Spin-offs. Spin-offs are fantastic, aren’t they? You know the ones I’m talking about. Mario Kart, Halo Wars, Crash Team Racing… All fantastic games that not only pay a true homage to their respective series in their own way, but are also just fantastic on their own. Hell, Mario Kart pushes more consoles than a typical Mario game does. As a Nintendo fan I’m very blessed to have all these characters I grew up with in a slew of fantastic spin-offs that draw me in. The aforementioned Mario Kart is a great example but we also have some fantastic titles such as Super Smash Brothers, Wario Ware, Pokemon Go, Luigi’s Mansion, Xenoblade Chronicles X… Erm… The Wand of Gamelon? We’ve hit a real snag here ladies and gentlemen, because Zelda’s catalogue of great spin-off games is nearly completely barren! Through it’s history it pretty much always has been. Through the entire catalogue of Zelda spin-off titles we have a grand total of 5 games released on Nintendo systems, 5 on almost completely unobtainable hardware or just straight up discontinued (Due to the shutdown of the respective service they were on, Satellaview) and 3 that have been cemented in history as nothing more than meme value, AKA, CD-i trashware. That brings the grand list of spin-offs that are playable in the modern age to: Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland (DS), Tingle’s Balloon Fight (DS), Link’s Crossbow Training (Wii), Hyrule Warriors (Wii U/3DS/Switch) and as of this week, Cadence of Hyrule for Switch. Out of 5 of those titles only 3 of them actually feature Link and/or Zelda. Isn’t that nuts?
With this exposition aside, it was important to mention all this because it highlights just how important Cadence of Hyrule’s role in this category of Nintendo’s catalogue is. Historically Zelda has been a phenomenal success of a series but it’s spin-offs have never truly satiated that taste of Zelda that we were looking for between main line entries in the series and let’s be real here, Link’s Crossbow Training and Hyrule Warriors are the only two that ever gave us the taste of the true Zelda feeling even if Tingle’s Rosy Rupeeland and it’s sequel were received relatively okay. Knowing this history I knew to be cautious when approaching Cadence of Hyrule but it didn’t take long before I was totally absorbed in it, spending every free minute of time I had jamming to the beats of rhythm based combat.
I won’t beat around the bush, Cadence of Hyrule is not only a fantastic spin-off, it’s just a fantastic Zelda game in general. The amount of love and affection that has been dropped into this game shows that amazing things can be achieved when an indie development team gets their hands on a first party title that they just adore to bits. In the beginning Cadence, the protagonist of Crypt of the Necrodancer, is thrown into a completely unknown world to her, but completely know to us. Within minutes after a very brief tutorial on the basic mechanics of the Necrodancer system you are immediately given a choice of who you wish to begin the game with, either Zelda or Link. Doing this almost immediately shows that this game is designed for Zelda fans right from the get-go, but don’t worry Necrodancer fans, I can assure you that you’ll see plenty of Cadence later too and they blend her into the story quite nicely.
If you were a big fans of the traditional top-down Zelda’s from the past then you are in for a real treat here. The minute you set foot out of bed and wonder outside of your confined room you are met with an overwhelming sense of that Zelda feel. Everything looks like it was hand crafted in the Nintendo house itself with a whole array of enemies you’ll remember like Chu-chu and Lizalfos, breakables like pots and bushes and terrain that you KNOW you’re gonna need some kind of equipment to reach. The map is expansive, with 100 screens to explore featuring unique mob encounters, caves to uncover and chests to plunder. It acts very similar to the original Legend of Zelda where nearly every section of the map has a secret to uncover that can net you rupies, equipment, pieces of heart and a ton more.
It also features some locations that will be entirely familiar to you, from the sandy wastelands of the Gerudo desert to the murky vibes of the Lost Woods. As soon as you’re ready to go, you hop your way out of Kakariko Villiage and pick a direction and hop your way to the next screen. Hop, hop, hop, clash, bang, BOOM! Damn, you were bested! Link now lays on the ground passed out as your hearts have dropped to empty. Don’t let this discourage you as through your first romp in Cadence, this will be a frequent until you familiarise yourself with the main mechanic – Beat-based combat, the combat style that truly defined what was so great about Crypt of the Necrodancer. Music and following the beat is the absolute rule of this… well, Hyrule. If you successfully time a button press with the beat, you will advance. Failing to do so will stall your advance for just that beat while the enemies will get to move. It almost makes it a miniature timer chess game that asks that you think about your next moves in advance.
Enemies move in a predictive manner in this world and it’s best to remember what each enemy does so that you can bait them out and counterattack in response. For example, when Lizalfos spot you they will immediately charge in your direction with weapon in hand. Dodging their forward charge will allow you a few options in response, such as jabbing them in the side or allowing them to collide with walls which will stun them briefly. Before starting each screen you can stand in place and analyse the situation before you so that you may plan out your moves in a Robert Downey Jr Sherlock manner which can potentially save you from any harm at all. As you progress you’ll find that waiting won’t even be a necessity, and if even if you do manage to fail you’ll be given a death recap to see what mistakes you’ve made.
Death doesn’t come lightly in Cadence of Hyrule however. Just like Necrodancer, you’ll be sent back to limbo where you can spend any diamonds you have accumulated on some gear such as torches or shovels before you set off again. Diamonds are a very simple to understand currency, sometimes you’ll find them randomly, sometimes you’ll find them in chest, and you will always get at least one diamond by clearing all the enemies on a particular screen. The longer you stay alive and the more diamonds you accumulate before you die, the better you will start on your next life. To make sure that you don’t abuse this system just to obtain better gear, your rupees and keys that you have accumulated will be stripped away from you upon death. In other words, just stay alive!
Now that you have a handle on the game and how it works, it’s important to note the differences between the 3 characters playable through the story. Link starts off just like you expect him to, granting him the use of shields and shortly after a spin attack assigned to the shoulder buttons, Zelda is given Nayru’s Love as a shield and Din’s Fire in the exact same manner, and Cadence is also given the use of shields but a stunning attack instead of the Spin attack or Din’s Fire. Main arm weapons are also quite interchangeable too with each weapon type attacking differently than the other, giving you the choices of Daggers, Swords, Spears and Flails and 3 unique-to-character weapon types which are Long Swords (Unique to Link) Rapiers (Unique to Zelda) and Shovels (Unique to Cadence). For example, Daggers and Swords are specifically suited for direct combat and deal more damage, but Long Swords and Spears are able to be used from a square or two away and deal less damage. Picking which weapons suit you most will largely come down to personal preference and comfort, but every weapon can tackle every situation. You can also infuse weapons at Great Fairy fountains with some useful abilities such as life steal, poison damage or flat damage increases. Neat!
Yes, you, that guy in the back, I hear you. You’re asking if this game is going to really soak up your time in your very cramped schedule. The answer in short is no, not really. Cadence of Hyrule’s playtime will largely depend on what you make it out to be. For example in my first run I clocked roughly 26 hours before beating the final boss and calling it a day. This included a LOT of time just running around Hyrule looking for secrets and obtaining as much equipment as I could before dealing the game ending blow, but realistically if you are that guy that needs to simply fit in a quick Zelda experience into your planner Cadence of Hyrule can be finished in a matter of hours. There’s only a grand total of 5 major dungeons in the game and the dungeons are 90% seed based. This means dungeons are roughly a few floors each, each romp in said dungeons will be different than the last and they do not require any “dungeon items” whatsoever. Sure, dungeon items make them easier to deal with, but if you become skilled enough at the game there’s only one dungeon item you truly need to obtain to finish the game (the Hookshot) and beyond that you can run through the game pretty quickly.
Yes yes I hear you back there too, you’re worried about replayability with such a short time frame from start to finish completion. Good news for you too, this game has a ton of ways to replay it. If you feel the game is becoming too easy you can hinder yourself by avoiding weapon pickups, “dungeon items” and enabling hardcore mode where death means a hell of a lot more. You can also make it easier if you wish by completely disable rhythm based combat (Which honestly, why?) allowing you to mow down enemies like they never even really mattered at all. The game also comes equipped with worldwide speed run leaderboards, so if you ever feel up to the challenge you can also see how far you can climb up that ladder, and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to become the number one speed demon of Cadence of Hyrule.
Lastly, it’s time to talk about the soundtrack. Right? You’d think for a game based around rhythm based combat this would be one of the first things I’d talk about, but if I’m honest it was hard to fit it anywhere else other than where I usually structure it in my reviews because Brace Yourself did such a great job recreating the Zelda experience that I had to gush about it. The soundtrack is no different in that regard, not in the slightest. Every Zelda game is someones favourite, and they did an amazing job making sure that almost every game was represented in it’s absolute banger of a soundtrack. Every song isn’t just one remixed song from the Zelda series, it’s SEVERAL. The overworld theme features music from Hyrule Field, Tal Tal Heights and The Great Sea alone.
Danny Baranowsky made these themes fit together in a way that makes it feel like you’ve just swapped cartridges mid-play and it’s immediately tuned into a new song perfectly. Simply put, the man is a genius. Never have I felt so much nostalgic glee from the soundtracks of my childhood. If you name any mainline Zelda game, I can guarantee you that it’s represented in the soundtrack in some way. At some point you will have your volume cranked right up and you’ll be smacking enemies left and right like you’d placed your foot on an ant’s nest and it’s suddenly a fighting frenzy. You’d be crazy to leave your volume under 70% the entire way through. I want the soundtrack of this game on my Spotify playlist yesterday.
So here we are at the conclusion. Is Cadence of Hyrule a great game? Hell yes. Is it a good ZELDA game? HELL. YES. Is it the best Zelda spin-off game? I don’t think you could ever top it, to be completely honest.
Cadence of Hyrule – Nintendo
Cadence of Hyrule is an indie rhythm game developed by Brace Yourself Games and published by Spike Chunsoft, and Nintendo. The game follows Cadence, who mysteriously arrives in Hyrule, the setting of multiple The Legend of Zelda video games. Cadence discovers that Hyrule Castle has been taken over by Octavo and that Princess Zelda and the hero Link have been put to sleep with his Golden Lute.