Before I begin, it’s only fair to admit I have no prior experience with Cadence of Hyrule‘s progenitor in 2015’s Crypt of the Necrodancer, let alone possessed any awareness prior to Cadence of Hyrule‘s March announcement. I chalk this up to my unfamiliarity with “roguelike” games: dungeon crawlers typically defined by randomly-generated maps and permadeath pressure — given my hesitance towards brutal difficulty and only a superficial alertness towards indies in general, this comes as no surprise. Shameful, I know, but fret not, for this isn’t the prelude to a middling Cadence of Hyrule review; if anything, my fondness leaves me pondering what its success not only means for The Legend of Zelda, but of Nintendo’s further endeavors with indies.
Really, I’m reminded of 2017’s Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King — another rock-solid indie directly inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — not merely in how I already demand a sequel, but in the infectious affection of developers who diligently uphold their childhood worship of the 1992 masterpiece; a ritual that forever guides their design philosophies. Cadence of Hyrule — a crossover featuring Necrodancer‘s titular protagonist teaming up with Link and Zelda to take down a conducting sorcerer– is a particularly fascinating beast in how Brace Yourself Games marries roguelike-friendly accommodation all the while enacting strict punishment throughout. Putting it this way: any strangers to Necrodancer‘s gameplay — be they Zelda veterans or not — are all but guaranteed to get their butt kicked by this successor’s reframing of Hyrule into a grid-constructed, rhythm-based action game.
How did they come up with this?
Said accommodation includes features I’m told were absent from Necodancer, not the least in doing away with permadeath, yet the concept’s innate frustration plagued even I — enemy swarms will assuredly overwhelm the rhythm-challenged, with my own obstacle in the counter-happy Gold Stalfos being a particular impediment. But let us think back to A Link to the Past for a moment, and consider why it was chosen outside of reverence: a compact overworld, snappy pacing and UI interaction, and what’s possibly the finest musical score in Koji Kondo’s illustrious career. Even if we could cite any relevant missteps (with the story being so threadbare, the “twist” behind the final boss fight feels arbitrary, if not even made apparent until the ending cutscene), the point is Cadence isn’t forged upon hollow nostalgia. It may breed irritation, but with death instantly shrugged off at the cost of finite valuables, not once is it ever discouraging.
If the Daily Challenge Mode wasn’t evidence enough, Cadence of Hyrule emphasizes replayability. With the Hyrule dance floor renovated every playthrough, we enjoy picking apart its composition; for instance, the constant shifting of randomized weapons may exclude a tool or two (in my two complete playthroughs, I’ve yet to encounter the Cane of Somaria), but this is good: with each layout carefully attuned to our inventory’s functions, Cadence‘s Hyrule never once bores us. By the same token, we gradually recognize the renovated kingdoms aren’t — for example, Lake Hylia always lies due south of Hyrule Castle, so how can we use that to our knowledge? Would its potential proximity to Kakariko Village render it beneficial, or should we save it for later? If we choose to dig deeper, would its accompanying dungeon be a good first step for speedrun/step-count runs? For all its trial-and-error, when considering the intimidating transformation Zelda engaged with Breath of the Wild and its upcoming sequel, it’s enough to wonder if this and the upcoming Link’s Awakening remake might be a tad more accessible for those unfamiliar with the series.
This isn’t to say there don’t arrive issues: even if Cadence eventually clicks, it still takes the player’s intuition for granted — I remain confounded by this floor button‘s purpose, for instance, and the game’s insistence on bombs often defied any logical road-maps in puzzle-solving. (I elaborated on one such example in my Flippers guide.) Meanwhile, while Zelda’s stamina-consuming spells are clearly meant for experienced players, her limp exclusive abilities render her an inferior choice across the board — useful (and balanced!) as her Din’s Fire projectiles are, her Nayru’s Love shield lacks any satisfactory or intuitive cues when unleashed. Perhaps having assurance in a dance-partner for multiplayer would’ve instilled more confidence?
Hey, we won’t judge ya — that’s what suspension of disbelief is for!
Regardless, that Cadence of Hyrule can shrug off any flaws speaks to its infectious passion: the project reportedly stemmed from Zelda creator’s Shigeru Miyamoto and series producer Eiji Aonuma’s addiction to the original Crypt of the Necrodancer, leaving Brace Yourself no choice but to respond to their idols’ absolute blessing in kind. As familiar as setting and objective may be, Cadence wastes no time in gleefully toying with series ingredients in lore, cast, and sound, be they wild instrument re-imaginings for the bosses (“Gohmaracas”, anyone?) to the inventiveness of a certain secret character. And the liberties they’ve taken with the soundtrack…!
Whatever immense pressure composer Danny Baranowsky and his band of instrumental/vocal artists undoubtedly shouldered — we’re talking about a rhythm-based title based on one of the most legendary gaming series out there, after all — never intrudes onto the outright confidence strummed out of the gate. Its gameplay DNA aside, Cadence of Hyrule is as much of a tribute to Zelda than just A Link to the Past; really, even if we were to cite the above testimony from the sound team, what more evidence do we need when the game’s title screen opens with a lovely chiptune-accompanied piano rendition of Ocarina of Time‘s iconic opening theme? The same chills of Hyrule Field’s dawn that forever changed the gaming industry — one accompanied by a segue into Zelda’s Lullaby, vocalized by Adriana Figueroa‘s heavenly croons — is encapsulated into chiptune form; indeed, it’s here not only are we Zelda faithful assured this spin-off’s in good hands, but of another important step forward for Nintendo.
To elaborate on that last bit, it’s why out of all the many one songs I could cast a spotlight on — from the overworld medley echoing Link’s Awakening and The Wind Waker to the fan-favorite rock guitar for Gerudo Valley — I nominate A Link to the Past‘s Lost Woods as its most indubitable accomplishment. Unlike the main Zelda theme or any other familiar tune decorating Cadence of Hyrule‘s landscape, that game’s most nostalgic theme — nay, perhaps within the Super Nintendo’s entire library — was not designed for any sort of fighting imagery, instead channeling hallow sacredness echoing its most cinematic juncture: a pervasive fog giving way to woodland critters blessing Link with The Blade of Evil’s Bane. Yet merely observe the way this arrangement flawlessly flexes between disco rave activity and a haunting, melancholic ambiance — the former, instilling our wistful glee into our rhythmic bones, weaving old and new into captivating funk; the latter, transcending into full-on Zelda as our breath is stolen away by soothing synth and subtle grain, recalling the spellbinding mystique of stumbling upon otherworldly relics and niches lost to time.
Clearly, the press feels the same.
The techniques involved could never be replicated in Zelda, yet the end result is the same: swashbuckling adventure erecting themselves memories that we’ve long held sacred. That we now live in an age where Zelda‘s busy reframing itself renders this as no surprise, but that an indie spin-off can exude the same level of prestige is a most grateful treasure. What this means for Brace Yourself’s further output is enough to warrant attention, yet that Nintendo’s trust can produce such a humbling collaboration drives a hungry anticipation for their next step.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Switch; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Brace Yourself Games; Players: 1-2; Released: June 13th, 2018; ESRB: E10; MSRP: $24.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer.