CADENCE OF HYRULE: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda
We live in an age of strange and beautiful Nintendo crossovers. Mario x Rabbids, two Nintendo-themed Warriors games, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions all prove that the Nintendo IPs can be more versatile than anyone realized. Switch-exclusive Cadence of Hyrule is the latest example, but is it as successful as the others?
Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda explains itself pretty well in the subtitle: this game is a Legend of Zelda game with the movement mechanics of Crypt of the Necrodancer. Or maybe it’s a Crypt of the Necrodancer game with a Zelda-style overworld and progression. Neither franchise really overpowers or cheapens the other, which speaks to how masterfully Brace Yourself Games pulled off this crossover. This game also marks a first: Nintendo gave the keys to one of their biggest franchises to an indie developer. A few years ago, that would have been unconscionable, but nowadays, it’s a fantastic example of how Nintendo has welcomed the indie gaming scene with open arms.
For those who haven’t played it, Crypt of the Necrodancer is a rhythm-based roguelite dungeon crawl. You play as Cadence, an adventurer delving into dungeons to free her family from the evil Necrodancer. Each time you enter the Crypt, you start with nothing but the basic equipment, and the levels are procedurally generated, so it’s a new layout every time. After each run, you have the opportunity to purchase permanent upgrades for Cadence or new items to add to the pool of possible drops. So while you’re mostly starting fresh each run, there is still a sense of permanent progression to keep things from feeling hopeless. Pretty standard stuff for modern roguelites. Where Necrodancer differentiates itself, however, is its movement system. Cadence and her enemies can only move to the beat of the music. Every step, every item use, and every attack must be in time with the music. If you miss a beat, the enemies take their turn while you stand frozen, leaving you prone to their attacks. I hadn’t played another game like it and it takes some getting used to, but once I got calibrated, I started having a great time with the game.
Cadence of Hyrule takes that style of gameplay and fuses it with The Legend of Zelda. Like in Necrodancer, you have to stick to the beat with your every action. The dungeons are still re-mapped every time you die or exit, but a persistent overworld is procedurally generated at the start of each save file. In other words, the dungeons and most items are in different locations each time you play. It takes the sense of discovery and exploration that the Legend of Zelda series is revered for, and adds on a layer of unpredictability that keeps you on your toes across replays, sucking in elements from the randomizer ROM hacks that breathed new life into older entries in the series.
In short, it works. It works really well. I admit my adventure was off to a rough start and I died a lot while I was learning how to navigate the map, realizing that the overworld had a lot more to offer than dungeon entrances, and memorizing enemy patterns. After an hour or so, I was building up my arsenal of permanent upgrades and dancing my way around enemies in my quest to find every secret the game had to offer–and there were a few I didn’t see until my second playthrough. Many of the Zelda staples are here: items like the boomerang and hookshot work how you remember, shops sell potions for rupees, fairy fountains let you upgrade your weapons, and heart pieces are abundant. At the same time, some weapons and scrolls from Necrodancer share the limelight.
And of course, I have to discuss the music. The Zelda soundtracks have a special place in many gamer hearts. YouTube is full of remixes and rearrangements. There was a world-touring orchestral concert series. Multiple games feature music as an important game mechanic. On top of that, music is core to the experience of Crypt of the Necrodancer. In any rhythm game, it won’t suffice for the soundtrack to be pleasant background music or to set the appropriate mood. It has to do that while also being something the player keeps an intense focus on in order to survive. Sticking to the beat is everything and if the music fails, so does the game. I’m pleased to say that Brace Yourself nailed this aspect. They pulled in Danny Baranowsky, who composed the music for the original game, and FamilyJules, the guitarist responsible for the alternate metal soundtrack, and by their powers combined created a tracklist that remixed Zelda songs into a genre-defying hurricane of epic songs. They did great justice to beloved Zelda music, just as the game developers did great justice to Zelda gameplay.
I do have a few criticisms. The game was a bit on the easy side, for one. However, there is plenty of space for self-imposed challenges. Also, many of the items just didn’t feel critical. Most are good more for combat options or opening up an occasional shortcut than unlocking new pieces of the world map. There were a few I never found a use for, and I think part of that was the low difficulty. After a certain point, I had no trouble getting by on my melee weapons.
Overall, though, I loved this game and the first thing I did after beating it was to start up a new file. Between the randomization, multiple playable characters, and brief playtime (my first clear was about 6 hours, and my second was about half that with a higher completion rate), this is the kind of game I can see myself coming back to for years. I never realized I needed a Zelda roguelite, and I’m glad this one is here.