If you’re a fan of The Legend of Zelda, there’s a good chance you’re either suffering from withdrawal after taking down Ganon in Breath of the Wild, or you’re constantly replaying Nintendo’s masterpiece as you eagerly await the recently-announced sequel. Of course, there are plenty of Zelda clones on the market, but there are very few that manage to scratch the same itch. And then there’s Cadence of Hyrule.
The latest title from developer Brace Yourself Games is many things — some might call it a full-blown sequel, while others would comfortably label it as a crossover between Crypt of the Necrodancer and The Legend of Zelda. However you slice it, one thing’s for sure: it’s easily one of the best Zelda games ever made, and one of the best games of 2019 (so far).
That’s a rather lofty claim, but Cadence of Hyrule manages to deliver by taking the very best of Nintendo’s franchise and distilling them to their basics. All the staples are here — exploration, combat, dungeons, boss battles — but everything is synced around the idea of moving to a steady, catchy rhythm. The change-up becomes apparent the moment you boot up the game, as you first take control of Cadence, the protagonist of Crypt of the Necrodancer. New villain Octavo has invaded Hyrule, putting everyone to sleep and taking over the kingdom, and it’s up to Cadence, Link, and Zelda to put a stop to his dastardly ways.
After a brief tutorial, you’ll get to choose to play as either the hero of time or the series’ eponymous princess. Yep, that’s right, Zelda is finally getting her time in the spotlight, and thankfully, she isn’t just a simple reskin of Link. Regardless of who you choose, combat, movement, and exploration are all timed to the game’s music. Not unlike the original Link’s Awakening (as opposed to the upcoming remake), Cadence of Hyrule arranges everything in a grid with a top-down perspective. Moving around each screen has to be done in sync with the beat, or you’ll find your hero of choice unable to move. Instead of manually attacking, your basic melee swing is done by moving in sync with the beat, as you engage in a deadly dance of sorts. Thankfully, your foes move in predictable patterns — the real challenge is figuring out how to clear out an area littered with enemies, some of which are able to block attacks.
If the idea of hours and hours of sword swinging doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, rest assured, you’ll have plenty of tools at your disposal to handle the task at hand. Cadence of Hyrule takes inspiration from some of the best items in Zelda history — the Hookshot, Mirror Shield, Cane of Somaria, Ice and Fire Rod, they’re all viable combat options, and some of them will prove useful when you stumble upon a puzzle. Playing as Link is a fairly straightforward affair, but Zelda does have a few tricks up her sleeve. Not only does she use a few new weapons (her Royal Rapier is a force to be reckoned with), but she also has access to Nayru’s Love — which can deflect enemy projectiles and attacks — as well as Din’s Fire, which can be used to summon a fully controllable fireball.
It doesn’t take too long to figure out the game’s ins and outs, though you’ll probably die a few dozen times during the opening hours. Cadence of Hyrule fully embraces its roguelike roots, right down to the procedurally generated world and penchant for death. Thankfully, things get a bit easier after the first dungeon — a few weapon unlocks shift the tides in your favor — so don’t give up if you feel overwhelmed at the onset. For those who need more laid-back experience, an alternate mode turns the entire game into a turn-based battle, with the rhythm synced to your movements (as opposed to the other way around). It’s a definite drop in difficulty, but the focus on strategy and tactics might appeal to those who never felt musically inclined. If you’re looking for a tougher challenge, there’s the option for permadeath and double time, and speedrunners will no doubt enjoy the ability to enter your own random seed for world generation.
Fans of Super Meat Boy, the original Binding of Isaac, and Crypt of the Necrodancer will be glad to hear that Danny Baranowsky has returned to compose the music. Drawing from Koji Kondo’s outstanding archive of Legend of Zelda music, Baranowsky has managed to tweak them into something else entirely, and the end result might just be his best work to date. You’ll easily recognize some of your favorite tunes (yes, Gerudo Valley made the cut), but some of the best tracks are entirely new compositions, a few of which mashup two or three classics into one new arrangement. Seriously, this might just be the best video game music I’ve heard in a long while — I can only hope that it gets a digital release (or better yet, a vinyl soundtrack) in the future.
Cadence of Hyrule is not without its faults — a more robust map system would have been nice, along with the ability to change your character’s direction without moving — but it’s minor shortcomings pale in comparison to what Brace Yourself Games has managed to pull off. Even if you’re not a Zelda fan, you owe it to yourself to try this one out. This brilliant (and brief) adventure is easily one of the best Switch games this year — here’s hoping we’ll get a DLC encore to feast on down the line.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Nintendo.
Cadence of Hyrule is the dream crossover you didn't know you wanted. It's an absolutely brilliant mashup that'll have you tapping your toes and humming along to the music for hours on end.