Cadence of Hyrule Review: Face the music

Listen, if you haven’t played Crypt of the NecroDancer then I think you should remedy this right away. One of the most enjoyable and inventive roguelike titles released in the last five years, NecroDancer married rhythm games with dungeon delving in a way that hooks the player and won’t let them go. It borrowed the best elements of classic adventure RPG’s like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and reframed them through its own pulse-pounding lens.

It makes sense then that developer Brace Yourself Games would use A Link to the Past as the blueprint for Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer ft. The Legend of Zelda. Both NecroDancer and Zelda are roleplaying games inextricably linked with music. This relationship with sound forms the basis of their respective design philosophies and the degree to which they overlap is surprising. NecroDancer clearly drew inspiration from the Zelda franchise, but quickly diverged and ended up doing something wholly its own. To see how neatly they line up despite this is quite remarkable.

Cadence of Hyrule begins with a mysterious man named calling himself Octavo arriving in the Hyrule court. Using a magical lute, he puts the King of Hyrule, along with Link and Zelda, into a deep sleep. With the balance of power in Hyrule out of commission, Octavo seizes Triforce of Power and transforms his lute into a golden instrument of immense power. Claiming the realm as his own, Octavo installs four champions with enchanted instruments of their own. Back in her own world and minding her own business, Cadence, the heroine of the original Crypt of the NecroDancer, is abruptly pulled into Hyrule by the Triforces of Courage and Wisdom. At this point, the game will ask you who you’d prefer to play as — Link or Zelda. The events of the game play out the same way regardless of who you choose, though their shields work differently (Zelda absorbs incoming damage while Link reflects it). Cadence will rouse Link and Zelda from their slumber to warn them of Octavo’s threat before jetting off to try to find a way home. From there, it’s over to you.

The structure of Cadence of Hyrule follows A Link to the Past almost to the letter. There are artifacts held by bosses in each corner of the map. You must assemble them and then head to Hyrule Castle to take on the Big Bad. It has the same top-down camera view. It has the same round-edged cartoon art style. It has the same screen-by-screen method of map traversal. The difference is that Cadence is a roguelike with RPG elements so dying means starting your run over.

Each run allows you to collect diamonds for clearing a screen of enemies, which can be used to apply temporary or permanent bonuses. For instance, the game starts you with the traditional three hearts so saving your diamonds for extra heart containers in the early game is vital. From there, you can start spending diamonds on other items like shovels and flame torches for clearing terrain and upgraded weapon types.

Cadence isn’t a hardcore roguelike by any stretch, there are much harder and more challenging roguelikes out there without a doubt, but through clear communication of its mechanics, it presents an excellent place to jump in.

As mentioned earlier, what allows Cadence to stand apart from other roguelikes is its relationship to music both conceptually and mechanically. Movement in Cadence of Hyrule is tied quite specifically to the beat of the current background music. Moving to the beat creates a silent multiplayer that will grant greater opportunities for critical strikes and higher damage attacks. You’ll be able to gauge if you’re moving on-beat or not with the helpful metronome at the bottom of the screen. The beat will change depending on which area you’re in — some places have music with a slower BPM, higher in others and you’ll need to adjust your playstyle to suit. If you’re finding this too difficult or you simply don’t have rhythm, don’t stress, you can set the game to run in a single rhythm mode only. Once you’re out of combat, you’re able to move about the map freely and off-beat. Crypt of the NecroDancer composer Danny Baranowsky returns for Cadence, skillfully interweaving his own NecroDancer tracks with classic Zelda themes to create a gorgeous, sweeping new soundtrack.

The fact is Cadence of Hyrule shouldn’t exist. It’s a crossover title with an indie developer who had not previously worked with Nintendo. It is based on a game that began life on a platform not owned by Nintendo, that integrates Nintendo’s most important and well-protected IP into its central design. For all the clever ways it connects to the wider Zelda franchise, if you’d pitched something like this even five years ago I feel like Ninty would have laughed you out of the room. I’m so glad they heard Brace Yourself out. If Nintendo is finally opening the door to indie collaborations of this kind, the future is bright indeed. Highly recommended.

 

FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Gorgeous visuals; Addictive gameplay; Soundtrack absolutely slaps
Lowlights: Those expecting a traditional Zelda title may be in for a rude shock
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch using a retail copy paid for by the author.

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David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously worked as a freelance games journalist and critic, appearing on PC World Australia. He tweets at @RhunWords and plays the odd game at twitch.tv/RhunWords when the internet works.