As I kid, I often found myself humming the soundtrack Koji Kondo created for The Legend of Zelda. His music stuck with me throughout my entire life. I attribute a large portion of my affection to the series to his work.
Which is why my ears perked up when Cadence of Hyrule, a spin-off of Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the NecroDancer, was announced. I was a bit wary of how a rogue-like rhythm game tied into the world of Hyrule would pan out. However, it didn’t take long before it’s musical embrace took hold and I found myself once again humming along to the soundtrack.
Having not played Crypt of the NecroDancer, I felt like a fish out of water. Crypt of the NecroDancer built quite a reputation not only for its charm but also by its difficulty. Like its predecessor, Cadence of Hyrule is built around matching the soundtrack’s beat through your movements. Overstep, or attack at the wrong moment, and you’ll become staggered leaving you open for enemy attacks. This simple, yet elegant mechanic takes a bit of getting used to. Having grown up playing the top-down Zelda titles quite frequently, I had to shake off my instinctual methods and adapt to the new playstyle. In the early stages of the game, it can be quite punishing. Your health is limited and your weapon variety is bare. However, after a couple of hours, it all seemed to click.
Cadence of Hyrule walks a fine line between a ballet of movements and a game of chess. I began to find my rhythm without even thinking about it. Granted, the game is quite forgiving if you are slightly offbeat. You’ll also learn enemy patterns through trial and error. Similar to a game of chess, knowing how an enemy moves are all part of the learning process.
It isn’t before long that I began collecting Heart Pieces and items to make the journey much easier. You’ll find your standard fare of items and weapons throughout your adventure. The Boomerang, Deku Seeds, and Empty Bottles are all included. As you begin to build your arsenal, the game becomes drastically less difficult. The game is designed so that every time you die, you’ll lose your Rupee collection and the odd assortment of items. Thankfully, many of the core weapons stay with you. With that in mind, the difficulty level drastically takes a dive a few hours in. There seems to be a slight balance issue. Each time you clear an area of the map, you are awarded a diamond to use when revived after death. You’re able to purchase a torch (which you lose each death) amongst upgraded weapons that you keep in perpetuity. Whether it’s the game awarding too many diamonds, or not incentivizing me to change from my sword of choice, I was left with 93 diamonds and nothing to spend them on by the time I reached the last leg of the game.
A lot of the weapons and upgrades you will naturally stumble upon throughout your time with the game. This makes the experience feel free and natural as if there is not this constant poke and prod to get you to the next area of the map. This open endedness also works to the game’s detriment. Not having a clear idea of what items are crucial, I found myself near the end of the game without an item I didn’t even know existed in the game. I was in the midst of completing a puzzle, which required me to get across a large gap in the floor. With no solution in my inventory, I had to retrace my steps and go through multiple areas of the map until I found the required item.
Cadence of Hyrule is not simply reskinning Crypt of the NecroDancer, dropping Link and Zelda into the fold. No, Brace Yourself Games even went as far as to hide secret entrances behind cracked walls. The map itself is fairly expansive. It covers Kakariko Village, Death Mountain, Lost Woods, and more staples of Hyrule. Each of them features different enemies and remixed versions of their proper themes composed by Danny Baranowsky. There are properties to the game that make it feel like a Best of Zelda collection. There are clear visuals and layouts inspired by A Link to the Past and Minish Cap.
As I explored the map, the sheer amount of little surprises was staggering. Without giving them all away, one that stuck out was the inclusion of the Bombchu Bowling. Brace Yourself Games managed to take a frantic mini-game and rework it to match the rhythm-based mechanics. These small touches are a testament that the studio not only understood what it takes to make a Zelda game but cared enough to include the little things.
A Zelda game is not quite a Zelda game without the inclusions of dungeons. As Crypt of the NecroDancer is known for its procedurally generated maps, this is where Brace Yourself Games was really able to play around with that concept in Cadence of Hyrule. Each time you die, the dungeons will be laid out differently. None of them are drawn out to the point of frustration, and it isn’t before long that you’ll stumble on a map and compass to lead you around. At the end of each of the four dungeons, you’ll find a boss to fight. This is one of the shining moments of the game. The music throughout and the thoughtfulness embedded into each encounter create the most memorable experiences in the game. One, in particular, challenged me a great deal as there was so much onscreen action. It all came down to strategically chipping away at the enemy while matching the beat to avoid the array of different attacks.
Cadence of Hyrule is a relatively short experience. The game can be completed in roughly 10-12 hours. As you’re able to choose between playing as Link and Zelda, the game does offer a reason to replay as the opposite character. However, upon exploring a second playthrough, there simply isn’t enough to justify an immediate second run. While Link has a spin attack, while Zelda has an Eternal Block move, there are the only major differences you’ll find. If you itching to jump into a second playthrough, you’ll find the map’s layout is different, but you’ll still be fighting the same enemies with the same weapons.
While challenge-seekers may feel a bit underwhelmed stepping into Cadence of Hyrule, I think it was for the greater good. The game is an accessible entry point that welcomes any player. Brace Yourself Games also included a nice accessibility feature. Whether you’re unable to match the beat, or simply choose not to, you can turn on the Fixed Beat Mode and not be penalized for missing the beat.
All in all, Cadence of Hyrule is a Zelda game I never thought I needed. However, after playing, it’s become a game I want more of. Nintendo continues to branch out and allow development teams to put a spin of their core properties and it seems to work time and time again. I am thankful that Brace Yourself Games got their chance to toy around with the world of Hyrule. The Vancouver-based dev studio honoured the beloved series and their contributions were quite refreshing.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]