Despite being one of the most prolific and well-known series of all time, The Legend of Zelda has few notable spin-offs. At first glance, it seems odd that a crossover was made with Crypt of the NecroDancer, a rhythm based roguelite game. As a game series known for its carefully crafted adventures, the randomly generated roguelite worlds seems antithetical to what The Legend of Zelda is known for. While I do think Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda has fun combat, the roguelite formula does not lend itself well to the traditional The Legend of Zelda style.
The strongest aspect of Cadence of Hyrule is without a doubt its presentation. The modern version of the classic top-down The Legend of Zelda world and characters is phenomenal. The sprites are clean, the colors are vibrant, and the animations are fluid. Being a game with a heavy emphasis on music, Cadence of Hyrule knocks it out of the park with its remixes. The Legend of Zelda series is brimming with memorable tracks, and Cadence of Hyrule brings them all back with style. It truly is fantastic how identifiable yet fresh all the tunes are, they are top tier remixes.
Crypt of the NecroDancer is a unique roguelite dungeon crawler in which you move to the beat. On every beat of the song, you have a small window to move in a direction. Enemies also move in a similar fashion, each with their own patterns. Some only move if you step directly in front of them, some move predictably every couple of beats, and some move erratically. It’s definitely an interesting twist on traditional dungeon crawling. Movement is essentially turn-based, but you have to think quickly and time your inputs to the beat.
It can be remarkably tricky to get a handle on the beat-based movement of Cadence of Hyrule. The majority of my deaths in the game came from the first hour or so while I was figuring out the rhythm and how to maneuver. I was pretty frustrated initially by constantly missing the beat, but eventually it becomes second nature to sync to the rhythm. I appreciate the fact that there was an optional mode to disable the timing-specific beat system. In fixed-beat mode the enemies move only when you move. While I did not personally activate this mode, I think it was an important inclusion given the initial awkwardness of the beat system.
There is a bit of an awkward difficulty curve in Cadence of Hyrule due to this system. Traditionally, games should get progressively more difficult as you keep playing as a way to test your mastery. Unfortunately, I felt that Cadence of Hyrule was the most difficult at the very beginning. The combination of learning how to move and having no health or weapons made for a brutal beginning. As soon as I got a grasp on how to play, got some health upgrades, and got a more powerful weapon the game became pretty easy aside from the very last dungeon. I wish some of the mid and late game content took more mastery, as I was able to steamroll most screens without much regard for strategy.
Despite the uneven difficulty curve, I do think the movement and combat in Cadence of Hyrule is enjoyable. It’s a solid twist on traditional top-down adventure games. Once you get in the rhythm, it becomes natural to strategize on the fly. It’s fun to learn the enemies’ patterns and they best approaches to deal with them. Maneuvering around each battle becomes second-nature, unless you lose the beat. While it’s not a system that fits every game, I think it is fantastic and creative approach. Especially when paired with the glorious soundtrack.
It’s important to note that Cadence of Hyrule is not a true roguelite, but instead is much closer to being a more traditional adventure game with intermittent checkpoints. While there are some roguelite elements like losing some items upon death and a randomized map, I felt that it was closer to a traditional The Legend of Zelda game than I initially expected. To be honest, I wish they went even farther in ditched the roguelite formula altogether for this spin-off.
The randomized overworld just does not work well in a The Legend of Zelda game. These games are about exploration and progression. They are carefully crafted adventures that carefully guide the player in where to go, every element is intentionally placed. Unfortunately, I felt that Cadence of Hyrule just felt forgettable outside of a few distinct locations. Most screens are just generic layouts filled with enemies. There are some puzzles and upgrades to be found around the world, but ultimately the sense of adventure is lacking in comparison to the main series.
A key facet of a roguelite is to provide some variation between subsequent runs, to keep things fresh. I had no desire to play Cadence of Hyrule multiple times because I felt there was nothing remotely different after a single run. You will always unlock the same upgrades, weapons, and items. The only difference may be the order. The overworld is randomized between runs, but that really doesn’t accomplish the goal of replayability. It doesn’t really change anything that the desert area is now in the Northwest instead of the Northeast for example. You can improve your score between runs, but really that’s not a compelling reason to be a roguelite as plenty of games have a scoring system.
Truthfully, I believe Cadence of Hyrule would have been more enjoyable if it entirely abandoned its roguelite aspects. If the world was more intentionally designed like a traditional The Legend of Zelda game, it would have been more enjoyable to explore. The roguelite elements add nothing when there are plenty of checkpoints and there are always the same weapons between runs. I can appreciate the rhythm-based movement and combat that comes from Crypt of the NecroDancer, but the other elements just don’t work as well in Cadence of Hyrule.
Overall, Cadence of Hyrule is a fun mash-up that has some flaws as a result of its DNA. While I love the fact that an indie developer got a chance at The Legend of Zelda, and I think they did the series justice, I felt that it was missing the sense of adventure. The presentation is extraordinary, and the combat is fun once you get the hang of it, but to me exploration is key to the series. The randomized world of Cadence of Hyrule made exploration uninteresting and repetitive. It is for these reasons I give Cadence of Hyrule a 6/10. While I enjoyed Cadence of Hyrule, more than anything it made me yearn for a new top-down The Legend of Zelda game in the classic style.