Developer: Sega / Publisher: Sega / Played On: Nintendo 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Alcohol Reference, Mild Suggestive Themes, Cartoon Violence)
I wish we could solve all our problems by dancing them away like in Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure. Forgot my money at home and need to pay a bill? Just dance and serve food. Need to enter your dog in the dog show but missed the deadline? Well just bark in rhythm with a poodle to gain entrance. Or my favorite, if you’ve found yourself outside of a prestigious event in Paris, improperly dressed, and without a ticket for admission, simply play a few chords on the violin and bam, you’re in. Unfortunately our world isn’t full of that much pizzazz but at least we now have Rhythm King & the Emperor’s Treasure to play on our 3DS’.
You play as Raphael, a young Parisian boy who fancies artwork and getting into trouble. Or at least his alter ego, Phantom R, who is known throughout France as a master thief, is. While following up on a clue, Raphael/Phantom R uncovers a very surprising fact: the casket of Napoleon Bonaparte has been stolen, and apparently the deceased general has risen from the dead and is in search of a lost treasure hidden within the city. Not only that, but Raphael’s father, who had abandoned him three years prior, appears to be in cahoots with the recently risen ruler. Now Raphael and his faithful dog Fondue must unravel the mysteries surrounding his missing father, the supposedly resurrected Napoleon, and a hidden treasure in the city. The story is absolutely off the wall and crazy. If you just go with it, though, it’s entertaining to play through. One flaw I have with the story is the prevalence of deus ex machina solutions to the game’s puzzles. Raphael will have no idea what to do next, then suddenly someone says exactly what to do. I wanted to see more creative writing within the story and not so many lame shortcuts.
Rhythm Thief has a lot going on. The biggest portion of the game is easily the story. You’ll spend the majority of play time reading text and traveling through the semi-accurate streets of Paris, visiting famous locales like the Louvre and Notre Dame. When you’re not exploring, you’re playing a variety of rhythm minigames, solving simple riddles, and finding goodies throughout the land.
I originally thought the game would be Professor Layton with music games, but it’s actually more akin to Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven games, of which the 40+ rhythm minigames are the best part. Each one has you performing different actions: dancing along with the tune, hiding behind statues, jumping across rooftops, and even shooting bad guys, all in beat with the music. A rating is given for each action input, the more in time you are the better grade earned. A bar fills in the top left corner of the screen; if it empties entirely it’s game over, but successful inputs increase the bar. The meter drains substantially with each miss, so a few mistakes can take you from earning an A to earning a D or worse. It’s insulting actually: I played a minigame and had all perfects with the exception of four harsh ratings and got a C. Issues with the scoring system aside, the variety in the minigames is exceptional and came as a complete surprise to me. Some of them get repeated with harder difficulties, but the originality in each more than makes up for it. And Sega hasn’t forgotten about its past rhythm titles, with the inclusion of minigames lifted directly from Samba De Amigo and Space Channel 5.
Every now and then Raphael and friends must solve a riddle or puzzle to progress. These are usually very simple, like stop a padlock on the right numbers or memorize a simple color pattern. I would much rather have had another fully fledged minigame instead of these minor distractions, mostly because they don’t require any skill and are just necessary roadblocks to the rest of the game. And in much the same way as finding hint coins in the Professor Layton games, there are hidden tokens you can uncover in each screen by tapping on suspicious objects. These tokens are used to buy goodies like power-ups to use before each minigame (like causing the meter to fill faster or empty slower) as well as to purchase any minigames you may have missed in the main story. Also hidden around Paris are scraps of the Phantom Note, a letter lending more information about the story, CDs which let you listen to the game’s soundtrack, and various sounds to record in order to create the “Master Instrument.” These hidden objects are optional, but finding them all unlocks bonus story scenarios and adds to the replay value.
Speaking of replay value, upon completing the game a Hard mode becomes available, which judges each minigame more strictly. Attaining a grade of “A” on each minigame unlocks bonus content, and finding every single item in the game unlocks even more. Throw in a head-to-head local multiplayer and StreetPass functionality and the game extends its life much longer than the seven hour storyline.
If there was one aspect of the game that Rhythm Thief had to do right it was the music. And Sega delivered, creating one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve had the pleasuring of listening to in recent years. There are plenty of favorites on the cartridge, like the catchy main theme, but my personal favorites were the violin pieces (in particular the very last song of the game). I found myself itching to get to the next minigame just to hear what it would sound like. Outside of the music, Rhythm Thief also sports great voice tracks for the main characters. The dialogue doesn’t always match up with the text in each speech bubble, but the voice actors speak with emotion and add a lot to the overall feel of the game. Sound effects actually play a role in gameplay too, as you’ll have to find and collect 60 different ones if you want to complete the game 100%, and these sound just as good as the game’s music. Sound is easily the high point for Rhythm Thief, as it damn well better have been.
Rhythm Thief has a good sense of visual style, combining the beloved architecture of Paris with the bright colors of Japanese anime. Phantom R wears a dapper suit and fedora, the police chief has dreadlocks, and knights in armor parade around the streets of Paris. I liked the liberal use of color: every location is lushly detailed. While playing a minigame the animation stays smooth, drawing your eye to look at what’s on screen instead of trying to stay in rhythm. Beautiful cut scenes are spread throughout the story and are done in the same anime style. The 3D effects aren’t utilized much at all, but the game looks so good without it turned on that you won’t mind.
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is a great title for the 3DS, and a promising new series for Sega. There aren’t too many games in the rhythm genre but this one still manages to stand out for its originality and fun factor. The variety in the minigames mixed with the exceptional soundtrack make for a delightful combination. 3DS owners won’t find another game like this on their handheld, and it’s one that shouldn’t be missed.