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Thursday, August 8, 2019

Cadence of Hyrule Free Demo Available! Impressions Inside...

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - You're free to demonise my impressions. They're controversial.

Today I got a Nintendo Switch News notification that Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda (henceforth referred to as just Cadence of Hyrule) has a free demo. Sure, I'll try it. It did dazzle us during that Nindies session some time ago. It's developed by indie company Brace Yourself Games in an amazing development story where Nintendo pretty much just said, yes, sure, you can use our intellectual property.

Fun times. But is Cadence of Hyrule itself a fun time?

Cadence of Hyrule is immediately striking in that its music—over a couple dozen remixes of The Legend of Zelda series music that each have contextually-differing tempos and senses of urgencies—is fantastic. A clear contrast from the aural failings that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild last brought to the series. Plus, the graphics remind me of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, which is always a positive.

Looking through the general options menu, there's all sorts of options for accessibility including language selection and a friendly-to-the-colour-blind option. The demo takes you right to making a new game (with yourself or with a second player), and as far as I could tell, I was beginning the game like the full game would be. (It was later made obvious that, no, the full game doesn't have this same progression.)

I couldn't tell from the demo how involved the story would be throughout the game, but the gist seems to be some music-related jerk named Octavo (not to be confused with DJ Octavio of Splatoon) is doing something bad in Hyrule even though he doesn't belong there, and he has four Champion bosses that are enforcing whatever his bad thing is.

As for gameplay... 

Cadence of Hyrule rhythm gameplay you'll get used to it Crypt of the NecroDancer
“You'll get used to it... Trust me.”
(That's Cadence, the protagonist of Crypt of the NecroDancer, lying to players.)

When there are enemies on-screen, every action you take needs to be done to the rhythm of the background music. Every beat is a turn. If you're off-beat, you'll have your turn skipped, exposing yourself to enemy attacks. If you're successfully maintaining the beat, you'll get some kind of special power or something—I was never on beat long enough to find out what it is.

If you've ever played a 2D The Legend of Zelda game, the look of the maps and overworld will feel very familiar to you. They're filled with enemies, treasure, puzzles, and destructible environments that contain items and secrets. You might then have a concept of how chaotic it can be when there are a bunch of scary enemies on screen. You have to be very calm to keep maintaining the beat—you must take an action every beat to take full advantage of all of the turns available to you.

I couldn't do it. I kept getting game overs and only survived as far away as three screens from Link's house. Every time you get a game over, you lose your non-permanent items and resources, which early on means all you keep your level 1 sword, basic shield, and Pieces of Heart. But you lose your torch, shovel, and rupees. Before starting again, you have the chance to spend diamonds (thankfully NOT a free-to-play alternate currency) at the Game-Over Shop to have a better chance, but you need to be doing a decent job to begin with to get the diamonds.

I didn't select Continue but instead Save and Quit at my next game over. Surprisingly, the demo actually does let you save, shut the Switch off, turn it back on, and then play off the same save file. That's more effort for a demo than I expected.

It was then that I looked through the options and found this:

Cadence of Hyrule gameplay options menu fixed-beat mode yes
Play the game without moving to the beat.

Fixed-Beat mode, in my view, makes the demo (and presumably the rest of Cadence of Hyrule) not only playable, but actually enjoyable. The game transforms from a cruel rhythm roguelike game into a methodical experience highly reminiscent of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. You make a move. The enemies on screen then all make their move. No move-skipping because you're on or off beat. You just get to enjoy the awesome music for being awesome music, and you have all of the time in the world to coordinate action sequences like this.. Yes, this is all still turn-based:

The game's flavourings are delicious and full of call-backs to The Legend of Zelda, including its enemies, environments, and even more specific things like the Windmill Hut. Yet, the game is still its own entity. (Or maybe that's all of the Crypt of the NecroDancer stuff talking. I wouldn't know.)

I think—and this could just be me writing a strawman argument—rhythm fans or Crypt of the NecroDancer fans might read my comments and give me crap for essentially only going through the game via what may be considered an easy mode. If I gave the non-fixed-beat mode more of a chance and put more effort into really getting into it, they may reason, I might have even more fun. I'm not so sure if that's true. I tend to not be very happy with games that restrict control of your own movement as their core mechanic. See my thoughts on the demo for Yoku's Island Express for proof.

But standard turn-based gameplay I can absolutely get behind and endorse.

At the very least, I recommend you try the Cadence of Hyrule demo. Try it on the default mode if you choose, but don't feel bad if you gravitate towards Fixed-Beat mode and find that more fun. It's not something that's advertised in the game's marketing and it's nested away in the options menus, but it completely changes the game for the better. I don't even know of another example of an options setting available from a game's beginning that completely and positively changes the game. Remember, it's not a difficulty setting. It changes your whole approach to the game and how it's played.

At the very least, the demo is free and quite substantive and lasted me hours. From what I can tell, the game has the polish of a Nintendo-developed title. It's easy to forget it's an indie game.

Cadence of Hyrule Nintendo Switch demo thanks for playing game end
If you select Return to Game, you can keep playing and find the many secrets in the smaller overworld you have access to that you may have missed.
Plus, all the enemies will respawn and you can wreak havoc with your end-demo item set!

Did you play the Cadence of Hyrule demo? Will you? ...Or did you buy the full game ($30)? Ludwig doesn't oppose the full game's purchase, but there's something a bit odd about how he enjoyed the demo in spite of the game's core mechanic and reason for existence, as opposed to because of that mechanic. Ludwig also spoiled himself in terms of listening to the entire soundtrack of the game back in June, but he's happy to announce that the music is actually better to listen in-game than in a long YouTube video.

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