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Cadence of Hyrule is the first truly amazing Zelda spinoff

Cadence of Hyrule is truly a remarkable accomplishment. Third-party developers, namely Capcom, have made wondrous mainline Zelda games — but Cadence of Hyrule isn’t that. Brace Yourself Games, an indie studio best known for Crypt of the NecroDancer, has created a top-down Zelda game that plays markedly different than the mainline games while retaining the almost otherworldly magic of the franchise. Cadence of Hyrule combines the brilliant rhythm gameplay from Crypt of NecroDancer, complete with remixed Zelda tunes and a rogue-lite infused spin on classic The Legend of Zelda adventuring. A fresh, outstanding take on one of the most iconic video game franchises around, Cadence of Hyrule is one of the best games of 2019.

Officially titled Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda, it’s no surprise Brace Yourself Games’ latest game borrows plenty from its breakout hit. Crypt of the NecroDancer‘s protagonist, Cadence, is at the center of the story. Over in Hyrule, the villainous Octavo uses the Golden Lute to put the king, Zelda, and Link in a deep sleep. The Triforce then lures Cadence to Hyrule. From there, you get to choose whether to awaken Link or Zelda as a playable character (both are eventually playable). Your chosen hero has to slay four champions located in dungeons scattered across Hyrule to gain entrance into Hyrule Castle for a battle against Octavo.

A Hyrule musical

The moment-to-moment journey across Hyrule is what makes Cadence of Hyrule so satisfying to play. Borrowing from NecroDancer, Link’s (or Zelda’s) movements are linked to the rhythm of the soundtrack, represented by a Triforce in the bottom-center of the screen. If your timing is off, Link will remain in place rather than hop forward. The same goes for certain items such as bombs and arrows, which require you to keep in time with the song. If you played Crypt of the NecroDancer, you’ll feel right at home. If not, it’ll probably take a little while to get used to.

What makes this movement/combat system so rewarding is that the enemies — Moblins, Bokoblins, Lizalfos, Keese, and many more — also adhere to the soundtrack. Additionally, each class of enemy has a set pattern of movements and behaviors. Understanding enemy movements are a huge part of the learning curve. But the moment it all comes together is quite gratifying. The back and forth between your movements and those of the many enemies creates a kind of real-time strategy game.

The gameplay is at its best inside dungeons, which have a typical Zelda progression: Find keys to unlock doors. Dungeons are crawling with enemies, especially as you near boss fights, making each movement even more critical than in the overworld. The epic bosses themselves really test your pattern recognition and rhythm-fighting skills.

If the rhythm gameplay doesn’t come together for you, “Fixed-Beat Mode” is available. This makes it so that enemies only move when you do. Cadence of Hyrule plays a good deal differently without the rhythm mechanic, but it’s an option.

The clever gameplay owes a lot to the absurdly great soundtrack. Composed by Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, Crypt of the NecroDancer), Cadence of Hyrule features electronic versions of classic Zelda tunes. All of the songs are still undeniably The Legend of Zelda, from the Overworld theme to the catchy Lost Woods riff, but they are dressed up with mesmerizing flourishes that fit incredibly well within Cadence of Hyrule‘s rhythm mechanics.

When enemies aren’t present, the intense beat dissipates and you no longer have to keep in step. Sometimes it’s much easier to reach a treasure chest or fully explore the A Link to the Paststyle screens if all of the enemies are vanquished first. I often found myself returning to previously completed screens to rework my strategy. Considering some chests only open by clearing the area flawlessly or within a time limit, I often had a tangible goal to work towards.

The best of both worlds

Going into Cadence of Hyrule, I was concerned about the exploration. The Legend of Zelda revolves around the joy of discovery, from stumbling upon secret areas to accumulating new weapons and items that gradually alter gameplay. Crypt of the NecroDancer is a roguelike that resets your progress with each death. These two styles almost couldn’t be any more different. Brace Yourself Games found a happy medium between the two divergent styles.

Cadence of Hyrule‘s map layout is randomized with each run, but only to a certain extent. The five major dungeons — Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, Gerudo Ruins, Lost Woods, and Hyrule Castle — stay in relatively the same spot. When you die, you lose all of your rupees and temporary items such as rings and boots with stat modifiers. But you do keep heart pieces, bottles, and all of Link’s key items such as the Bow, Hookshot, and Boomerang. You also retain diamonds, a precious currency that can be used at the vendor directly after death and at some shops throughout Hyrule. After death, you can choose any activated Sheikah Stone on the map as your starting point.

The process for earning some of Link’s most iconic weapons and tools is more in line with roguelike games. You won’t necessarily get a key item in each of the five dungeons. For instance, while I grabbed the Bow from a dungeon chest, I found my Hookshot in a small cave after killing a regular enemy. Nevertheless, I still found myself obsessing overfilling my blank inventory slots and maxing out my heart containers.

For those who want an experience closer to NecroDancer, you can turn permadeath on.

Cadence of Hyrule has no shortage of secrets, from hidden caves and shops to hard-to-reach heart pieces to chests hidden by walls (a shovel lets you dig through some walls). A torch glow restricts your vision to a small, upgradeable circle in both dungeons and caves, which makes discovering some of these secrets feel all the more rewarding. Cadence of Hyrule, like all great Zelda games before it, rewards those who really spend time exploring the map.

It’s not as lengthy as a traditional Zelda game — you can 100 percent it in under ten hours — but it sets up well for multiple runs thanks to the randomization. Link and Zelda also have slightly different play styles. Link can do a spin attack and block enemy projectiles with his shield; Zelda uses her crystal ability to reflect moves and can shoot a fireball.

It probably goes without saying, but Cadence of Hyrule is the first truly amazing Zelda game outside of the mainline series. Cadence of Hyrule is available now on Nintendo Switch.

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Steven Petite
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven is a writer from Northeast Ohio currently based in Louisiana. He writes about video games and books, and consumes…
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