This isn’t your typical Zelda game, but it’s still enthralling for its own reasons.
Cadence of Hyrule is a weird game in the fact that it is dripping with 2D Zelda style but is, at heart, more of a follow-up to developer Brace Yourself Games’ Crypt of the NecroDancer. That game was a roguelike rhythm dungeon crawler, and Cadence is essentially, to use some weird buzzwords, a roguelike open-world rhythm Zelda-like. It does retain the spirit of 2D Zelda but the basic gameplay is dramatically different.
After a short tutorial that really seems like it was shaped by Nintendo because of its straightforwardness and clarity, you can choose between Zelda or Link. From there, you’re dropped into Hyrule, which is presented much like maps in 2D Zelda games like A Link to the Past. You are then free to explore the world, seeking out items, treasure, and the four dungeons you must clear to gain access to Hyrule Castle and fell the final boss. In that respect, it’s very much Zelda. But then you get to the gameplay, which is where the NecroDancer elements shine through.
You have to move to the beat and keep an eye out for enemy patterns, waiting for the right moment to strike while avoiding damage. You can essentially go in any direction, exploring each tile of the map to your heart’s content. You move one square at a time, and each action is meant to be done in rhythm to the song. The bottom of the screen displays a metronome of sorts, naturally shaped like a Triforce, and that helps to keep you on beat. If you can stay on the beat with your moves, you can do things like passively increase the quality of drops from enemies. If you played NecroDancer, you’ll feel right at home. Familiar items return, as you can toss bombs and bombchus, find a boomerang and bow, and even seek out musical instruments that unlock special abilities, which is in line with all the magical ocarinas and batons that pop up in Zelda lore. The majority of these items are persistent, which is good because while I’d say Cadence of Hyrule is dramatically easier than NecroDancer, it’s still difficult. I’ve died countless times already, but aside from losing rupees and some basic items, you don’t get set back that much after death.
When you die, you respawn at the discovered Sheikah Stone of your choosing, which makes it a little easier to make your way around the map even in the face of frequent failure. The difficulty might be an impediment for some, but there is a little bit of friendliness to the design that can make it less frustrating. Grinding can be done to build up health through heart pieces and you can also build up diamonds, which are used to unlock items and more in between deaths. Diamonds are primarily earned by clearing a screen of enemies. To contrast it with NecroDancer, in that game you would lose all your diamonds when you restarted but here you can keep gaining diamonds over multiple deaths.
The highlight of my few hours with Cadence of Hyrule so far has been the music. The remixes of classic Zelda tunes from Danny Baranowksy are spectacular. I recall some consternation when this game was revealed that there weren’t that many remixes. In the context of the game, the variety of remixes have been fine. While of course I’d prefer infinite new Zelda music remixes, I have not felt slighted in the least so far.
I’ve loved going from region to region, hearing new bad-ass remixes and finding new enemy types and challenges. A variety of dungeons and mini-bosses are nestled throughout the overworld map, providing more variety. The dungeons are the aspect that most resembles NecroDancer’s gameplay as they are mostly procedurally generated and are reminiscent of the dungeons in the indie predecessor.
The story mode is the main draw for me, but other options and modes. You can play the game permadeath style if you’re a mascochist. You can also find a specific seed to play the same version as a friend. There’s also the Daily Challenge, where you see how long you can go on a single life. Lastly, there’s single character mode, which removes the part of the story where you get the gang back together.
Co-op is available as well, but I have yet to try it out. Additionally, there seem to be a ton of secrets throughout the sizable Hyrule map you can explore. While you can only play as Link or Zelda initially, it seems like you will be able to find the other in the course of the playthrough and I’ve come across a lot of teases of future puzzles and challenges that I’m giddy to try to figure out and see where it leads.
I’ll have more firm thoughts on Cadence of Hyrule in the coming days, so stay tuned for the full review, but so far I find it to be a great change of pace from the normal 2D Zelda style. It’s a weird fusion of styles that has so far worked very well, even if I’m getting my butt kicked often.