Cadence of Hyrule Review — Rhythm and Roguelike Combine in a Title That Hy-Rules
Cadence of Hyrule feels, in the truest sense of the word, like a genuine Zelda title. Between the music, sprites, and temples, everything points towards this being a first-party Nintendo game.
Despite being published by Nintendo, however, this is a canonical sequel to Crypt of the Necrodancer, made by the same developers Brace Yourself Games.
You get to play as Link or Zelda - or both, if you have a partner to pass a Joy-Con to - in this Hyrule adventure, where you must defeat the villain Octavo's four champions. The setting is immediately noticeable from the art style used for the environments and enemies. There’s a big nostalgia factor here with old faces like the stalfos and skulltula, as well as modern baddies like the talus and bokoblin.
The audio is also fantastic, as you'd expect from any title featuring Zelda and Link. The songs are all original medleys and remixes of instantly recognizable classics from the Hyrule universe. It’s no surprise that these all sound amazing; after all, the music needs to top-notch for any rhythm title to be a success.
For those that haven’t played Crypt of the Necrodancer, the gameplay prompts you to make all of your actions in time with a beat. You need to time your movements and attacks to the beat or your actions will be cancelled.
The controls are incredibly simple, but this can be just as much a hindrance as it is a blessing. You’re often forced into situations where you try to avoid incoming attacks but end up attacking an enemy instead - especially when using the broadsword. The broadsword does make fighting most enemies significantly easier, though, so it’s a balancing act.
As your experience grows, you'll come to learn that skipping a beat by standing still is actually an invaluable option, and learning enemy patterns and tells is vital. Even the projectiles travel in individual tiles to match the beat, so you feel masterful when the stars align and you effortlessly dodge around projectiles while you fight.
It’s important to note that Cadence of Hyrule isn't a strict roguelike, but it does have some elements of that genre. You have a persistent currency in the form of diamonds, whereas your rupees, keys, and limited-use items are lost when you die. There are also procedurally generated crypts, but the overarching world map is generated once per save file, and will stay the same between deaths.
This is a symbiosis that allows the player some level of respite and practice on the overworld, but retains the challenge and mystery of entering crypts. It’s a subtle, gentle blend of roguelike elements into a game that still very much feels like a traditional 2D Legend of Zelda title.
This can be taken a step further with Fixed-Beat Mode, which exists for those without a natural sense of rhythm or that don’t want any rhythm gimmicks. It doesn't restrict you to moving or attacking on the beat, and stops enemies from moving unless you are. This isn’t exactly an “Easy Mode” however, as it still presents a reasonable level of difficulty.
Even though it was challenging, I thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours of my playthrough, but there’s a difficulty spike the size of Mount Everest towards the end that hits you like a truck. Most of your deaths will probably come in the sequence between the penultimate boss and the credits, and I spent the last hour or so begging for the end to come.
Cadence of Hyrule isn’t a particularly long game, either; the credits rolled just after my timer hit the five hour mark. In fact, the leaderboard already has three scores under an hour, with one speedrunning it in under 30 minutes!
Of course, these are the extremes, and you’re more likely to get 4-8 hours out of a playthrough, depending on your skill level. The leaderboards also give you incentive to try and beat the game faster or using less moves than your initial attempt, but I felt no strong desire to put myself through that again.
- Soundtrack featuring excellent medleys of nostalgic Zelda classics
- Feels a lot like a traditional Hyrule adventure
- Novel blend of rhythm, roguelike, and action genres
- Simple controls can be a major frustration at times
- Despite some excruciating difficulty, it’s over too soon
Cadence of Hyrule is a fresh approach to the classic 2D Legend of Zelda adventure that looks lovely and sounds even better. The rhythm and roguelike elements blend seamlessly into the established universe and enrich the experience. Its simple controls are easy to pick up but it’s brutally difficult in places, and ultimately feels too short if don’t plan on returning to Hyrule more than once.