With the wild success of the Wii launch title The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, it was only a matter of time before another Zelda game graced Nintendo's popular new console. However, nobody could have possibly predicted that Nintendo and Harmonix would strike a deal to create a new take on the Zelda franchise, featuring a modern setting and making use of the upcoming Wii version of Harmonix's Rock Band guitar controller. The Legend of Zelda: The Stratocaster Sword is a culmination of that union, and the result is a Zelda experience unlike any other.
As The Stratocaster Sword begins, the Zelda series' omnipresent hero Link is magically transported several thousand years to Hyrule of the future, which has since become a bustling metropolis reminiscent of 1990's Los Angeles. It doesn't take him long to discover that Ganondorf is up to his old tricks again, controlling the masses by posing as an enigmatic hip hop star named G. Diddy. With the mystical Stratocaster Sword in hand, Link takes to the streets on his motorcycle Epona and begins a journey to collect the Power Chords from the elemental night clubs located across the city, so that he might defeat G. Diddy once and for all.
A Zelda game wouldn't be complete without some sort of sidekick to help Link out, and in The Stratocaster Sword, that role is filled by the prissy street-fairy Diva, who approaches Link from a nearby street corner when he first arrives in the new Hyrule. Diva's valley girl attitude and insistence on calling Link "Green" add plenty of comic relief to what is otherwise a gritty, serious tale.
That's a sweet hog you got there, Link
As odd as it is to play a Zelda game with a controller shaped like a guitar, it works surprisingly well. The joystick at the top of the controller is used to move Link about the world in his usual fashion while the fret buttons are used for various tasks. The first fret provides the targetting system seen in other games in the series, while the second fret is the standard action button, used for grabbing objects, interacting with characters, and of course the ever-present dodge roll. The last three frets can be set to the many tools that are a staple to the series. Jiggling the controller makes Link attack, similar to the combat in Twilight Princess.
Beyond the control scheme, combat is much the same as previous Zelda games, with some changes specific to this newest incarnation. Link's usual spin attack has been replaced, for example, with a powerful shockwave attack triggered by hitting the whammy bar, and accompanied by a satisfying "Pwwaaaaawwooooowwwoowwwwww." Many of the tools of older Zelda games have also received a modern take: bombs have been replaced by Molotov cocktails, the bow and arrow has been replaced by a pistol, and the hookshot has been replaced with a rappel line. New tools have also been added, such as a cellphone, flashbang grenades, and a lighter. Puzzle-solving is, as always, an important part of the game, and The Stratocaster Sword doesn't pull any punches. The puzzles are brilliantly designed and executed.
Much akin to the Nintendo 64's Ocarina of Time, music also plays a major role in The Stratocaster Sword. Like Ocarina, Link learns new songs throughout the game that can be played at different times for different effects. These songs are played in a Rock Band-esque minigame that generally lasts between ten and twenty seconds. There is even a boss fight based around this musical mini-game, which is incredibly fun and surprisingly difficult. Considering these songs are used regularly, it's a rather lengthy amount of time to spend, which may turn off those not interested in the rhythm mini-game. However, the songs are fun to play and the music is well composed.
Link'll be wind-waking the neighbours with an axe like that!
In fact, the music is downright excellent, and a remarkable departure from traditional Zelda fare. Continuing with the modern rock 'n' roll theme, series composer Koji Kondo has teamed up with the Black Mages of Final Fantasy fame to create a new hard rock sound. All the music is performed in a metal or rock style, though the melodies of many classic Zelda songs remain intact. As a special bonus, full versions of several of the tracks in the game can be unlocked for play in Rock Band, a welcome cross-over promotion that fits the game's theme well.
Sadly, the game stumbles slightly in the visual realm. While the graphics are in no way poor, Link's earth-toned tunic just doesn't fit in with the fluorescent urban landscape that is the new Hyrule. It's a shame that Link himself didn't get a makeover for his new environment. Instead, Nintendo seems to have opted to simply reuse the model from Twilight Princess. Overall, the visual style just seems off, as if bits and pieces of multiple games were thrust together in an attempt to form a cohesive whole.
The Stratocaster Sword winds down at around 30 to 40 hours, and after the initial difficulty of learning the new control scheme, is a fairly easy game. The aforementioned controls and unique setting make it the most original Zelda game yet, but fans of the series may find it difficult to accept these changes. As the credits finish, a preview trailer for the already-in-progress sequel, The Legend of Zelda: The Drums of War, can be viewed, which looks to be just as good. The Stratocaster Sword is a great addition to the Zelda family and should not be missed by any Wii rocker.