Cadence of Hyrule (2019)
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Okay, yes, the full title is Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda, but that's quite a mouthful so I'll be shortening it for this review. Ever since this game was announced, I've been so overjoyed because it's the first and likely only excuse I'll have to write a review about a Zelda game for Sleepy Toadstool, as I only cover indie games. It's the perfect cross-section of everything I like about games. Cadence of Hyrule is a rhythm action-adventure game, a crossover between Crypt of the Necrodancer and The Legend of Zelda franchise.
I picked up Crypt of the Necrodancer on sale just two days before Cadence of Hyrule released to give it a try. I'm definitely glad I did - while Crypt of the Necrodancer is a harder game, it trained me for the rhythm movements that are used in both games. You attack in both games by moving towards monsters to the beat of the music. Slashing with your weapon happens automatically when you move forward onto them on the right beat (unless they happen to attack in that direction as well). It feels weird at first to hit enemies without hitting a specific attack button, but after you get into the rhythm it feels extremely satisfying to smash and slash to the beat. Losing the rhythm comes at a cost of putting you at a disadvantage, as well as lowering your drop item rewards. Cadence of Hyrule is a little less intense because it only makes you play in the rhythm when there was monsters in your current map. This means you at least get a little break after you finish off a screen of monsters. I very much appreciate this change, since being consistently flawlessly on-beat for long period of time can start to feel like a lot of work. The "off" moments when you don't have to move to the rhythm are fun and kind of silly movement wise, since you still hop around instead of walking, just at varying speeds. The video below is just showing that, I did a lot of playing around with moving to the music in different ways during "off" phases.
Although the art style is most reminiscent of A Link to the Past, it definitely has a modern and colorful look that doesn't look exactly like any existing Zelda game. Although enemies are, for the most part, classic Zelda monsters, they are more in the style of Crypt of the Necrodancer. You can tell the creators of this game have a lot of love and respect for the whole Zelda franchise: the map of Hyrule managed to capture areas from different games very accurately. When I first walked along the beach, I felt like I was playing Link's Awakening. It's especially interesting to see elements that are exclusive to console/3D Zelda games being incorporated into this top-down view.
Of course, the music is what is really worth talking about. Cadence of Hyrule is essentially a love letter to music from The Legend of Zelda games. Classic themes from different titles are used, remixed in a way that not only fits a fun, rhythmic game, but also gives them new life. I found myself nodding my head along to the beat even when I was playing in monster-free zones. I'm so excited to listen to the full soundtrack now that I've just finished: I've truly exhausted basically every resource of Zelda music out there on the internet, so I'm ready to hop onto this extremely well-made, fresh new soundtrack of revivals and remixed themes.
Where Cadence of Hyrule was most lacking and least Zelda-like was in the story-telling. Cadence, the protagonist from Crypt of the Necrodancer, arrives in Hyrule by some strange incident as Hyrule is being terrorized by a man named Octavo, a musician who has set monsters free in Hyrule and made everyone only be able to move to the rhythm of music. Cadence awakens Link or Zelda, depending on who you choose first, and you set out to stop Octavo by taking down the four champions, or boss monsters. Beyond that, you don't get much explanation of who Octavo is or why he's taking these specific actions. Sure, Crypt of the Necrodancer, from what I understand (played very little of it), doesn't have much story either. I was just left expecting a little more because it's a Zelda game, and Zelda lore always has layers to explore within the playthrough. The NPCs also didn't have a whole lot to say, despite the adequate inclusion of almost all the different Hylian races. However, the fact that you can play Link, Zelda, or Cadence, with only minor mechanical differences (Zelda uses a little more magic thank Link), worked extremely well. I know we might be a while away from something like this being incorporated to a mainline Zelda game, but at least Nintendo might realize it actually does work for us and it's really fun to switch between characters, especially in specific puzzles requiring it.
I spent a little time playing Cadence of Hyrule in multiplayer mode, and wow, it definitely helps to have a friend when you're clearing out a map of enemies. Some obstacles that require specific items to be found were suddenly doable because we had two people. As far as multiplayer Zelda games go, this is exactly the way it should be, in my opinion: getting to play Link and Zelda fighting evil together, not 4 differently-colored gremlin Links fighting for rupees amongst each other along the way. Clearly I'm not a huge fan of the multiplayer Zelda games, but I might be more inclined to be if they took note of Cadence of Hyrule's style.
Cadence of Hyrule feels like a bite-sized Zelda adventure, a perfect little musical summer game. Due to its random generation, no playthrough is ever exactly the same. I'll likely be playing it again, either single-player or multiplayer, playing as different characters. No, it doesn't rank in my top Zelda games of all time (an impossible standard), but it's an excellent and innovative crossover, capturing the right amount of nostalgia from classic Zelda games. The rhythm adds a perfect amount of challenge (I died a lot in the beginning) and it'll be just up your alley if you already played Crypt of the Necrodancer. I'd also like to go back and give more time to Crypt of the Necrodancer, perhaps my rhythm skill have improved after this...
Cadence of Hyrule is available exclusively on Nintendo Switch.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 8 hrs