What a difference a single Nintendo Direct makes. Nobody was expecting anything mind-blowing out of the March 20 Nintendo Direct "Nindies" showcase. By the end of the presentation, however, social media lit up with excited jabbering about Crypt of the NecroDancer's imminent mating with The Legend of Zelda. The fruit of the union, Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer featuring The Legend of Zelda, sounds like a concept that could only exist in a rhythm game fan's fever dream. It's real, though, and even though it's a crossover I'd never think of myself, I'm happy it exists.
Cadence of Hyrule takes place directly after the events of Crypt of the NecroDancer. The eponymous Cadence is zapped into (the also-eponymous) Hyrule, where she finds the realm under the spell of a music-loving wizard named Octavo. Cadence quickly joins forces with either Link or Zelda (you can recruit the left-behind hero later in the game), and the curtain truly rises on this lovely adventure-roguelite.
If you've played Crypt of the NecroDancer, then you already have a good idea of how Cadence of Hyrule's core concept works. You hop to the music's rhythm and build up your score multiplier while avoiding enemy attacks, analyzing their patterns, then jumping in for the kill. "Stick and move" is the key to survival, as is "dig, dig, dig." Soft soil is in plentiful supply in both Crypt of the NecroDancer and Cadence of Hyrule. Once you're armed with a shovel, you can plunge through earthen walls and uncover items and secret passages.
Cadence of Hyrule is hardly a re-skinning of Crypt of the NecroDancer, though. Some key differences between the games celebrates its Zelda heritage, and even makes Cadence of Hyrule a more accessible game than Crypt of the NecroDancer.
Though Cadence of Hyrule has a few roguelite elements, Link (or your hero of choice) isn't severely punished for dying. While he loses all his Rupees and some of his items when he dies, he holds onto his weapons, shields, heart pieces, and relics. Checkpoints in the form of Sheikah Stones dot the landscape. Diamonds, which stay on Link's person after he dies, are plentiful. When Link does croak, he's allowed to purchase some of the items he lost for a few paltry diamonds before he strikes out again. Link can even move unencumbered by the beat after he defeats all the enemies on-screen. Cadence of Hyrule is ultimately a more forgiving experience than Crypt of the NecroDancer, which is something to consider if you're not a huge fan of the latter's roguelike elements.
Still, don't mistake Cadence of Hyrule for an easy game: I died a hefty 30-something times during my playthrough. While you score a bow and arrows, a hookshot, the Fire Rod, and other tools that help you navigate through traditional Zelda games, using them effectively in Cadence of Hyrule takes some practice. It's one thing to fire an arrow in The Legend of Zelda; it's another thing to fire it in time to a thumping remix of "Tal Tal Heights."
It's remarkable how expertly Brace Yourself Games melded its own mechanics with the Zelda series'. The studio could've gotten away with giving us a merger that plays very closely to Crypt of the NecroDancer, and we still would've celebrated it for its incredible soundtrack and for paying tribute to the criminally under-appreciated art style used in 2004's The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap. Instead, we have a rhythm-adventure title that takes us across Hyrule's beloved biomes before plunging us into "dungeons" seething with enemies and lorded over by bosses with names that make you laugh out loud. (My life is richer for meeting "Gleeokenspiel.") Brace Yourself's careful handling of the Zelda franchise speaks to its love for Link and Zelda's legacy.
It's just a bit of a shame that it's over so quickly. I wrapped everything up in about 11 hours and was on my feet for an encore. I don't expect anything on par with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild's 100-hour trek across Hyrule (just thinking about Link making that trip in little hops makes my legs ache) but Brace Yourself only explores a tiny corner of Link's home in Cadence of Hyrule. Granted, a powerful two-minute song is preferable to a drippy ten-minute ballad padded with four-cord guitar solos. I'm just saying I'll be over here holding my credit card in the air like a lighter until Brace Yourself gives us some DLC.
If you're a big fan of Crypt of the NecroDancer's penchant for punishment, you should still be able to get quite a bit of value from Cadence of Hyrule after the credits roll. The overworld is re-rolled every time you start a new game, so no two playthroughs are exactly alike. There are tons of challenges to take on as well, including the option to climb leaderboards. (Good luck.) You can also increase the game's difficulty, limit which weapons you use, pass up on heart containers, and so on. There's even a secret playable character who just wants a chance to prove themselves, gee golly gee wiz. If you're starving for a struggle, you'll find a way to win with this plucky mystery hero. I don't believe there are any playable characters beyond Link, Zelda, Cadence, and our little friend, but that's another problem that's easily remedied with some good DLC.
Everything about Cadence of Hyrule, including its very existence, is a nice surprise. It looks good, it sounds great, and its combination of Zelda-style adventuring with roguelite rhythm-hopping make it a one-of-a-kind experience that reminds us why it's cool to own a Switch. Some good DLC to pad out the character selection and core adventure wouldn't come amiss, but despite tiny criticisms, Cadence of Hyrule is a hot ticket.
Cadence of Hyrule is the Legend of Zelda and Crypt of the NecroDancer crossover we never knew we needed, but now that it's here, we want the song to go on forever. Brace Yourself Games' expert handling of the Zelda property is commendable. Here's hoping we get an encore with some DLC.