posted on September 5, 2023

Developed and published by Xixo Games Studio, Enchanted Portals is a 2D platformer/shoot ’em up with more than a passing resemblance to Studio MDHR’s acclaimed title Cuphead. With its fluid early 20th century-inspired rubber hose animation, colourful characters, and murderous level of difficulty, Enchanted Portals wears its inspiration on its sleeve. Despite a handful of novel ideas and some genuinely fun boss and enemy designs, Enchanted Portals unfortunately doesn’t reach the same spellbinding heights as the game that it strongly resembles.

Enchanted Portals starts off with young magical children Bobby and Penny stumbling across a mysterious spellbook. Intrigued, they cast a spell from the book which sucks their cat, themselves, and the book itself into a mystical portal. The game is then separated into a variety of colourful themed worlds as the children chase the book for their path back home, while encountering several crazy bosses and challenges.

The basic gameplay will feel extremely familiar to Cuphead fans, with a handful of differences. You can fire spell projectiles at enemies in a bullet hell fashion, and can get out of the way and avoid obstacles with a double jump and dash ability, as well as a shield to defend against unavoidable attacks. One unique feature is the ability to swap between three different spell types with the D-pad, switching between a three-directional wind projectile, as well as fire and water spell projectiles which fire in a straight line. Some foes are guarded by a red, green, or blue aura and can only take damage from one kind of spell.

Enchanted Portals gameplay featuring combat with a spider

Enchanted Portal’s gameplay isn’t terrible but it could have stood to be a bit more fleshed out. The fire and water spells felt interchangeable unless I was trying to counteract an aura, so I would have felt more of a reason to switch between spell types more often if, say, the water spell fired a lobbed grenade, or was weaker but had homing properties, or something like that. Also, while the aura system isn’t in and of itself a bad idea, the fact that enemies would often crowd around and overlap one another would cause the weird side effect of being invulnerable because the enemy behind them is a pixel closer to me than they are.

The most disappointing aspect of Enchanted Portals is just how samey the levels felt. Each of the run-‘n-gun levels, to borrow Cuphead’s parlance, are quite a bit longer than the comparative levels from Studio MDHR’s opus. However, they’re also a lot more repetitively designed; unlike in Cuphead, where each section felt custom-built and would involve unique traps, vertical platforming sections, hidden rewards, and minibosses, Enchanted Portals’ levels feel like one long corridor with about three different enemy types in them that endlessly respawn. Combined with the repeating background textures, the only way I had any concept of how close I was to the end was a little sign indicating when I was halfway there.

Another significant diversion from the Cuphead formula is the health system. Bobby and Penny can take much more of a beating than Cuphead and Mugman ever could, and ordinary enemies drop health pickups. As such, the run-‘n-gun levels don’t incentivise making it through flawlessly in the same way that Cuphead’s levels do. There are no health pickups during boss fights though, which fittingly made them feel a lot more challenging. In addition, while the lack of a Cuphead-style hub world isn’t a huge loss, there is a lack of mid-world save points. This means that you need to go through two platforming stages all over again to refight a boss after turning the game back on, which feels like a particularly aggravating omission.

Enchanted Portals screenshot involving a witch battle

Fortunately, the bosses are more of a highlight. While similarly less elaborately designed in terms of attack patterns than a typical Cuphead boss, they’re all creative in their designs and animations and are overall quite a memorable time. A particular highlight was the middle section of the first boss fight against the evil witch where the art style suddenly shifted to an angular, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride-inspired one, which I quite appreciated in terms of a mix-up of the established visuals.

The visuals and animation overall were a treat. Enchanted Portals definitely nails the fluid, Steamboat Willie-esque noodly limb animations which make character movements such a delight to behold. The bosses are particularly elaborate, from the aforementioned witch to the disco space cow from the second world. Disappointingly, the actual cutscenes which bookend each level aren’t animated and are just a slideshow of still images, which feels like a wasted potential considering how lively everything else is during actual gameplay.

Enchanted Portals screenshot showcasing a cow boss fight

Overall, I can recognise Enchanted Portals’ ambition, and it shows a lot of creativity in its boss fights and animation. However, the game hews so close to Cuphead’s style and gameplay without much in terms of original features, and it just isn’t as revolutionary or well-executed as Cuphead in its visuals and level design. This means that it is difficult to recommend over the game that does the same things, only better. Nonetheless, Enchanted Portals still showcases enough imagination and fun times to be worth a suggestion for any Cuphead fan who is looking for something of the same vein, but with a few quirks thrown in.

Enchanted Portals is out on the 6th of September 2023 for PC and PS5 and Xbox Series X/S on the 8th. The game will also be heading to Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PS4 at a later date, and a physical version is planned for release on the 29th of September.