Murder on the dancefloor: When Zelda met Crypt of the Necrodancer

cadence of hyrule

By Neil Merrett

Crypt of the Necrodancer, released on Nintendo Switch in 2019, developed by Brace Yourself Games & Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda, released on Nintendo Switch in 2019, again developed by Brace Yourself Games

Whether you call it a rapid, turned-based strategy game, a choreographed adventure, or rhythm-based questing, this Nintendo-backed mash up of Zelda and Crypt of the NecroDancer is new kind of take on the dance game genre.

There was a time when a rhythm or dance videogame meant a very specific type of title.

This is perhaps best represented by the dance-mat based ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ series of games that became a staple of arcades and family living rooms, at least in the early 2000s, through a number of home console ports.  The game required a player to ensure their hands or feet hit specific directions on a special dance-mat peripheral in time with prompts on the screen. However, you managed to hit the pad was irrelevant, as long as you got a limb to the right direction pad at the right time – whether using some form of breakdancing or line dancing, the path to victory was all in the timing.

More recently, there is the somewhat technically sophisticated-motion controlled ‘Just Dance’ series that sees the player waggling controllers around and flailing their limbs to match some digitised on-screen dance moves in time to a Katy Perry banger.

These hugely popular series of long running games would see all number of variants, including a Super Mario-themed edition of Dance Dance Revolution.  In this game, the portly icon would hop around and bust some dance-moves to correspond with on-screen directions.

These would be performed to a selection of jazzed-up tunes from Super Mario games, yet the developers seemed to have somewhat missed a trick by not incorporating tangentially-themed disco classics. It is arguably criminal to have a level based around dancing on a small kayak and not have rock the boat as a licensed song.

And so it was that dance games became a genre all to themselves, loved or derided in living rooms and arcades the world over by die-hard fans or confused casual gamers.

A clash, or marriage of styles

It is here that we come to the storied, hugely successful Legend of Zelda series by Nintendo. Specifically we look at Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda.

The title, which serves effectively as a Zelda spin-off or a sequel to the indie game Crypt of the NecroDancer, takes the unique nature of a rogue like rhythm game and reshapes it into what seems like a traditional 2D entry in the decades-old Legend of Zelda series.

Both games use a grid-based movement structure, where the player, either as the Nintendo characters of Link or Princess Zelda, or Crypt of the NecroDancer’s shovel carrying warrior Cadence, most perform actions such as digging or attacking to the beat of the game’s soundtrack.

While Cadence of Hyrule can be explored at parts in the player’s own time, whenever an enemy is on-screen or hidden somewhere in the current zone, the soundtrack will suddenly develop a pounding beat.  A dance floor/chess-board like grid will also form on the game map, requiring the player to move or perform actions to the beat in order to succeed.

Movement is simplified into four directions, while sword swipes or other uses of the game’s weapons must also be performed to the beat, either at the touch of a button, or by moving into and towards the enemy.

On the surface, the title appears to be a re-skin of the original Crypt of the NecroDancer, a multi-platform title originally released in 2015.  Initial trailers for Cadence of Hyrule suggested it might simply have replaced the original game’s enemies and levels with the iconic creatures and environments of the Zelda series.

Yet, for both good and bad, Cadence of Hyrule is a legitimate amalgamation of two different gameplay experiences. Here some of the more complicated rhythm and beats, as well as the enforced difficulty of a roguelike game, are matched with one of the most influential and accessible adventure games of all time.

Death in the original ‘Crypt’ game would mean loosing every item and ability found on a specific playthrough. As such, a fantastic load-out or collection of weapons and items could be lost permanently in one misplaced step in front of some colossal dragon.

Cadence screengrab

Progress would therefore come from learning enemy movement patterns and choosing small, but vital upgrades in health and power, or selecting a powerful new starting weapon for a single playthrough.

By merging this formula with the Legend of Zelda series, death is arguably less of a hindrance. It is possible to restart in one of Cadence of Hyrule’s dungeons without having to start from scratch.

While the in-game currency is lost, vitally important, game changing items such as boomerangs, bombs, and snorkels that aid swimming and exploration are kept by the player once they have been found in secret dungeons or areas.

So what type of game exactly is Cadence of Hyrule?  It would be possible to describe it either as a rhythm game or an adventure game. A more apt term might be to refer to it as a dance game, a perfect blend of adventure and choreographed movement, where each step, attack or action is timed to a beat indicated both visually on screen and of course through the series long-established musical score.

While classic and somewhat epic tunes such as the ‘Fairy Fountain’ theme or the sedate village songs are included in the game’s more serene exploratory moments, the minute an antagonist appears on screen, these songs are reimagined as pounding dance-tracks.

This is both a visual and audio cue that it’s time to get down to businesses.

Series staples like Link’s powerful circular sword attack is re-imagined as a pirouette, meanwhile items that let the player perform a powerful lunge become a form of quickstep – albeit it one with lethal force if timed right. Even the traditional bow and arrow requires a two beat process to use effectively.

Transmitting sound

It would be remiss to say that the game’s use of music as a central theme, was unique for a series that has long used orchestral-style scores as a key part of its appeal.

Gabriel Szatan, writing for the music site Pitchfork, noted how the score of 1998’s Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time became a vital component of the title’s huge critical and commercial success. So much so, he argued that the music, composed by Nintendo’s in-house composer Koji Kondo, carried a level of artistic recognition that transcended the idea of what a game score had been up until that point in time.

Szatan noted, “From the stirring opening screen to the weepy final credits, the music that flows through Ocarina of Time was a generational Rosetta Stone, encompassing Gregorian chants, Arabic scales, harp, flamenco, dark ambience, and at least one rip-off of Gustav Holst’s The Planets—an unforced and generous way to transmit those sounds into the homes of millions. “

Here, these iconic themes that generations of gamers have grown up with, and in some cases even forgotten in those quiet, yet effective moments between the Legend of Zelda’s epic battles, are used to drive and punctuate all the action.

It’s an aesthetic that has been used in some of the most arresting film trailers of recent years. Promotional videos that sometimes superseded the appeal and the style of the movies themselves.

Not everyone will appreciate or will be enticed by a game focused on keeping a constant sense of rhythm and thinking to the beat while under pressure.  Some might even question if this is really a true ‘Zelda game’, although, the combat mechanics of the series are recreated in a fairly accurate and faithful way.

But Cadence of Hyrule is a fun experiment in bottling the appeal of great music and scores down to their very essence, a seemingly perfect marriage of styles.

Whether you are professional dancer, flat footed, tone deaf, or something in between, it is a game that at its best, evokes all those great moments, where even for one fleeting brief chorus, music and movement come together perfectly into something silly, or thrilling or liberating.

Cadence of Hyrule is a dance game, it should wear that description proudly.

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