Cadence of Hyrule Review — Dance Dance Zelda Evolution
I bet you look good on the dancefloor.
Brace Yourself Games created something special with Crypt of the NecroDancer. Coming off that wave of indie roguelikes, like Spelunky and Rogue Legacy, the Canadian studio found their “gimmick” (for lack of a better term) through rhythm. Mixing the procedurally generated nature of roguelikes with the beat-based gameplay of rhythm games, Crypt of the NecroDancer was born. Now, the studio is bringing its unique gameplay to the land of Hyrule with Cadence of Hyrule, and it’s pretty fantastic.
If you’ve played Crypt of the NecroDancer before, you’ll feel right at home playing Cadence of Hyrule. For those who haven’t, NecroDancer is a roguelike dungeon crawler where everything you do, from its tile-based movement to attacking your foes, must be done to the beat of the music. At the bottom of the screen, there is a beat meter which indicates what the beat is and whether you are following that beat when you push a button. Hitting these beats consecutively will earn you a coin multiplier, allowing you to buy loot in one of the dungeon’s stores. Missing a beat not only resets the multiplier but leaves you open for one beat, which can be very bad when enemies are present.
What makes NecroDancer a roguelike is its procedurally generated dungeons and enemy layout. Every run in a dungeon is different, and you never know what you’ll run into. The only predictable facet of its gameplay is the enemies’ movement, which is somewhat in specific patterns. Having to learn enemy patterns to plan out an attack, all while having to do it to the beat of a song, can be incredibly tricky and profoundly satisfying. It is one of the wholly unique things I have ever played.
Now, imagine this gameplay in a 2D The Legend of Zelda game like A Link to the Past or Link’s Awakening. This is what Cadence of Hyrule is. It isn’t just a bunch of Zelda themed dungeons set to popular Zelda tunes where you fight moblins and octoroks. This is a new Zelda game, complete with its iconic cast of characters and a full map of Hyrule ready to explore.
The game begins with Cadence, the protagonist from Crypt of the NecroDancer, falling out of the sky onto the land of Hyrule. At the end of the brief tutorial dungeon, you are asked to wake one of two Hylian heroes, Link or Princess Zelda. Depending on who you choose, Cadence teleports to either Link’s house or Hyrule Castle to wake your chosen hero and begin your adventure against Octavo, a supposedly evil musician who has taken over Hyrule Castle. To defeat him, you must defeat four of his guardians and use the tools gained against him.
The story itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary from a Zelda title. Where it differentiates, as you probably guessed, is its gameplay. Cadence of Hyrule plays exactly like Crypt of the NecroDancer in almost every way. It is still a rhythmic action game with procedurally generated dungeons and enemies, which is entirely different from any Zelda game before it.
Yet, it still manages to stay true to its Zelda roots. Giving you the full map to explore from the start, giving you no direction whatsoever is indicative of the Zelda experience, and it’s still true here. There is an NPC you can visit that will mark your map to you “next” destination at the low price of 10 rupees, but it takes the fun out of it. With a plethora of secrets and optional dungeons to find, this world is meant to (and deserves to) be explored.
The exploratory nature of the game is indicative of the many options you have. You can genuinely play how you want to play. If you have a hard time finding your groove, you can turn on “Fixed-Beat Mode,” which allows you to move at your own pace. For those who want more of a challenge, you can turn on “Double-Time Mode” or “Permadeath Mode.” Yes, there is a mode where one death will restart the game entirely.
This player-friendly design is extended to the three playable characters, Link, Zelda, and Cadence, each with their own set of moves and abilities. Link and Cadence are a bit similar, both equipped with a shield that can block incoming damage. However, Link can execute his signature spinning move, which will simultaneously damage enemies and knock them back a few tiles. Zelda, on the other hand, can summon a fireball when detonated will deal damage to all adjacent squares. Additionally, instead of a shield, Zelda will encapsulate herself in a diamond-esque vessel allowing her to block or reflect oncoming projectiles.
They all felt familiar, having played both NecroDancer and The Legend of Zelda games while feeling unique in their own right. I favored Link since I felt most comfortable with his attacks, but I found ways to utilize Zelda in certain situations. Cadence is the one character I didn’t find any utility with, mostly due to her similarities to Link. Not to say Cadence isn’t a cool character, but if you give me a choice to choose Link or Cadence, I’m probably going to choose my favorite Hylian lad clad in his iconic green tunic.
The main problem I had with Cadence of Hyrule is its difficulty spike during the latter portion of the game. Every encounter through the first four bosses is pretty easy, and in some cases, can be done pretty carelessly. Then when you get to the inevitable Octavo fight, it is such a deviation in terms of difficulty. It’s hard, and there is nothing before it to prepare for that battle. While this grievance could be alleviated by exploring the world more to find better gear and heart cases, it’s a bit frustrating when that difficulty differences are so apparent.
More on the positive side of things, also apparent is this Cadence of Hyrule‘s soundtrack. Composed by Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, Crypt of the NecroDancer), there are some excellent remixes of some of Zelda‘s best songs. Baranowsky adds a bit of drum and bass to these tunes, making them easier to follow rhythmically than the original while still maintaining the song’s framework we’ve come to know and love. The rockin’ version of Gerudo Valley in this game has engrained that tune into my brain, and it probably won’t go away for the next week.
Cadence of Hyrule: Curse of the NecroDancer is the crossover I didn’t know I needed until I played it. Save for a few hiccups, this rhythmic take on the popular Nintendo series is a wonderful surprise. It’s proof that smaller studios like Brace Yourself Games can take beloved franchises, flip them on their head, and make something undoubtedly refreshing. I won’t say I want to see Crypt of the NecroDancer mechanics in all of Nintendo’s franchises, but I would like to see Nintendo commit to more collaborations like this.