When Brace Yourself Games started showing “Crypt of the NecroDancer” on the indie games festival circuit a few years ago, it was clear from an initial glance that the Canadian studio had stumbled onto something that would, at the very least, be invitingly eccentric.
Here was a game that combined a vintage look inspired by “The Legend of Zelda” with the beat-focused gameplay of “Dance Dance Revolution.” The game even worked with a dance pad, allowing users to get physical as they hack-and-slashed their way through dungeons.
While punishingly difficult — players not only had to move in time to the beat but study the patterns of their enemies — treating a world filled with skeletons and dragons as something akin to an interactive dance battle proved to be more than just a gimmick. It was a genre mash-up that, while silly, got us to play differently. And making dungeon floors look like discos didn’t hurt either.
Nintendo noticed, and in an unexpected but pleasant surprise the Japanese video game giant announced earlier this year that Brace Yourself Games was working on a spiritual sequel set in the world of “The Legend of Zelda.” That game, “Cadence of Hyrule,” is out now, and it’s a joy.
Just how this partnership came about — and why Nintendo trusted a small independent studio with one of its biggest properties — remains something of a mystery. But it’s resulted in one of 2019’s more delightful games.
Much of the innovation in gaming today, at least as it pertains to narrative and design, happens in the independent gaming sector, and it’s welcome to see Nintendo admitting it can learn a few new tricks from a relatively small player. It’s also welcome that “Cadence of Hyrule” allows players to fight and dance their way through the entire game as Princess Zelda, who too often isn’t the star of her namesake games.
Be prepared, however, to learn just how out of rhythm you are. “Cadence of Hyrule” may make it clear that you’ve been clapping off-beat your entire life at concerts. But it’s so bright and cheery that chances are you’ll eventually find a groove, although maintaining it is another matter.
Moving in time to the beat will make the game significantly easier and allow Zelda or Link to dole out damage. Each screen is laid out like a tactical, checkerboard-like grid, and there’s some slight randomization to each play-through.
As much as the monsters, be it blobs of goo or hunched-over lizard creatures, want to come for Link and Zelda, who must rid Hyrule of an evil wizard, they’re ultimately ruled by the beat. To slay them, one will essentially duet with them.
One can flip off the beat-driven gameplay aspect, turning “Cadence of Hyrule” into a more standard action game. This will make it significantly less difficult, but it’s not recommended. If we learn anything from “Cadence of Hyrule,” it’s that when one is given the option to dance, it’s best to dance.
“Cadence of Hyrule”
Developer: Brace Yourself Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch