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Music has always been a vital component of The Legend of Zelda, from navigating the Lost Woods by following the music to playing ditties on your ocarina that still echo in memory.
Cadence of Hyrule also mimics the questline of Game Boy classic and upcoming remaster Link’s Awakening of collecting musical instruments. But if its 2D top-down respective looks respectably retro, it’s anything but a cheap throwback.
It’s not the first time a third party developer has had the privilege of working on a Zelda title – Capcom made some excellent handheld instalments while Omega Force gave us a hack-and-slash musou spin-off.
But for a company so stringently protective of its IP, it’s remarkable for Nintendo to hand the keys to Hyrule over to a small indie studio with just one game under its belt. Of course, when that one game is the excellent Crypt of the NecroDancer, a unique blend of rhythm action and dungeon-crawling roguelike, it’s a bizarre and beautiful match.
Cadence of Hyrule follows the same core mechanics of Brace Yourself Games’ ingenious debut. It’s all about matching your movements and actions to the beat of the music, visualised by a handy metronome at the bottom of the screen.
Messing up a beat doesn’t hurt you but since enemies and projectiles also move to the rhythm, it’s essential to learn their patterns while keeping to the beat. In turn, landing successive attacks while avoiding damage and maintaining rhythm builds up your power and boosts rewards.
The soundtrack comprises 25 songs, a delightful combination of Koji Kondo’s timeless melodies remixed and new music from Danny Baranowsky, and when these tunes are so catchy picking up the rhythm is easy. Nonetheless, if the thought of keeping to time fills you with horror, you can also switch to Fixed-Beat mode so that everything moves as fast or as slow as you like, like a top-down version of Super Hot.
Besides this option, the game is also considerably less punishing than NecroDancer, though it’s still initially trickier than a typical Zelda title, as you will likely die after a few early encounters just getting to grips with the rhythm and enemy patterns.
Fortunately, Cadence of Hyrule isn’t quite the roguelike of its predecessor. Instead of dungeon-crawling, you get to explore the whole of Hyrule’s overworld – wonderfully recreated but remixed with each playthrough – which also gives you far more room to manoeuvre. And rather than resetting at the same starting point, you’ll find plenty of Sheikah Stones checkpoints which you can fast-travel to later.
“Players will find plenty of classic Zelda items, from bombs to bows, heart containers to the hookshot, along with NecroDancer weapons like the broadsword and spear”
There are a few light roguelike elements, such as how rupees and limited-use stat-buffing items are lost upon death, but crystals, which mostly drop after clearing a grid or room of enemies, carry over and can be used at a number of special shops – one of these you’re actually transported to every time you croak, so that you can start with an advantage.
Players will also find plenty of classic Zelda items, from bombs to bows, heart containers to the hookshot, along with NecroDancer weapons like the broadsword and spear that increase your attack range.
All of these items carry over, meaning that rather than starting from scratch each time, you can easily warp to a Sheikah Stone checkpoint outside a dungeon and waltz straight to the boss, tooled up with a ton of hearts, potions, and multiple attack options.
Progression-wise then, Cadence plays more like a typical Zelda title, though it also means you’re breezing through a shorter campaign. It ultimately makes things more accessible for newcomers, while Permadeath is still optional for the hardcore players. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop the game from reverting to the original’s hellish labyrinthian gauntlets in the late game, although most will probably see it as a late and cruel difficulty spike.
While the overworld captures the spirit of Zelda, the dungeons are underwhelming, lacking in sophisticated puzzles or memorable bosses. Their brevity also means that important elements from NecroDancer, such as maintaining a strong lightsource or a good shovel for digging, are somewhat redundant. Nonetheless, the warbling shopkeeper makes a welcome cameo – and you can still bomb him at your peril.
“While the overworld captures the spirit of Zelda, the dungeons are underwhelming, lacking in sophisticated puzzles or memorable bosses.”
Kudos must also be given to BYG for making Zelda the heroine of her own legend at last, along with Link. You can choose to play either at the start, though it doesn’t take long to unlock the other and swap between them as you wish, or use both in drop-in two-player co-op.
The irony is that this is at the expense of NecroDancer’s own protagonist Cadence (and what do you know, it’s her name in this title this time) who takes a bit of a backseat for most of the campaign, though ultimately you can play as all three.
Cadence of Hyrule is a testament to how a beloved IP can still be given a fresh spin in the hands of new blood. We can only hope Nintendo’s newfound embrace of indies means this experiment isn’t a one-off.
With a terrific soundtrack and clever rhythm mechanics, Cadence of Hyrule is the best Zelda spin-off yet.
- Excellent soundtrack featuring remixes of timeless music
- Successfully combines familiar elements with original rhythm action mechanics
- Good range of accessibility options
- Dungeons are short and underwhelming