Music has always been an integral part of Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda series. Sometimes it ties directly into the plot, like in Ocarina of Time or The Wind Waker. Often, catchy songs like Koji Kondo’s iconic original theme and Breath of the Wild’s majestic melody become instilled into gamers’ hearts. Cadence of Hyrule presents an experience that not only celebrates generations of the franchise’s music, but also offers an adventure comparable to classic 2D Zelda games.
Cadence of Hyrule is a Zelda-themed spin-off of the rhythm roguelike Crypt of the NecroDancer, and it strikes up a well-rounded blend of the two gameplay styles. Core movement and combat are based on NecroDancer’s clever concept of hopping to the beat. Your steps must line up with the tempo or you are temporarily stunned. The interface assists players with a meter that visualizes the pulse and glowing disco tiles that signify character spacing. Enemies also have their own patterns that coincide with the music. You attack them by ramming into them, automatically brandishing your weapon. It’s incredibly satiating to jump, dodge, and fight along to a song. It becomes a more complex dance as you’re surrounded by enemies requiring different strategies while keeping the rhythm.
Cadence of Hyrule goes beyond its ingenious rhythmic action by fashioning an entire Zelda adventure game around it. At first glance, the game looks similar to A Link to the Past. Part of the credit goes to the excellent art design, filled with gorgeously animated sprites in a familiarly retro Super Nintendo-esque world. But the premise also lines up with traditional titles in the franchise. You play as Link or Zelda exploring a vast overworld, locating helpful items, and uncovering dungeons, all presented in the old-school top-down style. Cadence from Crypt of the NecroDancer also ends up in Hyrule and must join up with Hyrule’s heroes to retrieve magical instruments from the villainous Octavo – not an original plot, but it suffices.
It surprised me how authentic this indie spin-off replicated the Zelda formula. I expected a roguelike dungeon-crawler closer to NecroDancer, reskinned with Zelda characters and music. Instead, Cadence of Hyrule is very much a top-down action-adventure with secrets strewn throughout and even some puzzles. Granted, the puzzling is light and mostly involves rearranging blocks. Nonetheless, the Zelda flavor is all-in, with imported enemies such as Octoroks who shoot rocks and knights whom you must target from behind.
The collectible items and upgrades are welcome for a fan like me who is obligated to 100% complete Zelda games. There’s an inherent joy to hearing the iconic treasure chest jingle and discovering new goods. The game includes a bunch of subweapons that will be familiar to Zelda fans – now with a rhythmic component. Firing a bow and arrow on cue and hopping away in time after dropping a bomb adds new layers to these items. There’s also a varied weapon selection, featuring swords with wide ranges and spears that target two spaces in front, the latter of which feels comparatively overpowered, protecting players from point-blank attacks.
Music is the backbone of Cadence of Hyrule, and it delivers. The developers didn’t settle for simply reusing the original music and instead composed their own amazing remixes of Zelda tunes. The overworld theme alone mashes up Link’s Awakening, Ocarina of Time, and The Wind Waker. I found it difficult to stop nodding my head to the catchy songs, fused with various instrumental stylings, which in turn helped me with the rhythmic gameplay. The soundtrack makes me so euphoric that I turn on the game just to hop to my favorite tunes.
I could just as well start a new game, since every playthrough features a randomized overworld, a way that Crypt of the NecroDancer’s mechanics enhance this Zelda adventure. During my first playthrough, I didn’t even realize the world layout was specifically seeded for me as the map sported a natural design flow. However, I wasn’t as fond of the dungeons. Cadence of Hyrule’s dungeons are procedurally generated, so every floor changes upon death. These are more similar to NecroDancer’s dungeon-crawler maps, but they don’t fit as well in Zelda where I expect deep, puzzling mazes. Instead, they’re generic, enemy rooms, and small ones at that. Most of the few dungeons comprise of a couple of “crypts,” a hub, and a boss. Admittedly, the bosses, a combo of a Zelda monster and an instrument, are the best parts of the dungeons, even though they all require the same dodge and hit tactics.
Cadence of Hyrule is much more forgiving than NecroDancer’s roguelike nature. Upon death, you lose your rupees, keys, and generic items like shovels; but you keep your major equipment upgrades, health, and overall progress. Generous warps ensure you can easily get across the map, and a death shop lets you purchase items to help you following revival. This afterworld store only accepts diamonds, which are permanent rewards for taking out every enemy in a screen, smartly encouraging combat.
It’s also a game that gets easier as you play. I died often early on, but as I garnered better weapons and more health, I coasted through to the end. Those who want a more difficult playthrough can turn on permadeath. At the other end, players struggling to play to the music may consider fixed beat mode, which removes the rhythm-based elements. You can hop at your own pace, and enemies only move when you do, transforming the game into a more standard Mystery Dungeon roguelike. That said, this mode isn’t as enthralling and ends up as a Zelda game with odd controls. The fixed beat setting also places your score on a separate leaderboard.
On that note, between online leaderboards, daily score challenges, randomization, and options like sped up double-time mode, there is a wealth of replay value. Even though you could complete the game in about five hours, it’s enticing to go back in and do it all over again. An additional local two-player mode lets you play with a friend. There are no special multiplayer challenges like Four Swords, though. It’s purely co-op play, which is enjoyable, albeit occasionally frustrating when you and your partner miss the beat and bump into each other.
Cadence of Hyrule is a miracle project, birthed from an indie developer given the keys to Hyrule Castle and surpassing everyone’s expectations. Brace Yourself Games has managed to compose its own worthy Zelda adventure, incorporating its own rhythmic roguelike gameplay with fantastic remixes. The end result is a unique musical experience that’s hard to put down. Needless to say, the game may not be as inviting to those unversed with The Legend of Zelda. But for big fans seeking a new tempo, Cadence of Hyrule hits all the right beats, and I look forward to an encore.
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!