June 20, 2019
Like what I did there? Like ostensibly every Switch owning Zelda fan, I was feverishly playing the new indie hit Cadence of Hyrule, and loving every second of it. A crossover out of left field we love, but never deserved, it crosses 2D explorative dungeon crawling goodness like A Link to the Past, with the clever beat-based puzzle fighting of Crypt of the Necrodancer. It’s fun, it’s hard (at first), and my oh my is it unforgiving if you mess up (actually not that unforgiving, but still moreso than any mainline Zelda). SPOILER WARNING: this is a full, in-depth review, so if you have not played it yet, go play it. The game is only $25, and is among my highest of recommendations, so play it first and then come back to read this. Now in the words of Phillip DeFranco: let’s just jump into it.
The first thing we knew from the moment this game was teased was that we’d have more options than just Link to play from. The developers of Crypt of the Necrodancer naturally included said game’s main protagonist (and namesake of this game) Cadence, the shovel wielding heroine. What is also cool is you can play as Princess Zelda in this one, and you have the option at the start to choose who you want to begin with: Zelda or Link. Both have drastic gameplay differences; their primary weapon option, defense, and special attack play a key role in how you combat the baddies of the world. Regardless of who you choose first, you can unlock the other in Kakariko village north of your starting point, and from then on swap between them freely at any Sheika slate (save point). You can do the same when you unlock Cadence later at the Gerudo temple, but she plays very similarly to Link, so honestly don’t feel pressured to seek her out. Oh, I almost forgot to mention there’s also the option for co-op from the getgo, and you can jump into co-op after unlocking a second character at any sheika slate. I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet, but it’s one of the few Zelda games that offer multiplayer, so that’s another reason to grab this game.
Gameplay aside, who you are playing as does have a minimal impact on the dialogue said in game. A common theme is people put to sleep by Octavo, the game’s main antagonist, and you wake them up with a melody. Upon waking the King of Hyrule I was playing as Zelda, he referred to me as “Zelda, my own daughter”, so that tells me Link and Cadence may yield different responses. It’s a nice little detail and one that makes me want to replay the game in the opposite order I did initially to get all sides of the story.
Characters aside, I want to applaud the devs on some face values first: the art and the music. The art style seems like a high-res version of Link to the Past, which I’m sure heavily inspired every aspect of this game. They went and remade everything in Hyrule, from the world, to the towns, the people, even the enemies and bosses. The best part is the enemies react to the music, and have unique animations that play into it, such as moblins raising their arms before attacking, but waiving them in tandem with the music.
The soundtrack for Cadence of Hyrule was made in-house by Brace Yourself Games, and features a list of remixed versions of some similar Zelda tunes. The music they’ve made is catchy, it’s uplifting, and it’s situational based on what’s happening. As I’m writing this, I’ve been listening to it to stay sharp, and also it’s just so dang good! The pace picks up when combat engages, bosses get their own unique tune (Bass Guitarmos Knights have the best theme, @ me), and the better you do, the more intense the music gets.
Speaking of the beat mechanic, that’s the core focus of this game’s gameplay, specifically during combat. When enemies are on your board, you have to move and fight to the beat of the music. The meter you see in the image appears, and you make your actions when those bars enter the triforce, which coincides with the music, so it’s pretty easy to act by sound. When you do well enough it picks up the pace a tad and starts applying combos, and if you clear a board with a high enough streak you’ll be rewarded for your trouble. However, miss a beat or get hit, and you’ll be punished, particularly by not being able to move for a beat, and that can literally get you killed if you’re not careful. It feels natural though, and I was pretty quick to pick up, to the point that I often found myself hopping through the world even without enemies, when you’re free to run instead.
On the topic of monsters, the army of baddies you’ll be facing is decently vast, from the common enemies like keese and moblins, to less common tougher ones like darknuts, and even elemental wizrobes. The monsters move and fight to the beat just like you do, though some are faster or slower, and each one has a specific fighting style or movement pattern you can use to exploit as a weakness and beat them. They also grow stronger as you do: the more of the world you uncover and the more temples you clear, the harder enemies become to protect their bosses.
Bosses, I might add, that are absolutely freaking insane to have to fight while dealing with the music. You can seek the first four out in any order, but you can’t just brute force your way through them as they hit pretty hard, and will have minions to back them up. Like any boss you have to learn how they fight and find windows of opportunity to hit them. Wizzroboe, Gohmaracas, and Octavo were particularly hard for me (also the four overworld bosses are named after instruments, how cool is that?). Octavo in particular, the musical wizard and wielder of the Triforce of Power via his lute, is an incredibly daunting foe. He is only open for a limited window, he summons enemies to fight, fires fireballs, and what’s more is he sends waves of magic that’ll hurt you unless you change to the hero that matches the magic’s color (Link dodges green, Zelda dodges pink). I escaped the fight with a heart and a half, and I beat him at the end in a panic; it was fun and I wish more bosses gave me a run like he did (more on that below).
Your best option to topple these titans is the weapons you find in the world, and I love them all: short swords, broad swords, spears, maces, and long swords. Each weapon has a different range, attacking respectively: directly ahead, 3 tiles wide 1 ahead, 1 tile 2 tiles ahead, 5 tiles in an arc around you (which is cool and weird), and both tiles ahead of you at the cost of your shield. I didn’t use my shield much except to deal with octorocks, so I found myself using the long sword the most as it had the best range and most damage. Each weapon has a “glass” variant where you do triple damage, but it breaks if you get hit; high risk high reward that I saved for the bosses. There’s also a kind of ultimate version of each weapon, including the Korkiri sword (which weirdly does the most damage in the game), but sadly no Master Sword to be found in this title. Each hero has a weapon unique to them as well that can be found in Hyrule Castle, and it was Link’s that I used to bring down Ganon because it was my favorite: the long sword.
Naturally though, when you’re discovering a wide world such as Hyrule, you need a wide array of gear to get around. Cadence of Hyrule features one of the largest sets of gear in any game, equipping you for any situation. It has tried and true staples like the hookshot, bow, and boomerang, as well as lesser known items, like the Cane of Somaria (remember that thing?) and some of its own unique items to boot. The best part is you can use some for combat, but all for traversal in some way, and you can solve puzzles outside of their “intended” way with them. I found myself using the Cane of Somaria to get around to other places quite a bit, even when I likely wasn’t supposed to. The hover boots are also huge, and pro tip: you can buy hover boots south of the wind temple in a hidden cave shop.
You’ll need these items to get to certain locations and treasures too, and you never know what you’ll find. The world is vast; not Breath of the Wild vast, but vast, and most boards feature some kind of little nugget. I found a cave early on with incredibly strong enemies and a chest on a ledge that could only be opened by killing all enemies. Problem was to get to the last enemies I had to get the power gauntlets, something I didn’t get until the very end of my playthough. You can do things in whatever order you want though; I got to Gerudo village last in my first run, but the second time I play this I am going there first because of all the goodies you get in the area. Go where you want, do what you want, fight what you want; that’s the Cadence of Hyrule way.
Speaking of dungeons, who doesn’t love a good old cave crawling, monster busting, treasure hunting good time? Cadence of Hyrule has four major dungeons (obviously): Temple of Storms, Gerudo Mining Facility, Hidden Ice Grotto, and Lost Swamp. These dungeons are kinda short compared to a normal Zelda game, with only a few rooms to fight an enemy, and no particular item inside that you NEED to get through. Sure, each dungeon helps to have certain items, but you can truly get through them all with just your sword and your wits. Hidden inside also exists two heart pieces each, so that will help (trust me, more health makes a world of difference). But wait, there’s more; so much more out in the world than just these four targets. Hidden in most of the panels are various caves and mini dungeons you can find teeming with stuff. Stairways hidden under rocks and caves behind bombable walls, you can find hidden shops, chests, or rooms filled with baddies to be busted to bits! It’s truly worth looking around, because all the items I mentioned before are hidden in the world, not in the dungeons.
There’s one other thing dotted around the world: one of my single most favorite things in any Zelda game: puzzles. Some places have smaller puzzles, like pushing blocks to find a way through, some are combat puzzles, some are super obscure traversal puzzles that require certain items to reach a treasure. I’ve run into a few head scratchers that required me to leave and come back to look at it from a new perspective later (sometimes several times). There’s a ton, and some really get you thinking, which makes it all the more satisfying when you solve them! Except one, trying to get to the heart piece in Ganondorf’s room just required a bomb, and I wasted nearly 20 minutes before I solved that by accident.
Speaking of, that brings me to the final fantastic thing about this game: easter eggs. This game is packed full of references and easter eggs, spanning the entirety of the Zelda franchise. Cadence pulls the “it’s dangerous to go alone, take this” card in the first cave, the kid in the room I mentioned wasn’t ever explicitly stated to be Ganondorf, but the hair and organ (Ocarina of Time reference), prince of Gerudos, and context clues lead one to figure out that that was indeed a young Ganondorf. There’s dialogue and cameos, and Tingle!
This game is fantastic, full of fun, and wonder, and really leaves you with the feeling of “one more try” or “just a few more minutes” while you play. However, it, like any game, is not without its flaws, and it does have two glaring flaws that bug me. First one is honestly pretty trivial: the money and end game “economy” is pretty broke, like Twilight Princess. The game has two forms of currency: rupees, which you can lose when you die, and diamonds, which you cannot. Rupees you can grind thousands of in an hour or two, whereas diamonds are much rarer, being mostly obtained after clearing a board. The problem is after the third temple or so I became so powerful I really had no need to buy anything outside replacement consumables, and heart pieces when I found them. It wasn’t very balanced at the end, but I digress, as it’s a small detail. There is one thing about this game that truly does bug me:
Ganondorf is the titular antagonist of most Zelda games, and was the one plucking the strings (pun intended) of this whole charade. Octavo was trying to usurp Ganon I guess, as he often made references to how he was going to “stop” or “defeat” him with his champions (the bosses). He talks about how we won’t be strong enough to beat the dark king without his power, but there’s a major issue: Ganondorf is a child in Gerudo village. The Ganon we fight is years in the future (due to time travel shenanigans) that we only fight after kicking Octavo’s butt, he loses his Triforce of Power lute which Ganondorf finds later, and then time travels forward to get his butt kicked again by the boar beast. One can assume that maybe Octavo is from this future given his ability to time travel and knowledge of Ganon, but it was never explained as such, nor do we really know much about Octavo himself or where his lute came from. It’s just context and story clues that are missing from the game that I wish were more fleshed out through the people of the world. Story aside, I do have another bigger issue with old porky: he’s so freaking weak! I lost to Wizzroboe, Gohmaracas, Octavo, and almost to Gleeokenspiel, all supposedly inferior to the king of darkness; I even had max hearts for Octavo! However, I beat Ganon on my first try without dropping a fairy, went back into my save file to be sure it wasn’t a fluke, and brought home the bacon again. He’s weaker than Octavo, who he story-wise demolished without batting an eye! Granted the mechanic of his fight was cool; you get to control all three characters at once and it requires two of them to hurt him, but I still expected more of a challenge from the final boss.
Overall though, I had a wonderful time playing Cadence of Hyrule, dropping 27 hours into my first run of the game, and plan to go back for a second time. If you haven’t played Cadence of Hyrule yet, first of all how dare you, what are you doing? Second, thank you for reading this virtual book of an article if you made it to the end. Tell me what you think of the game if you have played it, because they truly did make a fantastic game worthy of being called a Legend of Zelda. 9/10.