When people think of The Legend of Zelda, epic storylines, open worlds, and intense action come to mind. I spent my childhood years alongside Link on various adventures. With Cadence of Hyrule, the Zelda franchise takes an intriguing turn to the rhythm genre. As someone who adored Crypt of the Necromancer, the thought of a spinoff in the Zelda universe took me by surprise. Well, how does this latest Hylian adventure fare? The result is quite astonishing, and a welcome treat for fans of the franchise.
Cadence of Hyrule follows Cadence, the hero of Crypt of the Necromancer, as she’s thrown into the land of Hyrule. The villainous Octavo used a lute to put Zelda, Link, and the King to sleep. It also took Cadence from her own world and transported her to a land familiar to us. The very first choice players are given is whether to wake up Link or Zelda. While this may seem like a minuscule decision, it felt like a gamechanger. Zelda and Link have similarities, but they also have distinct differences that make the experience unique.
While all three characters can use swords, flails, and other weapons to attack, Link and Cadence both use shields, while Zelda utilizes magic. Zelda’s magical abilities allow her to parry and use defensive attacks against enemies. That ability made maneuvering and combat feel more fluid and enjoyable. Those looking for traditional Zelda action will need to look elsewhere, because Cadence of Hyrule plays like nothing else the franchise has seen before.
Chained to the rhythm
Action is set to the rhythm of the song playing in the background. The sensational score is just the stepping stone for everything you do. What’s so fascinating about Cadence of Hyrule is that the beat controls action, combat, and enemy movement. Each creature that stands in your hero’s way follows its own pattern. Learning an enemy’s movement becomes a puzzle in itself, and when you meet different enemies on screen at once, figuring out which to take out first requires strategy. You’re basically “dancing” with those trying to kill you. If the beat isn’t up to your speed, there are certain platforms that can lower or increase the tempo of the songs. Doing this will alter the rate at which you’ll need to properly move around the map.
Staying in rhythm yields its own set of rewards. The longer you stay in the beat, avoid damage, and successfully land attacks, the more rupees and diamonds enemies will drop, both of which you can use to acquire new items. As players progress through Cadence of Hyrule, the patterns become more intricate. Enemies start to swarm from all directions, making it difficult to judge how to tackle the situation properly. My death counter hit 100 towards the end of my journey because survival proved to be an immense challenge.
Exploration is key
One of the most interesting aspects is exploration. The map of Hyrule is split into a large grid, full of chests (with rupees and new equipment), shops, heart containers, and puzzles. While you can discover items that let you know what each area contains, finding these items isn’t always cut and dry. I found myself looking everywhere for chests that ended up being hidden behind breakable walls or structures that I needed to move.
Exploration isn’t confined to the overall world, either. Dungeons are littered with chests and unique items that will greatly aid Link, Cadence, and Zelda on their quest. Dungeons are where the roguelike elements are in full force. Every time you enter a dungeon, its entire map is randomly generated. Dying in a dungeon is unfortunate because once you respawn, the layout will change. I found myself growing increasingly frustrated during later areas because the difficulty proved to be what would stop me in my tracks. Fortunately, Cadence of Hyrule isn’t too punishing. Finding a compass in dungeons will point you to the exit, regardless of how many times you die.
Diamonds are forever. Rupees, not so much
Cadence of Hyrule is a roguelike, and those elements show themselves fairly early on into the adventure. Players get two types of currency; diamonds and rupees. Diamonds are used to purchase items at the beginning of your current life, while rupees allow players to acquire items mid-run. Upon death, all rupees in your inventory are depleted, meaning that you’ll need to gather some in the next life.
Even when dying, though, players keep their diamonds, which are used to stock up on material once you respawn. Learning whether or not to use your diamonds is a strategy in and of itself. I found myself not “wasting” diamonds in earlier portions of the game, instead, deciding to use them for challenging dungeons and boss fights. Figuring out when to buy specific items is a meta-game that tests anybody’s strategic thinking.
Same Zelda faces, a new coat of paint
What I love most about Cadence of Hyrule is that it takes my favorite franchise in a new direction. Seeing Zelda and Link in a different style of gameplay is something I didn’t expect. Similar to when Super Smash Bros. launched on N64, there’s something cool about seeing characters you love in unpredictable ways. Despite the changes, Cadence of Hyrule definitely feels like an experience in the Zelda universe. The character models look great, the music is a treat for the ears, the locales are familiar, and the boss models, while musically inspired, very much feel like they belong.
Conclusion: Cadence of Hyrule takes Zelda in a fantastic new direction
Cadence of Hyrule is a fantastic game that Switch owners and fans of The Legend of Zelda franchise should pick up. It’s not something that everyone will like. Players who are looking for a traditional Zelda experience will surely be disappointed. On the other hand, rhythm genre enthusiasts will be treated to an unforgettable experience that is a welcome addition to your gaming catalog.
Cadence of Hyrule should prove to Nintendo that handing off iconic IPs to different developers can lead to outstanding results. Even after one playthrough, I’m itching to go back and play Cadence of Hyrule some more. I never knew I wanted a Zelda/rhythm game hybrid before. Now I’m hoping this is the start of a wonderful string of Zelda spinoffs to hit the Switch. Do yourself a favor by grabbing a set of headphones and immerse yourself into the world of Cadence of Hyrule. You won’t regret it.