Game studios tend to be very protective of their IP, and pretty conservative about their plans for their beloved franchises. So, when games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle gets released, crossing over 2 beloved franchises, in a style that none of them are used to (a tactical RPG), people are really apprehensive. This game was a success though, with an 85% rating on Metacritic at the time of writing this review. This might be a reason why Nintendo was prone to try another crossover.
Brace Yourself Games is not a well-known studio with a long list of established released games. They only did a beloved indie title called Crypt of the NecroDancer. Its combination of dungeon crawling with rhythm (music) elements (having a great soundtrack from Danny Baranowsky, who worked on games like Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy) created an experience that is unique, and people really dig it. It can be played on pretty much on every current game system (from mobile to PCs to consoles), and the reviews were great. The reveal of Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer feat. The Legend of Zelda was something that people didn’t expect, and pleased a lot of gamers (myself included). Did the final game live up to the reputation ? Yes, it did.
A typical Zelda adventure
In the story part of this game, there are quite a lot of elements that are reminiscent to a regular Zelda game. You start the game by playing Cadence, the heroine from Crypt of the NecroDancer. You are in a world inspired by The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. There is a villain called Octavo. He has put to sleep Hyrule’s king, Zelda, and Link. It’s the power of the TriForce that transported Cadence into this world. To fight him, you need to collect four magical music instruments. You can then go to Hyrule Castle and fend off the enemy. So, as you can see, very similar premise than the one from a Zelda game (like its inspiration, A Link to the Past).
You will traverse the world one screen at a time. Each one can potentially have an interest points of visits, enemies, treasures, puzzles, or any combinations of those elements. Everything truly comes from the aforementioned Zelda game: the artistic design, the movements, the music (more on that later), etc. Other classic elements can be seen like shops, items (like bombs and boomerangs), and teleportation portals. If you are a fan of the original game, you will just love how everything feels. At one point, it feels like wearing your comfortable slippers. Even though the game is not developed by Nintendo, it just plays like it could have been done by them (which is a very high praise).
Time to “dance”
The entire context and story of the game is based on The Legend of Zelda, but the gameplay itself (in terms of movement and fighting) is based on Crypt of the NecroDancer. The key for doing everything: the music. While you move around, there will always be music playing. Every action you do (move one “square” on the map, attack, use an item, etc.) must be done on the beat of the music. To help you visualize the rhythm, you have an indicator at the bottom of the screen (see next screenshot). Following the rhythm must be done as long as there are enemies on screen. Once the screen is “cleared”, you can move and do everything as you like. I actually played the entire game in portable mode, with my headphones on, and it made the experience such a thrill.
I am taking a little time to give a special shout out to the music of this game. It is incredible! It doesn’t take a long time to realize that the quality is just omnipresent. Being a major part of the tone and also the gameplay, every little piece had to be of the upmost quality, and it delivers on every level.
Easy… then ouch!
The only gripe I have with the game in terms of gameplay is the pacing of the difficulty. For quite a long time (maybe 3/4 of the game), everything was smooth sailing. Maybe it is my experience with Crypt of the NecroDancer combined with my rhythm games experience that transpired, but I felt no challenge at all…until I reached a dungeon, which made me die a lot of times. Then, I really felt the difficulty level spike. It saddened me that it happened, because it felt so unexpected to me, that it tarnished a bit my overall enjoyment of the voyage.
I want to give a very honorable mention to the developers to have thought about 2 ways to configure the difficulty. If it is too tough for you, or maybe have a disability that hinders your capabilities, you can make the game easier by enabling a fixed-beat mode. This way, you don’t have to time all of your actions to the music, which will be a blessing to some gamers. On the contrary, if you want an extra challenge, there is a permadeath mode: you die once, it’s over. So, the 2 exact opposites are present, and it’s a nice touch.
Art has a price
This fact is not something that has an impact on the review itself, but it is important to talk about it. This game really is $24.99 US / $31.49 CAN, which is not cheap for a game that can be considered indie. To finish the game, it took me about 6 hours. So, is it too much ? It really depends on what you value in a game. I consider the investment worthwhile, because I like to encourage thriving indie game developers. I am a huge fan of A Link to the Past (it is my favorite game of the franchise). Finally, I just LOVE video game music, and a lot of Zelda music is just iconic. So, being able to experience this music through a brand new way was a no-brainer for me. If you are unsure, you can wait for a rebate on the Nintendo eShop, or wait to accumulate a bit of gold coins, so a nice rebate is applied on the game (might even be free for you).
Another unexpected successful crossover
Nintendo is able to sense when a collaboration with another studio for one its franchises can work. After doing it with Ubisoft, they took a chance with a small studio having a great idea, and it is a success. The game is full of love for Zelda, and it shows. It applies perfectly what makes a Zelda game to a completely different formula, and nothing seems out of place. The music is brilliant. I am really happy that this game exists on its own, and not just as DLC for the original game (which was the original plan). Despite its high price point, it is worth purchasing, especially if you’re a fan of A Link to the Past.