It’s no secret that the Zelda series has outstanding music. Dark World. Tal Tal Heights. Gerudo Valley. The Great Fairy’s theme. The series wouldn’t work half as well as it does without its iconic and fantastic score, so it makes sense that there would eventually be a game that celebrates this storied history by weaving the music into the very fabric of the gameplay. Cadence Of Hyrule: Crypt of the Necrodancer featuring Legend of Zelda is not only a whopper of a title, but also a fantastic game in its own right, using the gameplay of its original game, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and adding some structure to it to make this both a fantastic rhythm game and a fantastic Zelda game.
Cadence, the protagonist of CotN, falls through a portal and is planted in Hyrule. She is given the choice to wake up either Zelda or Link, which determines who you will be playing as for the bulk of the game. I decided on Link for my first go around, and right away, the game summons up images of A Link to the Past in both its art style and beginning. Link awakens in his house in the center of Hyrule, and immediately the wonderful remix of Hyrule field starts playing. You grab his sword, a shield, and set out to thwart Ocatavo, a new villain who is causing havoc all across Hyrule.
The story is extremely bare bones, but it does its job delivering an excuse to explore a surprisingly well crafted version of Hyrule, albeit one with somewhat random placement. Even though the core gameplay is based off a rogue like, the Zelda series pokes its head out in how you progress through the game. Firstly, the combat is pure CotN. The game requires that you move to the beat of the music. Doing soprovides you with greater rewards and sometimes powers up your attacks depending on what weapon you’re using. Unlike other rogue likes, though, enemies don’t only move when you move (although there is an option to turn this on, but I can’t help but feel that doing so would entirely defeat the point of playing the game). They move to the beat just like you, and all have their own patterns you must learn if you’re to come out on top.
Enemies from the series entire history have been given specific rolls. For instance, Lizafols sit and wait for you to enter their line of sight, at which point they start charging in whatever direction they saw you in. Bokoblins only move every other beat, and watching their arm movements is key to knowing when to expect an attack. There are plenty of other enemies familiar to series fans, including some tough mini bosses that are scattered liberally throughout the map.
So even though this method of traversing the world and combatting its monsters may be foreign to Zelda fans (I hadn’t played CotN until after playing this), the way you go through the game is Zelda through and through. Each screen has a few secrets to find, like chests that give temporary items such as shovels (useful for clearing out dirt hills) or rings (which give different buffs depending on the ring). There are oftentimes caves, either explicit or hidden that house additional treasures. There are plenty of permanent upgrades throughout the world, like heart pieces and magic upgrades. Then there are the classic Zelda items, like the boomerang, bow, hookshot, and many more. The familiarity is nice, and each item can be used in addition to your basic attacks. Some items are critical to progression, but most are optional to obtain.
It’s a nice mixture of old and new, to be sure, complete with dungeons that merge some more puzzle-y elements Zelda is so well known for with the straight up rhythm based combat of CotN. The game is fairly open ended, too, in a nice nod to the series recent masterpiece Breath of the Wild. Right from the beginning, you’re more or less free to explore at your own leisure, which is a lovely thing. It makes discoveries like new items or hidden caves feel like a genuine thing you just stumble across. The game gives you plenty of options when it comes to combat, too, with different weapon classes doing different kinds of attacks (ie a spear can attack two spaces in front of you, a flail attacks in an L shaped pattern).
The gameplay loop is quite enjoyable for its 6-8 hour runtime. Dungeons offer some stiffer challenges than what is seen in the overworld, with the combat areas being random every time you go in and the bosses at the end requiring a bit more legwork to solve. However, the game as a whole is fairly easy. The aforementioned items can sometimes feel superfluous. For instance, you can get the Cane of Pacci, which spawns a block directly in front of you. Said block can be moved, but the amount of times its useful can be counted on one hand. You only really ever need your weapons and bombs to uncover secrets, which is slightly disappointing. It does pick up near the end, with some pretty relentless levels capping off the adventure before the final battle. The other big issue is the aforementioned length. This will vary person to person in terms of importance, because while it lasts, the game is a blast, filled with fun combat, exploration, and yes, an incredible set of remixes taken from the series’ early days. But the asking price of 25 bucks can be a lot for a game that won’t last much longer than 8 hours (if you’re going for a 100% completion rate). I wasn’t too bothered by it, but I can see some people feeling that they need more content.
That shouldn’t stop any Zelda fan from playing this game, though. It’s a celebration of one of the most iconic musical histories in all of gaming, and a pretty damn enjoyable rhythm and exploration based game to boot. There are plenty of secrets to uncover, just like in the proper Zelda series, and the combat is icing on the cake. In a way, this game’s very existence is kind of a head scratcher, as Nintendo is well known for holding their IPs pretty close to their chest, particularly Zelda. Maybe this game will let them see that, in the right, passionate hands, their IPs can be used in ways we haven’t seen before. Either way, this has, by default, become the best Zelda spinoff the world has yet seen, and any fan should give it a shot. Plus, if the ending is anything to go by, we may not have seen the last of CotN’s crossovers with Nintendo, which is an exciting prospect.
+ Blends the newer rhythm based combat system well with the series’ beloved exploration
+ Plenty of secrets to uncover
+ Absolutely fantastic remixes of tracks from the early games in the series
- A bit on the easy side
- Some might find the length too short