Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda Review (Game, 2019)
Game developers Brace Yourself Games are responsible for the 2015 rhythm game Crypt of the NecroDancer. This roguelike rhythm game combines traditional dungeon-crawling adventure gameplay with music to create an experience that was described in many reviews as a musical Legend of Zelda game. You fight through various levels of a dungeon, battling enemies by moving towards them on rhythm and collecting powerups and weapons to help you on your journey to the big boss fight.
Clearly, someone at Nintendo noticed the similarity, as the newest surprise Legend of Zelda title released this year is Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda. Technically, game director Ryan Clark reached out to Nintendo about doing a Legend of Zelda-themed DLC for the original game only to be offered a standalone title set in Hyrule instead. Potato, tomato.
Combine the rhythm gameplay of Crypt of the NecroDancer with the world of The Legend of Zelda and you have the new game. For Zelda fans, the game offers a brand new rhythm element that changes how they have to play the game. For NecroDancer fans, the game offers brand new music and all new enemies to master.
The story is a spin on the power dynamics of the original Crypt of the NecroDancer game. A mysterious man, Octavo, uses a magical lute to put the citizens of Hyrule (including Link, Zelda, and the King) into a permanent state of sleep. He then uses the Triforce to turn his lute into the Golden Lute, the device used by the titular NecroDancer to force Cadence and her companions into the rhythm-fueled world of Crypt of the NecroDancer. Cadence is teleported to Hyrule by the Triforce as the only person who can save the day. She chooses to wake up either Zelda or Link, who then begin a quest to defeat Octavo’s deadly collection of magical musical instruments while Cadence tries to find a way to return home.
Cadence of Hyrule is a much harder game than Crypt of the NecroDancer in many ways. The enemies are all harder to kill than the standard green slimes—those explode into multiple slimes now. Where Crypt of the NecroDancer has one chess-themed miniboss, Cadence of Hyrule is defined by chess-like movements the whole way through. You must move on the beat when enemies are onscreen, but the enemies themselves idle in odd patterns that are harder to pick up on. Who only dances on every third beat when a song is in 4/4 time?
The dungeon gameplay is familiar. You’ll use your shovel and your weapon to navigate through a darkened dungeon, trying to locate the miniboss while revealing more and more enemies. Cadence of Hyrule adds in locked doors, as well, using keys and puzzle solving mechanics straight from the Legend of Zelda series. The shopkeeper returns to sing along to music of the dungeon, joined by other merchants and fairies (neither group sings, sadly) who offer specialized shops like in the original Zelda games.
Everything else about the maps inspired by Legend of Zelda games. There is a giant map of Hyrule to explore, with tiles procedurally generated on each save file. This map does not change within one game, but it is far more overwhelming than the much smaller tiles and maps of Crypt of the NecroDancer. You move from tile to tile, fighting enemies, discovering hidden secrets, and talking to the locals to discover new quests and lore to help you fight Octavo. You never know if you’ll be locked into a rhythm tile battling enemies or free to move how you chose. If there are no enemies, you do not have to move on the beat and can explore the world freely.
Also borrowed from The Legend of Zelda is the ability to switch characters. When you unlock Link/Zelda and Cadence as the game progresses, you are able to switch between the characters. Each character has slightly different abilities and maintains their own build of weapons, health add-ons, and items they collect on their own quests. You might have a hookshot on Link but need an ice staff you picked up on Zelda or the ability to navigate deep water you grabbed with Cadence to get through a particular dungeon. It’s a fun wrinkle in the strategy of the game.
Mercifully, the biggest change from Crypt of the NecroDancer is respawns. There is no permadeath in Hyrule unless you choose to play that way. The default mode gives you as many lives as you need to save Hyrule and return Cadence to her home. The save file will keep track of how many deaths you have, as well as how long you’ve played on that file. You can go into settings and turn on Permadeath Mode, meaning each death is going to erase all progress and start a new run, just like Crypt of the NecroDancer.
If the rhythm element is intimidating at first, the game has you covered. You can turn on Fixed Beat Mode and give yourself more time to strategize. Fixed Beat Mode means the enemies can only move if you move. They will still move in the same chaotic patterns, but you can stop, assess what you need to do, and continue when you are ready to. This is essentially Bard mode from the original game made accessible right from the start.
The music, arranged by series composer Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac), is spectacular. It is the music you love from Legend of Zelda games redone in that signature Danny B style. A rhythm game lives or dies by its music and Baranowsky’s score sells the entire game concept. The full soundtrack literally contains hours of music, as each type of tile (shop, overworld, dungeon, etc.) contains unique songs that vary between the combat mode and peaceful mode. It’s the level of detail the entire team puts into the NecroDancer series and why loyal fans keep coming back for more.
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer featuring The Legend of Zelda is a fun and challenging rhythm game with great replay value. Much like the original Crypt of the NecroDancer game, each playthrough is different because of the roguelike mapping elements and combination of enemies. You might learn how each monster and boss moves and attacks, but you’ll never know when or where you’ll encounter them and what items you’ll have at your disposal. There is also local co-op and daily challenges with a leaderboard to keep you coming back for more.
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda is currently available for digital download on the Nintendo Switch.