End credits reached and a second playthrough already well underway I still can’t quite believe Cadence of Hyrule exists. For starters, it’s a The Legend of Zelda spin-off that for perhaps the first time can stand proudly alongside the mainline series in terms of quality. Secondly and perhaps even crazier is the fact it wasn’t even developed by Nintendo at all but instead indie team Brace Yourself Games. It’s such an unexpected play from Nintendo handing over the keys to one of its most notable and beloved franchises but its one that has paid off in spades.
The developer’s previous effort Crypt of the Necrodancer makes for the foundation of Cadence of Hyrule’s gameplay. A top-down roguelike adventure, the real hook of the game comes in the form of its rhythm-based movement. Players can move tile to tile around the world but must try to keep in sync with the game’s music. Keep your rhythm and you’ll reap rewards, mistime your hops and not only will you forfeit said bonuses but also put yourself at risk with enemies.
What surprised me right out the gate was how this isn’t just Crypt of the Necrodancer with a The Legend of Zelda skin thrown over the top. Sure that would have been pretty neat in itself but what we actually get is a far grander experience. Rather than just a series of randomized enemy-filled floors we actually get what feels like a full The Legend of Zelda experience complete with sprawling overworld and plenty of dungeons both big and small to explore.
After a quick introduction as Crypt of the Necrodancer protagonist Cadence we are then given the choice between playing as Link or Zelda both of whom have differ in a small handful of ways. With this done you’re essentially free to then explore the world of Hyrule screen by screen your end goal to locate four magic instruments – a task that can be completed in any order. Much like more recent The Legend of Zelda entries in the series a large part of the game’s appeal comes from simply discovering the world itself whether that’s happening across an entirely new environment, finding a new dungeon or figuring out how to reach a heart container. This openness can lead to the odd moment of disoriented wondering but even then these are short-lived and never enough to frustrate.
This being Hyrule that you’re exploring, of course, you’ll face off against plenty of its enemies too all of which move in time with the music in their own attack patterns. Some may simply dash forward one space at a time while later baddies can throw projectiles and even disappear making them temporarily invincible. Boss battles, in particular, prove true highlights not to mention an amusing musical design however I do wish there were more of them.
Like any The Legend of Zelda game, you can expect the usual staple of weapons to fend off evil be it through finding them hidden in dungeons or by purchasing them with Rupees or gems. Within minutes of controlling Link, you’ll grab yourself the standard sword and shield combo but as you progress the game will breadcrumb new tools and gadgets. Much like enemies, weapons and items all act uniquely too. The lance allows you to attack further for example while the fire rod can shoot out fireballs across the screen. Outside battles you’ll also use items such as bombs and torches to uncover hidden caves and dungeons or solve puzzles.
Cadence of Hyrule is a tough game especially in the early goings as you adjust to moving to the beat of the music and dealing with only having three hearts-worth of health. While it isn’t a true roguelike – sending you back to the very beginning of your adventure should you lose all your health – you will be stripped of all your Rupees and non-essential items. It’s a good compromise that makes the game feel more accessible while also keeping some sort of penalty should you die. Not too unlike a roguelike you do feel yourself improving with every death, learning from your mistakes, how enemies move and slowly chipping away at the world map. Yes, the game is easier but the sense of progression and satisfaction isn’t diminished. Those who enjoy a little extra punishment will be pleased to know a permadeath mode is also available too.
A second player is free to drop in at any point on your adventure. It’s a great feature well suited to the Switch and the simplistic controls translate well enough to a single Joy-Con (although I’ll always opt for the Pro Controller if it’s available). Sure it can be a little chaotic especially with a screen full of enemies but it’s never too much so to stop your enjoyment.
Visually Cadence of Hyrule feels like an extension of the SNES classic A Link to the Past. The world is bright, detailed and will take you through a range of varied locations including foggy woodlands and relaxing beaches. Likewise, the characters excel in both design and animation. Each enemy and hero is absolutely beaming with charm as they bob along to the game’s catchy music.
Oh boy, the music. The mammoth undertaking of remixing classic tracks from past The Legend of Zelda games is something composer Danny Baranowsky has absolutely nailed. Every song has been given a fresh new energy that manages to remain warm and familiar at the same time whether it’s Gerudo Valley or the ‘I’ll never ever grow tired of hearing’ Overworld theme. The soundtrack was always going to be important especially for a game whose main mechanic revolves around it and fortunately, Cadence of Hyrule absolutely delivers.
Cadence of Hyrule is a true accomplishment managing to fuse together the excellent rhythm-based gameplay of Crypt of the Necrodancer with the rich world of The Legend of Zelda. So much more than a simple re-skin, Cadence of Hyrule displays the same level of care we’d expect from Nintendo themselves – everything from the excellent soundtrack to the charming visuals to the countless winks and nods toward the series. If this is the result of giving Nintendo’s franchises to an indie developer I for one hope we see plenty more in the future.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo