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Game Review

by Myles Gibbs,

Cadence of Hyrule

Nintendo Switch

Cadence of Hyrule
In one of the few existing collaborations between a Triple-A franchise and an indie developer, you will find yourself hacking, slashing, bombing, and shooting your way through hordes of enemies to the nostalgic tune of classic Zelda tracks, re-imagined in a Chiptune/EDM style. While the story here doesn't have much to say, the gameplay speaks for itself.

Cadence of Hyrule is of the most unique games I've ever touched. When Crypt of the NecroDancer creator Ryan Clark approached Nintendo seeking permission to add characters from the Zelda franchise to his game as DLC, he was met with an unexpected level of enthusiasm, which led to this. A full-blown sequel. Cadence of Hyrule marks one of the few existing collaborations between an indie development team and a Triple-A franchise. The results speak for themselves.

This title has a lot in common with 1986's The Legend of Zelda. I picked up Cadence not long after playing the old school title through the Switch Online NES Library, and the resemblances are uncanny. With its simplistic gameplay of traveling through a large gridded map searching for dungeons and defeating enemies to the beat of its stellar soundtrack, Cadence proved to be hardly more than the original title with a new stimulating gimmick and a fresh coat of paint. In other words, a nigh perfect ode to its predecessor. With a phenomenal soundtrack and art style, addicting gameplay, high replay value and approachable co-op, it's sure to be a gem within any library it's added to. But since not everything here is peaches and gravy, I'll start with Cadence's few weak points.

The most exclusive aspect of the game is sure to be its main gimmick. The amount of fun you'll find yourself having is directly proportional to how well you can get behind the rhythm-based aspects of gameplay. To master the game, you'll have to learn to consistently tap buttons to a fixed beat, or risk missing out on various perks and making life much harder for yourself. Like we saw with Skyward Sword, which relied heavily on tight motion controls, having a game with a gimmick that isn't widely accessible is sure to make reception divisive among fans. Cadence, however, offers something of a reprieve for the rhythmically challenged in its “Fixed-Beat Mode,” where button-press timing is completely ignored. This game also has hardly any plot in it at all. The opening and ending of the game contain some of the cheesiest cutscenes I have ever seen, and the characters see no development whatsoever. Luckily, unlike other Zelda titles, you won't be playing this one for the plot. The spotlight here is on its music, visuals, and gameplay.

Based on the title, you might've assumed that music was a big focus in this game. You'd be absolutely correct. The soundtrack sees 69 original songs, and I can attest to that every single one of them slap. The masterful recreations of classic Zelda tunes in fresh chiptune and EDM styles earned this game a nomination for best score at the 2019 Video Game Awards, and while it lost to Death Stranding, it was my personal pick for the top spot. There are four different versions of each song in different styles for all of the 10+ overworld variants you'll find in the game, not including dungeons, towns, menus, etc. The music never wore on me as it sometimes can in top-down RPGs, as it maintains a good sense of diversity and stellar quality. The art style is notable as well. The 16-bit aesthetic the game has is very reminiscent of Minish Cap era Zelda titles, and between the huge variety of enemy types and the various locations depicted – all vividly realized – my eyes were never bored.

The gameplay of Cadence of Hyrule is its crowning achievement. It is perfectly unique, offering a top-down action RPG experience quite unlike any other. Asking players to strategize through enemy encounters where they are vastly outnumbered by powerful foes while forcing them to make quick decisions to the beat of a killer track was a genius move on part of the developers, and certainly serves to scratch the masochist itch I tend to develop when gaming. In terms of difficulty, there is a steep learning curve here, but once you get used to enemy movement patterns, timing your attacks, and other less noticeable gameplay mechanics, combat in the overworld becomes second nature. At the beginning of the game, you'll be floundering around the map with no real sense of purpose, but this is not purposeless. Your exploration of the map in the beginning of the game will reward you with new weapons, abilities, items, and playable characters as well as teaching mastery over combat. And as with most Zelda titles, as you progress, you'll unlock a huge variety of ways to approach combat. You can use items, like bombchus, arrows, and boomerangs; spells, offering reflective shields, remotely controlled explosions, and elemental attacks; or a variety of weapons including spears, flails, and rapiers. Much like in Breath of the Wild, every combat situation can be approached in a completely individual way on a player-to-player basis. This is especially fun to see in the easily accessible co-op mode, which me and my friend (who doesn't typically play RPGs) had a phenomenal time with.

Cadence of Hyrule is a unique gaming experience that I cannot suggest strongly enough. While it isn't perfect, it certainly offers a fun time for anyone who picks it up and learns to play. The way it spoke to me as a Zelda fan was on another level, though. Dragging in references and songs from a plethora of titles, Cadence was a Legend of Zelda nostalgia trip in the best way imaginable. If you are a fan of Zelda games, you will love this title. Consider that a promise.

Overall : A-
Graphics : A-
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : B+

+ Fun and addicting gameplay, a strong visual aesthetic, and a phenomenal soundtrack make for an easy-to-pick-up Zelda title that will capture your attention long after you've beaten it.
The rhythm-based gameplay may prove to exclude certain players from the experience, and the lack of any real story isn't something common in the Zelda franchise.

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