Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda (Switch eShop) Review
Playing Cadence of Hyrule takes me back to 2017, where I was fortunate enough to attend Symphony of the Goddesses in Melbourne. With a large orchestra and choir in tow, Symphony of the Goddesses featured two-hours of beautifully performed music from The Legend of Zelda series. This tour showcased arrangements that breathed new life into the beloved work of Koji Kondo and his team in a way only possible with a live orchestra. Where Symphony of the Goddesses mesmerised with its full sound and grand scale, Cadence of Hyrule’s remarkable nature is attributable to the way it adapts and transforms already beautiful music into something completely different, yet equally as beautiful. With his aptitude across musical genres, indie composer Danny Baranowsky will now be known for Cadence of Hyrule’s inspired arrangements, which alone create a must-play experience.
Also, Cadence of Hyrule happens to be a bloody good game.
Following Brace Yourself Games’ first title, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule adopts a similar approach. Characters move in a grid-based system in time with the music’s beat, represented by an animated musical stave at the bottom of the screen. To be effective in combat, you’ll need to time each movement to the beat, or risk copping a penalty such as losing a modifier bonus for successfully keeping the rhythm. Aside from items which can be freely assigned to the face buttons, most actions are performed via the D-Pad or left-control stick. Moving into objects or other characters interacts with them – including attacking enemies. It’s all pretty overwhelming at first, especially if you haven’t played Necrodancer, but the simple controls help keep the learning curve manageable.
Another unique twist to the Zelda formula that Cadence of Hyrule introduces is the roguelike element of a randomly-generated world and the loss of some items on defeat. When starting a new game, Hyrule’s overall map layout will be different each time, yielding a different experience and further variety for subsequent playthroughs. Although a daunting prospect on paper, losing rupees and limited-use items fits well within the rhythm of Cadence of Hyrule’s gameplay.
Most importantly, you’ll accumulate diamonds through chests and defeating enemies, which go towards permanent upgrades such as heart containers or to give your starting loadout a boost before respawning after death. Which is helpful in extending each run, as some dungeons can be tricky to navigate through the sheer volume and variety of enemies placed in your way.
One of the immediate improvements from Necrodancer is the difference between safe and combat zones. Cadence of Hyrule clearly defines these zones by allowing you to move freely – not confined to the musical beat – in safe areas, whereas the musical stave pops up in an area littered with enemies, meaning you better be grooving to the tunes. The dynamic soundtrack acts in a functional role here, too, in that each area plays an intense combat version of the music, compared to the more relaxed safe variant.
Yet another phenomenal intangible element Cadence of Hyrule captures, is the strong feeling of progress playing a Zelda game provides. Despite the random elements, despite the completely different gameplay, Cadence of Hyrule still makes discovering new items and big enemies feel like a big deal. Along the way, you’ll uncover new items or upgrades for Link and Zelda to wield, making you noticeably stronger without feeling overpowered. Also, playing as Zelda rocks – more of this, please. These items are retained after dying, so while death is a setback, it’s not an overwhelming barrier to success.
Importantly, for a genre-crossover few will master quickly, Cadence of Hyrule offers plenty of customisation settings to tailor your experience. This includes completely turning off the beat-based movement, which gives the game more of a turn-based feel – when you move a space, the enemies will also move a space. Although playing in time with the music does feel the purest way to experience Cadence of Hyrule, it’s a great way to let you enjoy the adventure at your own pace.
Additionally, there are two-player, permadeath and speedrun game mode variants – not my thing, but fantastic options for the plenty who will no doubt enjoy them. Along with the procedurally-generated and roguelike elements, there’s decent replay value here, especially for the speedrunners and leaderboard chasers – my first playthrough took roughly seven hours, which I’ll be keen to improve on.
Of course, it would be utterly remiss of me to conclude this review without heaping praise upon the lavish musical collection Cadence of Hyrule boasts. My word, Baranowsky, alongside a group of talented musicians, has captured the heart of the Zelda series in a way never before heard. Combined with the gorgeous art direction sitting somewhere between A Link to the Past and The Minish Cap in style – featuring adorable dancing Bokoblins – the music makes for one incredible audiovisual delight. With his genre-bending antics, Baranowsky astounds with continually surprising reimaginings of what many may consider sacred songs. To touch untouchable works and not only do justice them but create wonderfully unique pieces in their own right, it’s downright incredible. From the foot-stomping take on the main theme, to the sultry Song of Storms lounge mix, through to the grand Gerudo Valley odyssey – there is something here for every Zelda fan that will force you to stop and listen, mouth agape in awe. Buying Cadence of Hyrule is worth it for the music alone.
In fact, I only noted down two minor transgressions during my time with Cadence of Hyrule. One, the map can be difficult to read; a map key would be handy to keep track of the various tiny symbols. The other issue was that as cool as the boss encounters are, they are over all too quickly, particularly when you’re wielding a few upgrades. Unfortunately, this means there’s not much time to soak in the cool music, but – without giving away any details – the boss designs are utterly charming musical homages to the Zelda series’ big baddies of old.
Nintendo’s bold gambit of trusting one of their most precious franchises with Brace Yourself Games has paid off in creating an essential Switch experience. Cadence of Hyrule is a wonderful musical adventure, giving The Legend of Zelda series a delightfully fresh perspective. Also, if you didn’t already know Danny Baranowsky, you do now. It’s a bloody good time to be a Zelda fan.
A copy of the game was purchased on the eShop by the reviewer for the purposes of the review.
+ A delightful reimagining of The Legend of Zelda series
+ Strong use of procedural generation and roguelike elements
+ Danny Baranowsky's music arrangements are incredible
- The map can be difficult to interpret
- Bosses not quite beefy enough