One of this year’s weirdest, most unexpected collaborations in gaming reinvents a classic Nintendo formula with killer music, dance-infused combat, and a healthy nostalgia trip back to the pre-3D era of Zelda. It’s called Cadence of Hyrule, from Crypt of the NecroDancer developer Brace Yourself Games, and it’s a rhythm roguelike game where your fighting ability is dependent on how well you can move to the beat of the music. The game is out today on Nintendo Switch for $24.99.
I got to spend some time with Cadence of Hyrule earlier this year, and the game is a satisfying crossover that should win over longtime Zelda fans, while giving the roguelike crowd something truly one of a kind. It’s not so much a true Zelda game as it is a Zelda remix of Crypt of the NecroDancer, the 2015 indie hit that first included a metronomic meter that rewarded you for staying in time and punished you for bad tempo.
In fact, the game’s full title is Cadence of Hyrule — Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda, evoking a riff on the original more than a full-blown spinoff or sequel. That said, I see it very easily straddling the line between the hardcore, roguelike crowd eager for more NecroDancer and traditional Zelda fans who will love it for its art style, the music, and for the classic environments, enemies, and discoverable treasure.
Cadence of Hyrule is notably less punishing than Crypt of the NecroDancer, but it’s still surprisingly difficult for a Nintendo title, with each screen featuring scores of enemies on-screen that must be dispatched with perfect beat-matching synchronicity. Brace Yourself Games has tweaked its approach a bit to make even unsuccessful runs that end in death fruitful for players, as you’ll amass enough diamonds to unlock permanent upgrades that way. The game will also turn off the beat-matching requirements when you clear a screen, so you can explore around as you would in the overworld of a classic Zelda title.
Aesthetically, the game looks and feels much like Crypt of the NecroDancer, which itself was a retro-inspired pixel art game, if you mixed and mashed up its music and art style with the class top-down Zelda approach of A Link to the Past and Link’s Awakening. The music I must say is fantastic, adding fun, high-tempo dance and rock beats to memorable Zelda tunes any longtime fan will instantly recognize. The same goes for the enemies, which include adorably chibi versions of your trademark Bokoblins, Stalfos, and Chuchus, among other classic Zelda foes.
But as far as core gameplay goes, Cadence of Hyrule is still a roguelike with procedurally generated dungeon design and a randomized overworld. Brace Yourself Games wants it to be played like NecroDancer, with the idea being that you’ll run through it multiple times. The game also lets you choose between playing as Link or Zelda (and occasionally brings in NecroDancer protagonist Cadence), with each character having unique approaches to combat. Link has a shield while Zelda uses Triforce magic, and mastering both seems like it will take quite a bit of practice.
Yet more than anything, Cadence of Hyrule is proof of the creative breakthroughs you can achieve when you’re willing to combine fresh, original, and ambitious game design with a property as established and fiercely guarded as Zelda. Nintendo has become more exploratory with its most prominent properties of late, teaming up with Ubisoft for Mario + Rabbids and making the Dynasty Warriors-inspired Hyrule Warriors with Koei Tecmo. But the company can go so much further by letting outside game developers, especially those in the indie realm, toy around with beloved characters like Link and Mario.
It’s that kind of mindset that has given us rare gems like the beloved SNES classic Super Mario RPG. So it’s good to see Nintendo embracing it again with Cadence of Hyrule in the era of the Switch, which has become just as much a gateway to the indie game world as it is a flagship Nintendo console. It’s that dual purpose for the device that makes it all the more refreshing to see those two worlds combine in a crossover as delightfully weird and fun as Cadence of Hyrule.