Although there have been rare instances where it has happened in the past, the idea that Nintendo would allow someone else to create a video game based on one of their intellectual properties may have sounded absolutely absurd a few years ago, but with games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and the Starfox content added to the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink: Battle for Atlas it’s clear that Nintendo is trusting certain studios to handle their legendary IPs with the same love and attention that they would. Though what is still surprising about Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer featuring The Legend of Zelda, is that Nintendo is giving one of their most important properties over to an indie studio, Brace Yourself Games, to create something unique yet still possess an embodiment of what makes The Legend of Zelda well, a Zelda game.
In this fusion of Crypt of the Necrodancer and The Legend of Zelda, you control your hero of choice– Link, Zelda, or Cadence– in similar fashion to the movement and physics of Necrodancer, by moving and fighting to the rhythm of the beat. In what may sound like a daunting method of play to someone unfamiliar with Necrodancer, in no time I found myself tapping my foot and nodding my head along while barely ever looking at the Triforce themed tempo meter at the bottom of the screen. Though, prior to getting the hang of the gameplay and learning how enemies moved I died a bunch. So be careful not to get too discouraged, because there will be a time when the gameplay clicks for you. Although, if this seems like something you are not interested in doing, or incapable of getting on beat, Cadence does offer the ability to turn off the reliance on moving to the beat. So if you are a Zelda fan but are worried about these new game mechanics, don’t let them frighten you from enjoying what I am arguing is an essential Zelda game for fans of the triangle obsessed series.
In taking on the gameplay style of Crypt of the Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule seems more like a Zelda game injected with these characteristics as opposed to taking those mechanics and slapping a familiar art style and soundtrack over it. With traditional puzzles sprinkled throughout dungeons, secret caves peeking out from behind cracked walls, and an arsenal of familiar tools and new weapons, this musical journey through a procedurally generated Hyrule will have you wanting to start a new adventure right after you finish the main quest. At least that was my experience. I wasn’t ready to leave this version of a series I absolutely adore just yet.
Moving around the grid field of each screen, your enemies also move and attack to the beat. Learning their patterns is crucial, and learning the timing for sword swings, arrow shots, and reflecting projectiles will only increase your survival rate. Losing the beat or being unfamiliar with new enemies can easily overwhelm you and quickly deplete your heart meter if you aren’t careful. You’ll come across certain main weapons that will attack in different formations than just the square in front of you, so finding the one that fits the scenario or your personal play-style will tremendously help you advance on your journey to stop Octavo.
Like Necrodancer, Cadence has some rouge-like elements but is not as unforgiving as the former. When you lose all of your hearts in Cadence of Hyrule you will get sent back to the shopkeeper where you can spend your diamonds to start back off with certain items before you choose a Sheikah Stone to warp to. Not only that, the map doesn’t reset the layout in between deaths like some other rouge-likes do. The map layout will change when you start a new file but not when you lose all of your hearts. I think Brace Yourself Games made these choices in order to make Cadence more palatable to Zelda fans and not potentially alienate players who don’t typically vibe with the loss of progression as a game mechanic. Not to mention, I think it lends itself to the Zelda side of the game’s design.
The marriage of gameplay is only a piece of the heart container here though, the art style and original soundtrack are on par with the best of the series. Beautiful pixels popping to every beat of the reimagining of classic Zelda tunes. The game’s art seems to evoke A Link To The Past but also takes staple locations, settings, and enemies and transforms them for a familiar yet refreshing design choice that oozes its own sense of style. With a soundtrack that must include well over one hundred songs and variations, you will constantly be humming and nodding to the music long after the Joy-Con’s are out of your hands. With multiple versions of the same song depending on if you’re in combat, in a shopkeeper’s quarters, or peacefully exploring, the work put into the soundtrack and sound design is apparent in every corner of Cadence of Hyrule. For a series that has always had such a heavy reliance on music– whether it be items like the Ocarina or Wind Waker or the memorable melodies that have lived on through decades– Cadence of Hyrule creates within the Zelda series as passionately as Nintendo would.
One of the only gripes I did have with Cadence of Hyrule was the final boss fight. Not it’s entirety, just the last phase. Without treading into spoilers for the final bouts of the game, the final fight is essentially broken up into two parts and the first of which is challenging and lengthy, while the finale is rather quick and lackluster. I would’ve much rather have preferred the difficulty on these two final moments be swapped. Overall this little critique doesn’t take away from what is ultimately one of my favorite games in recent memory and an adventure that will leave an impact on me for the foreseeable future.
Zelda games typically follow certain conventions that are tropes to the over 30 year old series, but just like how Breath of the Wild defied these standards and concocted something truly legendary, this mashup of genres still evokes what both Zelda and Necrodancer are at their core, while creating something wholly new and enjoyable for fans of both. Not only is Cadence of Hyrule the current frontrunner for my GOTY in 2019, but it undeniably excites me for what the future for Zelda and other Nintendo IPs can be, given the passion of new developers investing their skills into these worlds. I’ll gladly take a sequel to Cadence either in Hyrule or the Mushroom Kingdom.
Cadence of Hyrule is available now exclusively on the Nintendo Switch.
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