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Review: Cadence of Hyrule – a fresh, upbeat take on Legend of Zelda

The soundtrack alone is worth the purchase price.

cadence of hyrule main screen
Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie
The Good
Stunning soundtrack
Deeply engaging gameplay
The Bad
Jarring pacing issues
Unbalanced difficulty that swings from too hard to too easy
9
Overall

If there was an indie game development team equivalent to the Avengers and you gave them a Legend of Zelda license and said, “Do something with Zelda that’s never been done before,” the result would be Cadence of Hyrule.

Developed by Brace Yourself Games with the shared DNA of Crypt of the Necrodancer and classic, top-down Legend of Zelda games, this one is part rhythm game, part roguelike, part dungeon crawler, and part action adventure. Here’s how that unique mix holds up.

The first thing I do when I review games is look at all the options and oh boy does Cadence of Hyrule have a ton. You can change almost every visual setting, from the grid that shows up to enabling or disabling screen shake, there are a bunch of localized languages, and perhaps most importantly, you can disable moving to the beat, which will make more sense in a minute.

All of that is before you even start a game, which has these settings to it

cadence of hyrule mode select

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

These are the standard, default settings, which puts you in story mode and generates a random overworld layout for your save file. But Double-Time mode? Permadeath? Seeded runs? I cannot wait for people to speed run this game. We, however, are going to skip all of those for now.

Once you get into the game, you learn pretty quickly how it works. First, everything moves on a grid, so the left D-pad is how you move, one space at a time. You can use the analog stick, but the first time you try to do so the game gives you a warning message that’s basically like, “You can do this if you want to, but you’re making it harder on yourself if you do.” That warning is legit.

Second, when you’re in battle, you need to move on the beat. Enemies all have movement and attack patterns that happen to the beat of the music, which you’ll already be familiar with if you’ve played Crypt of the Necrodancer. For instance, one of the weaker enemies moves every other beat, putting its arms up on one beat, then pouncing towards you one space on the next. Bounce around in the right spots and you can easily outmaneuver and take down this chump, with attacks happening when you try to move into an enemy.

Once you’re out of combat, you can move at your own pace. I would say, however, that about 60% of the game takes place in combat, since “combat” is active whenever there’s at least one enemy left alive on the current screen/room.

Bounce through the tutorial, pick a character between Link or Zelda, and dive into the main world!

The next thing that is almost guaranteed to happen in Cadence of Hyrule is that you’re going to die – a lot

game over screen

Get used to seeing screens like this. (Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie)

You start the game with only three heart containers, with some enemies hitting for as little as half a heart and others hitting for much more than that. When you’re just getting started, you won’t know enemy movement patterns, you won’t have very many hearts, and you won’t have very much gear to help you, so death is inevitable.

This is where Cadence of Hyrule splits the difference between Zelda and Necrodancer

You lose some of your things when you die and you come back at the most recent Sheikah stone. What you lose? Honestly, this took me a few deaths to really figure out. Let’s take a look at the inventory screen to dig in, here. Pun intended, since, like Necrodancer, Cadence of Hyrule prominently features a shovel and digging.

inventor screen coh

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

The inventory screen is going to feel familiar to any Legend of Zelda veteran, so here’s a breakdown of what you’re looking at.

  • The top-left is your current progress towards increasing your maximum hearts. Throughout the world, you’ll find heart pieces and getting four permanently increases your maximum life. This is…vital.
  • Below that are four slots that keep track of how many instruments you’ve collected. These are the main McGuffins of Cadence of Hyrule. There’s a villain making things weird in Hyrule and you have to gather all four of these instruments to put a stop to it, each one taking the form of a boss.
  • Below that are your permanent L and R powers (I only have one at this point, Zelda’s ability to reflect projectiles). These are totally different powers between characters, which is super neat!
  • Below that are your shovel, torch, ring, and boots. These are the first casualties when you die. See, you can pick up slightly different versions of each of these all over the place and they gradually decay over time/with use. You get a shovel to dig through walls, torches are important for information (e.g. one lets you see the contents of chests and where hearts are hiding in bushes), rings buff your power somehow, and boots generally affect mobility (e.g. my favorites, which let you float for two spaces at a time!). You lose all of these when you die. Womp womp.
  • The Items tab is dedicated entirely to things you find in the world and they are all permanent upgrades. This is where you keep the boomerang, for instance. All of these are active-use items and you can assign four at a time to X, Y, A, and B.
  • Below the Items tab is a row of permanent, passive items. For example, the far left is a dive attack that lets you bounce off the heads of enemies when you hit them by jumping off a cliff.
  • Finally, the far right is your arsenal of weapons. These are what you hit enemies with when you move and they range from very basic (the dagger hits 1 space in front of you) to extremely useful (the broadsword sweeps three tiles in front of you in a wide arc).

If it sounds like a lot, that’s because it is a lot. This is a fully-realized Legend of Zelda game, after all. It feels like one, too.

The world itself is a strange mishmash of assorted Legend of Zelda games

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

While this town feels exactly like Link to the Past, there’s also a Gerudo Valley that’s more reminiscent of Ocarina of Time. There’s a beach that harkens back to Link’s AwakeningCadence of Hyrule is simultaneously its own game and a winking homage to everything that’s come before it.

Still, it feels just as good as ever to find those permanent upgrades.

cadence of hyrule gameplay

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

I found myself thinking, once I got used to the game, “Just what exactly is Zelda game?” What does it mean to be a Legend of Zelda game, anyway? Is it the hero’s journey? Is it the exploration? Is it the satisfying, responsive combat? Is it the gradual ascension from wimpy pipsqueak to divinely powerful champion?

Cadence of Hyrule has all of that, but there are bits and pieces that just feel a little off

For instance, when you first start out, you die so much. I could barely move without dying, but each screen clear awarded a diamond or two and that established a nice loop. Survive a little, die, lose everything but permanent items and diamonds, spend those diamonds on a game over screen to jump back in with upgrades like more heart containers, and get back to the action. This made sense, until I just…stopped dying?

I think it was around the time I got about five or six total heart containers, found a spear, and upgraded that spear to a ruby spear that deals less damage but restores hearts every five kills, that I just became a nearly invincible powerhouse. The core loop just kind of snapped and it never reestablished itself.

Speaking of which, where the hell were the main dungeons? I wandered and wandered and wandered and honestly covered about 2/3 of the map before I found one of the main dungeons that include a boss. When I dove into the semi-procedurally generated dungeon, I absolutely wiped the floor with everything inside.

cadence of hyrule gameplay

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

Why do I have 78 diamonds at that point? I literally just never died to spend them. The early game was filled with, “I don’t know, maybe if I save a few here and there, I can afford the next upgrade, which I’ll have to choose carefully,” and then I hit a point that was just, “lol, what’s that?” It felt incredibly jarring, especially since Zelda games are usually so well-paced and meticulously well-structured.

And honestly, I understand the appeal of a procedurally generated overworld for replay value, but at what cost? It feels like foregoing an intentionally designed overworld diminishes the first-play value.

Finally, once I made my way through the first dungeon and got my boss key to open the dungeon’s treasure chest, it spilled out three items. Damn, three super cool things at once! The Cane of Somaria, the Hookshot, and the Mirror Shield?! I grabbed the Mirror Shield aaaand the other two disappeared. Any warning about that would have been great, especially because the Mirror Shield isn’t even for Zelda, it’s for Link, and I hadn’t even played as him by that point.

Still, actually reaching a boss is just as fun as ever. They’re gorgeous, all have unique combat patterns, and a decent challenge no matter what gear you go in with.

I won’t spoil any of the mechanics, but here’s a glance at one of them

wizzroboe loz

Image: Jake Vander Ende / KnowTechie

So, overall, is Cadence of Hyrule worth it? Yes, definitely. There are some pacing issues and the wayfinding and progression systems are definitely wonky, but you’ll forget about all of that as soon as the game’s incredible soundtrack kicks into the combat music for the zone you’re in. Seriously, Danny Baranowsky and friends did an astoundingly good job with the music and I would recommend this game for that alone.

I would recommend Cadence of Hyrule to everyone who’s a fan of Crypt of the Necrodancer and Legend of Zelda games and to anyone looking for an incredibly fresh game that fuses rhythm games and action/adventure games into something completely new and interesting.

Jake reviewed Cadence of Hyrule with his own money. Cadence of Hyrule is available now exclusively on the Nintendo Switch, developed by Brace Yourself Games and published by Nintendo. 

Note: Cadence of Hyrule is for one or two players! Jake only got to review single player.

Editors’ Recommendations:

The Good
Stunning soundtrack
Deeply engaging gameplay
The Bad
Jarring pacing issues
Unbalanced difficulty that swings from too hard to too easy
9
Overall

Jake is a writer and game designer in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He loves action, exploration, building, filling bars, and turning numbers into bigger numbers. Someday he'll release a video game.

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