By adding an alternate mode that completely upends the core gameplay concept, developer Brace Yourself Games has turned Cadence of Hyrule into something more than just a rhythm-based Zelda game. Sure, enabling Fixed Beat — which eliminates the need to hop and attack on cue — transforms the experience into a more forgiving adventure, but it also makes it into a different one. No longer are players on the clock (or metronome) during enemy encounters, and so they can take time to soak in the vibrant, pixelated surroundings while wandering across forests and deserts in the search for treasures. They can plan their approach to battles, manipulating pieces as if it were a chess match. They can assess puzzles and uncover secrets without first having to fear immediate death. For players like me who avoid rhythm as if it were the plague, Fixed Beat saves Cadence of Hyrule by making it into something new and wonderful.
As someone who has spent a lifetime retreating from any activity requiring maintaining a tempo, it was hard not be at least a little wary about my chances of succeeding at the pulsing combat of Cadence of Hyrule. And sure enough, those suspicions were proven correct: I tried to play the ‘normal’ way and was consistently wiped out due to bad timing, betrayed by the part of my brain that also prevents me from being an even mediocre dancer. Despite my best efforts (or some effort, anyway), I simply could not get engaged in hopping around to the beat of the game’s drum; I continually missed steps, became mobbed by dancing enemies, and suffered musical death after musical death. Faced with frustration and disappointment at my own abilities, the thought of abandoning the title altogether popped into my head; after all, why keep failing at something you hate?
Before doing anything so drastic, however, I remembered the little fairy companion who explains things to Cadence at the outset; she had made some (very) early remarks on my poor movement skills, then offered a non-too-subtle hint about a so-called ‘Fixed Beat’ mode. Being the hardcore gamer that I think am, the suggestion was at the time immediately brushed off; I don’t need your pity, game. However, faced with quitting, it was worth a shot, even if I didn’t hold out much hope that the things that frustrated me were somehow going to magically be resolved. And if they were, I suspected that the game would be so stripped of its originality and purpose that whatever was left would feel like a mere husk instead of a full-fledged experience.
We often forget when talking about game difficulty that different brains process information differently. While my feet don’t know where to go on the dance floor, they naturally fall into a flowing step when on the baseball diamond or tennis court. Who knows why? Some genres make sense to some people, and others do not. Easy, Normal, Hard, and Crazy are all subjective; this is why options can be so important, as the right tweaks can turn total deflation into absolute elation.
And that is exactly what Fixed Beat mode did for me. Rarely have I felt such a sudden and pronounced change of heart about a video game. With the requirement to tap a button at the right moment removed from the equation, Cadence of Hyrule becomes a different beast altogether, something crossed between classic Zelda and turn-based strategy. Because the enemies move only when Link (or Zelda) does, the strategy for dealing with them becomes different. Whereas players can wait for opponents to come to them in the normal mode, now they must go on the attack, forcing the issue if they wish to clear the screen. Or they can back off from encounters, safe in taking time to plan an escape route or weave a path through a populated area by studying movements patterns at their own pace. It’s certainly not more difficult (quite the opposite, actually), but the new tactics do feel different, and they still keep players actively engaged despite losing a core gameplay element.
What’s more surprising, however, is how this seems to make Cadence of Hyrule much more akin to the traditional games in the series. The more casual pace lines up with core Zelda, as each screen’s monsters and secrets can be tackled at one’s leisure — a meandering quest as opposed to strict marching orders. Wandering has always been a pleasure of Zelda games, and here is no different. Exploration unfolds naturally, driven by curiosity instead of a need to keep moving. Take your time to look for cracks in walls or blue butterflies on bushes before deciding whether or not to clear things out; study the location of that out-of-reach heart container before realizing that you don’t even have the proper equipment yet to get it. Sure, enemies will probably have to be destroyed eventually, but as long as you stay still, so will they.
Link has always been accused of being a bit lazy, and so that carefree element brought on by Fixed Beat mode has an effect, causing franchise familiarity to grow stronger. The music seeps into your brain without triggering involuntary reflexes, and the gorgeously colorful 16-bit-ish visuals hearken back to SNES days of yore. Link might be left-handed, but that doesn’t mean he has to suffer from two left feet. Is Fixed Beat mode how the developers intend people to experience Cadence of Hyrule? Of course not, and there’s no question that it changes the game. But it also opens the adventure up in an incredibly fun way and allows more players to experience an outstanding take on the franchise. With procedurally generated maps offering new overworld and dungeon layouts, as well as some alternate puzzles and multiple playable characters, each playthrough feels fresh and unique — an adventure gift that keeps giving.
I still remain surprised at how a simple option tweak changed my thoughts so drastically, and I encourage anyone who loves Zelda but has been on the fence because of the rhythm-based gameplay to give Cadence of Hyrule another look. By deftly implementing Fixed Beat mode, Brace Yourself Games has brilliantly created a side entrance to their sparkling world that anyone can enjoy. For the rhythmically challenged, what might begin like A Link to the Past‘s gloomy thunderstorm could wind up as dazzling as seeing Hyrule field for the first time.