A month or so ago I got the opportunity to collaborate with one of the many awesome people I’ve met in the blogging community, a fellow by the name of Jett over at In Third Person. Inspired by the announcement of Cadence of Hyrule, we put together a bunch of ideas about different developers who could do amazing work with Nintendo properties. Games like Hyrule Warriors, Mario + Rabbids, and Starlink have all shown that when Nintendo is willing to share their character with studios who do good work, the resulting game can be delightful. Now I’ve never played Crypt of the Necrodancer and to be honest had never even heard of it before Cadence of Hyrule hit the scene. Still, with such a great track record of collaborations, I had great hope that Nintendo had chosen the ideal studio to collaborate with for their venture into the indie world.
So what is Cadence of Hyrule? Imagine a world where the iconic tunes of The Legend of Zelda play over your life. Each step is in beat with the catchy rhythms, each region a love letter to the music of the series. Now imagine that this Hyrule is packed wall to wall with iconic monsters, their movement patterns a sinister dance that must be carefully observed and quickly avoided. Imagine Zelda staples like a variety of cool weapons and tools, tricky puzzles, and unique dungeons combined with the deadly challenge of the roguelike genre, where death costs everything and the map ahead of you is always a mystery with surprises around every corner. That is Cadence of Hyrule in a nutshell, at least in my limited number of hours with the game so far. Of course, all this is just fluff, and you’re here for substantial hard-hitting coverage of video games, right? So let’s talk about the opening hours of Cadence of Hyrule to see exactly what it is that makes this game feel special.
Cadence of Hyrule begins with the protagonist of Crypt of the Necrodancer, named Cadence, who has found herself in a strange crypt. It is through Cadence that we learn the basics of the game: movement through the world, digging through walls, solving puzzles, and fighting bad guys. Cadence of Hyrule has the elements of a roguelike dungeon crawler, so if you’ve played Mystery Dungeon games in the past then you’re probably familiar with the basics. You move around on a grid and can move up, down, left, or right. In safe environments you can move as fast or as slow as you want with no regard to the beat of the music, but when there’s danger afoot the rules change. A Triforce icon appears at the bottom of the screen to show the beat of the music, and you can only move or take action in time with the tunes.
This one simple difference from the typical mystery dungeon formula has a significant impact. In other games in this style, enemies only move when you move, meaning that the pace of the game is totally dependent on the speed that you set for yourself. You can remain standing on a single tile and spend that time plotting your moves and thinking about how to react to the situation ahead. In Cadence of Hyrule, everything moves in rhythm with the music, which means that the song sets the pace instead of you. Standing around to plot your moves isn’t an option, and testing enemy movements from a safe distance is a difficult proposition. Instead, you’re dodging danger with every step, learning patterns through trial and error. It’s a formula which requires you to be both quick and smart, challenging not only your ability to see and exploit patterns but also your ability to be aware of your surroundings and avoid danger – all while also testing your rhythm!
For me, this meant the very beginning of Cadence of Hyrule gave me some trouble. There was a lot of trial and error as I would spawn at a location, fight maybe one screen of enemies, and then find a new area with monsters I didn’t know yet and get murdered almost instantly. Every monster behaves in a different way, and the game doesn’t go easy on you for making wrong moves. Corrupted Hylian soldiers block frontal attacks with their shields and can stab in any direction if you step to them during a beat where they are taking action – it’s only safe to approach on their off-beat. Mushrooms send out damaging spores on all eight tiles surrounding them, meaning if you don’t have a distance weapon to give you an edge, you have to carefully time your movement so that you don’t get blasted around corners or while dealing with other enemies. Much like my early hours in Breath of the Wild, I found myself dying often enough that it bordered on frustrating.
Also like Breath of the Wild, knowing the system and building your resources gives you the tools you need to grow and survive. As you learn the patterns of monsters and learn to avoid them, you can explore further in the world, and exploring gives you the opportunity to find tools that will help you overcome obstacles in the world. There are multiple weapon types in Cadence of Hyrule that allow you to handle enemies in different ways. For me, getting ahold of a spear was a gamechanger – it allows you to strike enemies with a tile between you and just that one step is a huge boon when it comes to fighting defensively. And unlike rupees and accessories, which are lost when you die, weapons stay in your inventory so you can continue to wield them even when you’ve been defeated. This means that investing in weapon upgrades that are available throughout the game world will be valuable to you in a more permanent, meaningful way than other purchases.
There are plenty of classic Zelda tools to help you with your journey, too. The boomerang scoops up items from a distance and stuns enemies when it hits them. Firing an arrow allows you to hit very distant enemies. The Rito feather allows you to jump over attacks, giving you another method of protecting yourself from harm. And heart pieces hidden throughout the world behind various puzzles expand your hearts so you can take more punishment before being defeated. As you add more tools to your arsenal and increase your health, you’ll find your survivability increasing, enabling you to explore more of the game world. Once I got through one session where I died multiple times in thirty minutes of learning the game, I’ve had maybe two more deaths in as many hours of play.
The Hyrule shown in Cadence of Hyrule is a fun location with plenty of things to do. The overworld map resembles that of 2D Zelda titles like the original game or A Link to the Past, and pretty much every square of the map features something interesting to engage with after you clear it of monsters. There might be a hidden grotto with a small reward, or a cave with a puzzle and a heart piece, or a merchant to sell you helpful goods like bombs or arrows. If you want to explore on your own, the game allows you to do so with the only thing stopping you from going anywhere you want being that certain areas require a specific tool to navigate. You can also ask fortune tellers to tell you the location of a pertinent quest, which can guide you along if you’re getting burnt out of wandering freely. Quests generally grant you items that will expand your options when exploring, so I’ve found that generally I am motivated to adventure on my own again after getting momentary guidance from a fortune teller.
No Zelda title would be complete without dungeons and Cadence of Hyrule is no different. I’ve been through two since starting my journey through the game, and they do feel quite a bit like classic Zelda dungeons. They are a bit more combat-focused than typical Zelda fare, with lots of monsters on each floor for you to try and clear out. Generally you’ll be exploring a dark area by torchlight, looking for monsters to clear out to get useful tools like maps, compasses, and keys. These lead you to the boss key so you can open the door to the boss and finish the dungeon. The bosses don’t necessarily have vulnerabilities to specific items as there are no dungeon items in this game, but it’s still all about pattern memorization and striking when the time is right. The bosses also have fantastic punny names for you to enjoy.
Cadence of Hyrule does an amazing job of feeling like a Zelda title while also changing up the formula, honoring the franchise through its gameplay and music. I’ve been having a blast with the game so far, and I haven’t even started experiencing some of the other game modes yet. I’m excited to dive in deeper, and I think if you enjoy Zelda games and like the added challenge of the rhythm element, then this could be up your alley too!