A long time ago, when I originally reviewed Crypt Of The NecroDancer – an awesome indie title that combined roguelike dungeon crawling with music and dance – I joked that they should make more mashups of different game ideas, like a rhythm-based racing game or a roguelike dating sim.
To my surprise, not only did the developers of NecroDancer share the same idea, but so too did the folks at Nintendo: they combined their powers and added NecroDancer’s rhythm-based gameplay into a classic 2D Zelda reminiscent of A Link To The Past.
Behold, this is the marvelous musical medley known as Cadence Of Hyrule: Crypt Of The NecroDancer Featuring The Legend Of Zelda for the Nintendo Switch. Put on your armoured dancing shoes, because we’re headed for the Bokoblin-filled dance floor.
Cadence Of Hyrule (for my sanity I’ll avoid using the full title, thank you) starts off like many Zelda stories: somebody evil has placed a dark curse on the kingdom of Hyrule and it’s up to Zelda (yes, she’s playable!) and Link to save the day.
So a typical Monday there, then. This time, they have help from Cadence, the protagonist of Crypt Of The NecroDancer. The heroes now need to collect tools, uncover secrets, and defeat bosses in four separate dungeons, before eventually heading to Hyrule Castle to give the bad guy a stern talking-to, or perhaps a sharp stabbing-to. So a typical Friday there, then.
Everything fans love from Zelda games is here – from fun tools that let you reach new places to suspicious-looking walls that need a good bombing – but the added twist this time is NecroDancer’s music system: everyone in this beautifully retro sprite-animated world must dance to the beat of a remixed Legend Of Zelda soundtrack.
You can only move or attack if you time your button presses to the rhythm of the music, and in turn each enemy has their own set of predictable ‘dance steps’. Bokoblins, for example, move towards you on one beat, and rest on the next; while the heavily-armoured Iron Knuckles move once every four beats but can only be attacked from behind.
This makes every enemy a musical puzzle to be solved, and in theory, it sounds quite simple. But wait until you have a dozen enemies on screen vying to be your dance partner!
You really need to find your groove to enjoy Cadence Of Hyrule, but once you do, battles start to feel a lot like choreographing an awesome, elaborate dance number – albeit one where you aim to kill everyone else on the dance floor.
While I love how NecroDancer’s rhythm game and roguelike elements inject new life into the Zelda formula, I have to admit that these same elements might present a rather steep learning curve for classic Zelda players.
I died six times in my first hour just trying to move to the beat, sometimes taking one step too late to avoid a Lizalfos’ ramming attack, or missing a beat altogether, leaving me motionless and vulnerable in the path of Deku Scrub’s projectile.
And I’m someone who’s played NecroDancer! I can only imagine how frantic it’d be for new players to manage their own moves while anticipating their opponents’ – the mental juggling act required is quite a huge ask.
The death penalty can also seem too harsh for players who have never played roguelikes, since getting KOed means you lose all your rupees (money) and most of your consumable items. (Conversely though, the penalty can seem too generous to roguelike veterans, since you keep all your major equipment and upgrades.)
Here’s a tip: pray to the Random Number Gods that you stumble across the Spear early, because that long-reach weapon is easily the best weapon for beginners.
Yet despite how these issues might cause new players to waltz right out of the room, I’d still recommend Cadence Of Hyrule to everyone. It’s such a fresh, exciting new take on the Zelda formula – and action-adventure games in general – that it’s worth taking the time to figure out the music system, just so you can dive deep into the rich gameplay.
Or maybe enable “Fixed Beat Mode”, which is basically the easier difficulty setting that lets you move at your own pace instead of having to follow the rhythm of the music. Sorry, I probably should have led with the customisable difficulty system.
Really refined remix
Like a good remix, Cadence Of Hyrule uses the best parts of its source material to create something unique and new. The Zelda elements ground the game in a setting that’s familiar and a joy to explore, and players who pay attention to suspicious walls or bushes are always rewarded with secret treasures.
Meanwhile, the systemic/rules-based gameplay imported from roguelikes means there’s often many ways to solve a problem. See an enemy on top of a hill that you can’t climb? You could use the Power Glove to throw rocks together to form stairs, or find a good vantage point to use your Hookshot, or – if you’re playing as Princess Zelda – shoot a goshdarn guided missile of fire that explodes with the force of a bomb, because Princess Zelda is hardcore, y’all.
Then, once you’ve saved Hyrule – which can be reasonably done in a few short hours if you’re not hunting for all the upgrades, secrets, and treasures – you can do it all over again in a fresh new randomly generated world, because hey, that’s part of the fun of roguelikes!
This time you can aim for the speedrunning leaderboards, or enable permadeath mode for that extra masochistic challenge, or – if you want to try the two-player couch co-op – you can take your partner dancing. Just try not to get in the blast radius of each others’ bombs, as that’ll just lead to arguments that’ll require the magic of the Triforce to fix.
Keep on dancing
Cadence Of Hyrule is my favourite new game on my Switch, as it’s perfect for both quick adventure sessions and long term replayability. This is a game that combines a roguelike’s endless adventure and open-ended problem- solving system with The Legend Of Zelda’s world design that’s full of secrets to uncover and puzzles to solve.
I can see myself dancing to this game’s tunes for a very long time, probably until the recently teased Breath Of The Wild sequel comes out. And who knows? That game might end up a mashup of Majora’s Mask, a farming sim, and Overcooked.
Look, I honestly have no idea what’s next for Zelda – Nintendo suddenly thought it was a good idea to let an indie game studio have a go at one of its major game series, and that surprisingly resulted in a near-perfect adventure that combines experimental indie gameplay ideas with a familiar Nintendo setting.
At this point, I’m simply excited to see what’s the next surprise in The Legend Of Zelda’s playlist.
Cadence Of Hyrule: Crypt Of The NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
(Brace Yourself Games/Nintendo/Spike Chunsoft)
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Price: US$24.99 (RM104)
Pros: A fresh remix of the best parts of Zelda and an indie game.
Cons: Steep learning curve for classic Zelda players.