It’s absolutely amazing to think we now live in a time where Nintendo is letting other developers play with their precious IP’s (yes, we’re pretending the CD-i doesn’t exist for a second). The latest entry in this experiment comes from indie developer Brace Yourself Games, who you might remember from the rhythm based hit Crypt of the Necrodancer. Now they’re back with a Legend of Zelda game in the same style, even featuring some of the same characters.
Once upon a time in Hyrule…
Cadence of Hyrule opens with a simple premise. Cadence, hero of Crypt of the Necrodancer, falls through a portal and finds herself in the magical land of Hyrule which has fallen to the mysterious and evil bard Octavo, who has used his magical lute to put the King of Hyrule to sleep, as well as our heroes, Link and Zelda. From here, the player chooses either Link or Zelda as their main playable character while Cadence serves as the tutorial to how the world works (but don’t worry, she becomes playable later).
So, as either Link or Zelda, with their own strengths and weaknesses, the player must traverse this new rhythm based Hyrule to defeat Octavo’s four champions, retrieve some magical musical instruments and put a stop to all this music nonsense. It really is just an excuse plot, but that’s all it needs to be. The game shines on its own without needing to be dragged down by a plot, and it serves as a reminder that this is a tribute to classic Zelda, feeling a lot like the very first entry of the game in being a 2D, open world adventure where dungeons and sidequests can be tackled in any order the player wishes, without so much as a suggested order, giving the players total freedom in how they choose to tackle this particular adventure.
Though, that’s not to say the player won’t meet a cast of delightful characters along the way. There are a few villages scattered around with seperate minigames, as well as fan favourites like Tingle showing up to offer items, advice, and oddities.
I’ve got rhythm, I’ve got music…
For those familiar with Crypt of the Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule plays in a very similar fashion with a Zelda twist. For those unfamiliar with the game, needing a refresher, or wanting to know where this game differs, let me take you on a magical, musical journey.
After selecting a character, Link or Zelda, the player is dumped into the world and has to make their own way from there. Both characters have their strengths and weaknesses, for example, Zelda can use both offensive and defensive magic at the cost of being unable to use a shield, while Link doesn’t have access to the magical side of things but can use a spin attack. There’s a lot more to it and once unlocked, the player can switch between Link, Zelda and Cadence at any time depending on who has their preferred playstyle.
Each game has a randomly generated overworld map that, once loaded, will remain fixed through the game and contains all the same areas, but it makes it hard to compare your overworld and where you found certain bonuses with a friend, other than offering vague hints such as ‘I found this in my Lost Woods section’.
Unlike the overworld, the dungeons are entirely randomly generated and will make players of the original Crypt of the Necrodancer, or roguelikes in general, feel right at home. Although it makes sure to include all the familiar elements of a classic Zelda dungeon. Keys, minibosses, boss keys, and of course, the selection of enemies. All mashed up into a seemless roguelike rhythm game dungeon crawler smoothie. Yum!
Beat the beat!
The key element in the game is, of course, the music. So long as there are enemies on the screen, players will have to move to the beat in order to clear the screen. Each beat the player hits will increase the multiplier, which leads to better items. But never fear, there’s an option to turn this element off for the less rhythm inclined among us, allowing the player to move freely and the enemies will only move when the player does.
Otherwise, the enemies adhere to the same beat-based movement you have to. And on top of that, each enemie has their own specific movement patterns (slimes move up and down by one square, deku scrubs will only attack when you’re a certain distance away, etc.). This can at times turn the game into a puzzle, figuring out the best way to clear screens in order to get the best rewards. And it’s important to clear screens, because the player will then be rewarded with diamonds.
And, of course, here’s where the roguelike element comes in. Death is a slap on the wrist. Though, the slap can be delivered with a metal ruler at times if you were doing particularly well. The player will lose certain items, rupees and in some cases, progress. Though the player can then use the collected diamonds to purchase items to give them a headstart when they respawn.
There are also shops in dungeons to purchase items with, such as shovels to dig through walls or boots that will ignore certain terrain, as well as series staples like heart pieces. There are a lot of items that can be picked up through defeating enemies or through shops ranging from the above mentioned boots, through to rings that make shops cheaper or weapons that deal extra damage. But a lot of these aren’t permanent and are at risk of breaking or could be lost after death.
It makes sure the player is always kept on their toes and is always looking for different solutions to various problems, but it can lead to the game being a little too easy should the player get the right combination of items.
Who could ask for anything more?
Cadence of Hyrule can best be summed up as ‘short, but sweet’. The gameplay is tight and just the right amount of challenging, with options to play it as a regular roguelike if the rhythm element isn’t appealing. The map is small but full of hidden surprises and extra things to uncover, meaning even though the main game may take a few hours, the option to expand it for a completion run is there.
There’s really very few faults to this game, but if you’re not a fan of roguelikes, rhythm games, or Zelda, the random dungeons, losing items on death and trying to keep that perfect beat multiplier going may not be for you.
But it’s definitely for me.