Have you ever felt that a game was targeted specifically at you? As though the developers sat down, worked out exactly what would be your dream video game experience, and then brought that concept to life? That is how I felt when Cadence of Hyrule was announced back in March, a game that would merge the worlds of Crypt of the NecroDancer and The Legend of Zelda. The Zelda series was a key part of my falling in love with video games in the first place; stepping out of Kokiri Forest in Ocarina of Time is still one of my favourite moments in gaming. Crypt of the NecroDancer would place high in my top 10 games of this decade, offering an addictive challenge of beat-keeping, rogue-like goodness. Created by Brace Yourself Games, the first independent developer to work with the Zelda franchise, Cadence of Hyrule is a triumphant blend of two genres united by a love of music.
Crypt of the NecroDancer plays as a typical dungeon-crawling rogue-like. The player bounces through randomly generated catacombs, slaying monsters and collecting treasure. Enemies each have distinct movement patterns: skeletons stop every second beat to flail their arms, slimes bounce in different directions according to colour, and dragons draw in a big breath before filling a corridor with fire. Each stage has a hard time limit of the length of the song, dropping the player to the next floor when the track ends. Health pickups are rare, and if the player’s hearts run out entirely, it is game over.
The focus is on short, tough runs that get slightly easier as you learn enemy patterns and earn better items. A successful run maxes out in a little under an hour, with talented speed runners managing the task in under ten minutes. Completing the game with one character unlocks a new one to try, mixing up the formula with new restrictions and abilities. With 14 characters to play as, the potential for constant short, tough runs is endless.
Cadence of Hyrule, on the other hand, presents a more relaxed approach. Movement is tied to the beat when enemies are on the screen, but Link can move freely once they are defeated. Rather than permanent death occurring when the player runs out of health (although this can be turned on for an extra challenge), the player will lose rupees, keys, and non-vital equipment. Save points are scattered liberally across the world, offering plenty of locations to quick travel to, and a glut of hidden heart containers increase the player’s maximum health when collected. The player steadily becomes stronger over the course of the 10-hour adventure, unlike the random ebb and flow of power in Crypt of the NecroDancer.
Zelda games are all about exploration, and this randomly-seeded version of Hyrule is no exception. Playing as either Link or Zelda, each of whom has a different move set, the player bounces across a landscape littered with secrets and surprises. A chopped bush may lead to a dangerous miniature dungeon or a fairy fountain that can upgrade weapons. Old favourites can be found to lend a hand, including Tingle the creepy fairy man or Zelda’s guardian Impa. New friends are made too, with Cadence popping up with helpful items and a ghostly Zora opening the way to a temple.
Unlike Crypt of the Necrodancer, which takes place on a flat plane, Cadence of Hyrule has plenty of ladders, ledges, and platforms to navigate, adding a puzzle element to exploration. Often, a seemingly inaccessible heart piece can be obtained later by combining items with the right platforms, like hovering across a lake of lava or bouncing to a ledge by downward stabbing a monster in between.
The first four temples of Cadence of Hyrule can be tackled in any order, and show a true blend of the two game styles. These dungeons alternate between locked chambers filled with baddies (who can not be avoided like in the open fields of Hyrule) and rooms containing light puzzle elements, such as hitting switches and lighting torches. At the end of each temple is a brutal boss encounter based on a musical instrument. Boss fights require careful attention to the beat, as a missed step will result in a harsh beatdown. The difficulty makes defeating them all the more satisfying and gets the player one step closer to saving Hyrule.
The fantastic music of The Legend of Zelda is celebrated throughout Cadence of Hyrule, with a soundtrack of 25 remixed fan-favourite tunes. Composed by Danny Baranowsky, the songs are high-energy reinterpretations of the originals, favouring electric guitar and a heavy bass line. The soaring orchestral score is given a thumping disco twist, adding emphasis to every beat. The music is a joy to listen to throughout, with the opening theme proving particularly impressive. This theme seamlessly blends the Zelda overworld theme with Crypt of the Necrodancer‘s most popular track, an enticing hint at the fusion awaiting the player ahead.
When Cadence of Hyrule was announced, I was essentially expecting a Crypt of the NecroDancer reskin. While I would have been happy with such a simple conversion, this complete overhaul blew me away. The combination of Zelda exploration with rhythm combat and rogue-like mechanics makes for a compelling experience. Nintendo trusting Brace Yourself Games with its most valuable intellectual property is a huge deal, and this success hopefully means we can see more weird, experimental projects in the future.