Brace Yourself Games is the first indie developer to ever be trusted with a Nintendo IP, and to make that more impressive it is the venerable Legend of Zelda franchise. Does Cadence of Hyrule live up to the series immense standards?
At a Glance: 9/10
Cadence of Hyrule is a clever game that leverages both the unique gameplay of Crypt of the Necrodancer and the more traditional Zelda mechanics we are all familiar with, creating a brand new experience unlike any in the franchise’s history that manages to also feel nostalgic at the same time. Brace Yourself Games should be incredibly proud of what they’ve created here. This game does the Zelda series proud, and I truly feel stands with some of the absolute best the franchise has to offer.
If you’ve never played Crypt of the Necrodancer, well, then you aren’t exactly alone in that. When Cadence of Hyrule was first shown and explained to be a spin-off of the original Crypt of the Necrodancer I’d only tangentially heard of the title and never experienced it myself. I was skeptical that an indie developer with a relatively unproven track record should be trusted with such a huge IP, but I also trusted that Nintendo wouldn’t hand the reins over without plenty of evidence that the title they were making was special–and it is, without a doubt, special.
Not too long ago seeing the original title on the eShop I decided to give it a go and was immediately taken with the rhythm based gameplay of the title. Essentially you are a dungeon crawler named Cadence, and you move to the beat of a song, strike to the beat of the song, and your enemies move at the same time you do. The challenge then is in not only keeping with the beat, but in navigating the tactics of finding patterns for your enemies and being in the right place to strike them down without being hit. The game is also a rogue lite, in that every time you die you start at the beginning of the game, but you retain diamonds allowing you to buy items that will appear in the treasure chests in the dungeon. As you progress your arsenal slowly gets better, as does your skill, and you unlock new levels as you conquer each one which is randomly generated each time you enter it.
This translates over to Cadence of Hyrule in a clever way which leverages both the unique gameplay of Crypt of the Necrodancer and the more traditional Zelda mechanics we are all familiar with, creating a brand new experience unlike any in the franchise’s history that manages to feel nostalgic at the same time. The map you will first get is auto generated each time and though some of the puzzles and locations are always in the game, they are shuffled about. This randomizes the map on each new playthrough, though you can reuse the seed of the world you used previously to get the same world if you are so inclined. However, unlike Crypt of the Necrodancer, you don’t typically restart the game each time. Similar to an actual Zelda game you retain progress in dungeons, bosses taken down, and any items that are of a more permanent ilk—like the hookshot, some powerful weapons, or other series staples like flippers to swim. When you do find yourself dead, and you will plenty at the start, you’ll be able to spend diamonds that never disappear to buy temporary weapon upgrades (or permanent heart pieces from time to time) before being dropped back in the world without any of your rupees you’ve earned.
At first I felt this was untenable, but as the game continues it becomes easier and easier to gain rupees until later in the game—true to classic Zelda games actually—rupees became overall useless as you either had so many or didn’t really need the upgrades offered as much by the shops that are scattered across the landscape. Dungeons are smaller than what you would anticipate in a Zelda game, as you can often make your way through some of them in 15-20 minutes depending on the randomized layout of their sub areas, but just like standard Zelda games you will fight a boss at the end of them. There are four such unique larger bosses based around clever instrument names combined with classic Zelda enemies and bosses, and each one I found to be a cool fight.
What this game does so incredibly well is taking the Zelda experience and condensing it down to its essentials. It hits every note that we expect a Zelda game to hit with almost none of the filter, and using the rhythm based gameplay of Crypt of the Necrodancer makes it all feel fresh and unique. The game is short, but with options to play as Zelda, Cadence, and even a secret character I won’t spoil here there are plenty of reasons to replay it. There is local 2 player co-op, a set of custom rules to make each new playthrough unique, and the randomization gives a lot of people the Zelda they’ve always wanted—one they can play over and over with new discoveries to make each time. Indeed, there is a lot of value packed into this small package regardless of the short play time–or with how deftly it manages to cut out filler–maybe because of it. If the game was too long nobody would want to replay it, and though it isn’t how I typically engage with games I already find myself on my second playthrough, this time playing exclusively as Zelda who has an entirely different set of sub-abilities to call from.
I would be remiss in not calling out the fantastic art and animation for the game, which manages to both look like a classic SNES Zelda game while retaining its own unique style, and adds cool musical touches to almost every enemy in the game. Speaking of music, it isn’t a stretch to say that the Zelda franchise has some of the most iconic and beautiful music in gaming, and the remixes here highlight some of the best tracks of the series’ long history. Moving to the beat of a song is awesome, but when it is a pounding version of the main Zelda theme? Pure magic.
Brace Yourself Games should be incredibly proud of what they’ve created here. This game does the Zelda series proud, and I truly feel stands with some of the absolute best the franchise has to offer.