by Jason Clement
reviewed on 3DS
In-Sync with the Best
Games that are clones of other titles are a dime-a-dozen these days. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure isn't especially adept at hiding its two main influences - one being the Professor Layton series, and the other being Rhythm Heaven. As unapologetically similar as some of the gameplay and art may be however, Rhythm Thief makes surprisingly good use of its predecessors' designs. The result? An extremely solid game with a charming story that will surprise you.
The story is set in Paris and stars Raphael, a boy whose alter-ego is the mysterious rhythm thief Phantom R. Under this guise, he steals famous works of art only to return them a day later, and no one can figure out why. One day, after yet another successful theft of a bracelet - and making a big show of it in front of the police -, Raphael discovers that the bracelet bears a symbol similar to that of a coin left behind by his missing father. This becomes the prelude to the story as he and a girl named Marie become entangled in a scheme that involves a madman proclaiming to be the resurrected Napoleon Bonaparte, a secret organization called the Chevaliers Diabolique, two more mysterious artifacts and their usefulness for a dark, nefarious deed.
Suffice it to say that there are some goofy and abstract concepts that step outside the boundaries of realism in this story. Yet it is the companionship between the game’s characters and their evolving relationship that is the true heart of the story.
Burning Up the Dance Floor
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure plays out over two different screens. The top screen acts as a hub that shows your current location on the overall map while the bottom displays a more artistic scene of the location where you interact with other characters. You'll tap around each area to talk to any people who are nearby in order to gather information and clues. If you look hard enough, you will also find hidden medals that can be exchanged for items that will assist you in the rhythm games.
The core of the gameplay is the second game mode, being the rhythm games. Fortunately, these segments are cleverly designed around each particular section of the story. For example, one part of the story has Raphael sneaking into a museum. To get past the guards, he must mimic the poise of statues in the hallways, each action corresponding to the rhythm of the music. Another rhythm game puts you in Marie's shoes playing the violin in a way similar to playing Guitar Hero, stroking the touch screen to the left and to the right in time with the visual cues and beats on the top screen. And though there are certain rhythm games that are repeated with a higher difficulty later on, there is enough variety to keep the game feeling fresh throughout.
Most of the games are played with a traditional button input, but some also use touch controls and even the 3DS's motion control sensor. The touch controls work well for the most part but there were a few times where my strokes failed to register. The motion controls work as intended, with the possible exception of one game that merges touch with motion, resulting in some frustrations at first.
In addition to the main rhythm games, the game serves up a number of minigames that play out in a similar fashion to the puzzles from Professor Layton without relinquishing the rhythm component at any time. One minigame has you replicating a game of Simon, memorizing the beats as they play out and then replicating the exact same beats again. Another has you analyzing a pattern to determine where the next beat should go. These particular minigames aren't quite as enjoyable as the main rhythm segments, but they do help to break up the gameplay now and then and keep things from feeling stale.
A Feast for the Eyes and Ears
It is easy to see that the game borrows the aesthetic look of the Layton series and uses it very well. The characters aren't quite as diverse and unique looking as in Layton's games, but nevertheless they look well crafted and the cutscenes in particular look superb. Even during the minigames the 3D models look solid and the framerate rarely skips a beat.
And what would a rhythm game be without a great soundtrack to go along with it? Rhythm Thief doesn't disappoint in this aspect. The mix of French style melodies, complete with the accordion and harpsichord, and an overall jazzy vibe works extremely well. The voicework falters at times but for the most part it is well done; just prepare to encounter a few over-the-top French accents. Even after the main story is completed, a feat that will take you five to six hours, the game has more to throw at you in the way of additional chapters that can be unlocked by completing challenges.
All the Right Moves
It is rare for a game to have such a variety of different ingredients and managing to gel them together this well. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure manages to pull it off with elegance. The creative rhythm games, charming story and characters, catchy music, and superb animation blend together into an entirely memorable and absolutely unique experience. It oozes style and has a great vibe that sets it apart from anything else, despite building on strengths of other franchises.
Charming story and characters, rhythm games integrate well with the narrative and are fun, fantastic animation
Non-rhythm segments can feel a bit too slow at times