Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda Review

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Watching an indie game “grow up” is something that really makes me feel good about the industry as it moves forward. From the titles of BitSummit getting featured during major directs to Minecraft netting Notch a couple of billion dollars in buyout, seeing the people who choose a different path and follow it to success thrills me. Shovel Knight having its own Amiibo was phenomenal, and Hollow Knight receiving so many accolades proves that there’s some justice in this field. Now, Brace Yourself Games has grabbed one of the biggest brass rings I could imagine when Nintendo reached out to them and said “help us make a Zelda game.” It was crazy, it was totally unprecedented, and it paid off in a spectacular fashion, as the Crypt of the Necrodancer team brought their unique style of dungeon crawling into the world of Hyrule with Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda.

Forgive me if I shorten the title from here on in, but simply calling it Cadence of Hyrule still gets the point across, and it saves a lot of time in typing. The plotline is still a Zelda game at its core, focused on the Triforce and some dingleberry trying to use it for their own nefarious ends. In this case, it’s a dude named Octavo, who singles out the Triforce of Power (they always do) to make his lute into a Golden Lute (okay, that’s new) and rule Hyrule with an iron fist for all eternity. His disruption of the balance of the Triforce somehow teleports Cadence, the protagonist from the original Necrodancer, into Hyrule, wherein they awaken either Link or Zelda and set off to defeat the bosses that Octavo has placed in dungeons around the map. There’s exploration, there’s enemy fighting, there are a huge number of powerups and items…hey, it’s a Legend of Zelda game, you know what you’re getting. Sort of.

Cadence of Hyrule walks a very, very tenuous line for the entirety of its lifetime, and it’s an impressive balancing act to watch play out. On the one hand, you’ve got a legion of huge Zelda fans who’ve developed timelines, fan theories, and put hundreds of thousands of hours into Breath of the Wild alone, and have certain expectations. On the other, there’s a (slim) chance that Necrodancing players who’ve never played a Zelda game might come into this territory and find certain things brand new and startling, so you’ve got to contend with that. There’s the whole element of exploration, puzzle solving, item collecting and working your way towards a finale that may or may not involve time travel, and that certainly scratches the Zelda itch. But we’ve also got to keep the core Necrodancer idea alive, and that means moving to the rhythm, certain procedurally generated elements for the dungeons, and losing a lot of your stuff upon death, and that is…well, frankly, that’s handled a bit more lightly, but that isn’t always a bad thing.

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For example, Cadence of Hyrule still has some of the great risk/reward ideas of the original Necrodancer, such as glass equipment that is arguably stronger but shatters after you take damage. These items exist everywhere, and they have their helpful side as well as a massive detriment if you’re not careful (I don’t think I ever got a Glass Shard as a result of a breaking Rapier). Additionally, things like shovels, which are a staple to dungeon exploration, have a very visible durability meter and break WAY more than I ever experienced in the original game. This could be a massive problem (especially with the wrong procedurally generated pathway), but there also seemed to be enemies and treasure chests that dropped shovels all the time, so, as inconvenient as it was, it never STAYED inconvenient. Scrolls with great and helpful spells (Scroll of Need for life, baby) gave you single chances to turn the tide with difficult dungeons or bad bosses, but it was mainstay items like Bows and Bombchus that really made for the Zelda success story. As much as I wanted to think that the RNG was my friend, it was the core ideas that kept me alive, and that sort of Zelda ideology made me grateful.

The balance between static and procedurally generated also made sure to keep my expectations in check for Cadence of Hyrule. I couldn’t imagine this ENTIRE game being roguelite throughout, so I appreciate the dev team making the call to keep the map the same (which helped for additional runs) and mixing up how the dungeons looked in each iteration. Not only was it satisfying for adding a stroke of luck (good or bad) to each attempt, it sped things along the deeper I got into the game. Whereas with the original Necrodancer you had to successfully run from top to bottom of a dungeon in one go, dying in Cadence of Hyrule could sometimes be the best thing to happen to you. You die, you drop your rupees, whatever, but now you can use those diamonds you got (literally strewn about everywhere from treasure chests to defeating enemies) to hypercharge yourself for another go. Oh, and you can just do ONE floor of the dungeon, grab some stuff from a shop, and then skip right down to the boss and take care of them with full hearts and this nifty armor that I didn’t have before but I do now. Suck on that, massive bass-playing knight squad.

The most important part, arguably, is the presentation, and Cadence of Hyrule masters this element in spades. The graphics are inspired by Necrodancer, to be sure, but they carry more of a feel from some of the newer old Zelda games. If I had to put a specific flavor on it, I’d say an HD remaster of Minish Cap, or even a slightly rounder Link Between Worlds. From the lush greenery directly outside Hyrule Castle to the rain swept graveyards where statues can mess you up, it’s a Zelda game through and through, though I did like the nods to the roots of Necrodancer here and there (some item design, a room full of familiar looking cardboard cutouts, etc.). More importantly, though, is the music. I never imagined that I could recognize and distinguish two different ideas in a single track, but I was blown away by the way that Cadence of Hyrule mixes the flavor of Necrodancer with the nostalgic tunes of Zelda. There are literally tracks and moments when you can distinctly pick out familiar beats from the main soundtrack of Necrodancer underlain and overlaid with scores and compositions that peppered my childhood. Why on earth would ANYONE do fixed beat mode is a mystery to me: not only does it throw off the gameplay, you aren’t able to appreciate the complexity of the soundtrack, which I am feverishly trying to track down now for my own personal use. So I can move one square at a time in the real world as well.

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I suppose the biggest complaint for some players might be the length of Cadence of Hyrule, but I would heartily disagree with saying the game is too short. Firstly, it’s built for multiple runs, since you need to experience how both Zelda and Link interact with the game (I feel like Zelda has an cooler ability with her crystal deflection spell, but I digress), plus there are multiple characters to unlock. Secondly, the procedurally generated elements incentivize players to find more things, to do more in their own style, and, yes, to speedrun and see what they can accomplish. Lastly, not every freaking game needs to span one hundred hours and require you to call in sick a couple days in a row in order to enjoy it. I never got heavily into Breath of the Wild because it was too damn big. It was daunting, it was easy to get lost, and it never really felt enough like a Zelda game for me. Cadence of Hyrule is truer to the source of it all because it feels like if Link to the Past was a bit funky and wanted to keep players on their toes. I could play that game for ages, and I feel the same way here.

Players may never welcome Cadence of Hyrule into the official canon of The Legend of Zelda, and that’s more than alright by me. Some of the most fun games from franchises are weird and wild spinoff. Mario Tennis, Mega Man Soccer, Metroid Pinball…deviating from expectations and delivering something totally different can be a breath of fresh air. By having a Zelda rhythm game that doesn’t capitalize on trends (lest we forget what happened with Mario Dance Dance Revolution), it gets to stand proudly as a representative of what happens when a truly great idea gets noticed and infused with some globally recognized IPs. I don’t want there to be a hundred other Necrodancer spinoff games, but I wouldn’t be totally upset if Mario and Luigi (the 3DS/DS/GBA series) ends up dancing around the crypts next. This is a fantastic, replayable, and positively bumping game, and I couldn’t be happier for Brace Yourself games. Well done, everyone.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Cadence of Hyrule – Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda Review
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Summary

Cadence of Hyrule stands proudly as a classic example of “I didn’t think I wanted this, but now I have it and it’s amazing.”