Review: Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure (Nintendo 3DS)

Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure
Genre: Rhythm/Adventure/Mini-game
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 07/10/12

The 3DS is beginning to hit its stride, with more companies focusing on new IP’s and exclusive titles over console ports and rereleases of older titles, and there are a lot of strong titles making their way to the console. In the past six months we’ve seen Resident Evil: Revelations, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Mario Tennis Open and Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy pop up on the console, among others, and the remainder of the year looks just as promising for new and exclusive content. One of the more interesting new IP’s to come to the 3DS is Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure, a cute and mildly experimental rhythm game from Sega. As we noted in (our look over of the demo), Sega has experimented with the odd rhythm games here and there, so it’s not a big surprise to see them give the genre another go, and the 3DS is as good a console to test this with as any. While there are some rather good games coming out for the console, the library is still wanting enough that a great rhythm game could make a huge impact, and summer tends to be a dead season for releases so anything worthwhile will instantly get more exposure. Well, Rhythm Thief ends up being a strong enough game to merit a look, thanks to a whole lot of charm and some strong ideas, but whether or not it needs to be in your 3DS is another matter altogether.

The story of Rhythm Thief follows a young man named Raphael, who leads a double life, moonlighting as the mysterious Phantom R, art thief and generally dashing scoundrel… though things are a little more complicated than that. As the game picks up, Raphael and his dog Fondue (yes, seriously) are on the trail of Raphael’s father, who left him several years prior, leaving only a strange gold coin behind. Raphael discovers that there is a bracelet on display at the Louvre that has the same symbol, and upon absconding with it, ends up bumping into a young woman named Marie, who possesses a violin with the same symbol. Oh, and she’s also being chased down by the supposedly reanimated Napoleon Bonaparte, who is looking for the Dragon Crown in hopes of using it to take over France. Rhythm Thief is interesting, from a plot perspective, as it feels like a somewhat more youthful Lupin the 3rd, but there’s an astonishingly large amount of character development here for many of the main and secondary characters. Yes, Raphael is basically invincible and Napoleon is basically playing Xanatos Gambits all over the place, and it’s all somewhat silly at times, but there’s some surprising depth to the sillyness and you can actually suspend disbelief reasonably well because everything is so ridiculous and it works. It’s not the best plot ever or anything, but it’s cute and surprisingly well rounded for what it is.

Rhythm Thief looks pretty solid on the 3DS, and it’s a very stylish game to boot. The game alternates between fully rendered 3D sequences for the rhythm games, animated cutscenes and hand drawn artwork for the adventure sequences, and they all come together and work well with one another. The adventure sequences are well drawn and look quite nice, and there’s a lot of variety between locations that adds to the personality of the game. The animated cutscenes look fantastic overall, and while there are some minor jagged edges here and there in the rhythm sequences, the animations are quite solid. The 3D effects are generally fine enough, but they can take some adjusting to when you’re playing the rhythm mini-games, and the fact that the game turns this off when you’re using the gyroscope features honestly makes one feel like the game is just easier to play without the 3D on altogether, sadly. The sound quality in the game is fantastic, largely due to an outstanding soundtrack that combines all sorts of musical styles together into a collection that’s dynamic, fitting and a lot of fun to listen to. The music is easily one of the best parts of the game, as the rhythm games match up to the tempo of the songs well and the tunes themselves are funky and infectious, in and out of the mini-games. The voice acting is also generally solid, and the actors and actresses do a fine job bringing their characters to life, though some of the voice acting A.) repeats and B.) is goofy for the minor characters, and the subtitles don’t always match up to what’s being said. The sound effects are also generally fine and work well, and as there are mechanics that make use of specific sounds, it’s positive that the sounds used are instantly identifiable and sound appropriate to what they’re supposed to be.

Rhythm Thief alternates between two gameplay types: navigating an overhead map across various locations around France to look for clues and information, and playing various rhythm-based mini-games. The adventure sequences are simple enough to play: you can move from one place to another using the D-Pad, and when in a location, you can simply tap the screen to interact with the area. Tapping the people you see around the area allows you to talk to them, and tapping points of interest allows you to interact with them as you’d expect. You can also tap on the occasional object that makes noise, which will add the sound to your sound collection if you don’t have it already, making it available for later. Some locations also have arrows that pop up to allow you to navigate to a new location, such as inside a building or to a different floor, and tapping them allows you to do so. Finally, randomly tapping the area can reward you with various collectibles, so simply tapping everywhere on the screen can be beneficial for collecting various hidden objects if you’re looking to unlock everything the game has to offer. The bottom right corner shows a little red arrow that allows you to use your sound recorder to play back sounds to solve some puzzles, and the upper right allows you to use your smart phone, to see what collectibles you’ve found and save your game as needed. These sections of the game are quite simple to work with, as the mechanics are very easy to understand and the game makes it fairly simple to know where to go next and what to do once you get to your destination.

Eventually, whether by following the plot or otherwise, you’ll stumble into a rhythm mini-game of some type or another, which falls into one of two categories. One type is a simple puzzle solving mini-game, where you’ll have to solve some sort of puzzle (obviously), but these often have rhythm elements, such as playing tones in ascending order, or finding the tones that match, or hitting a button in rhythm with the rest. These are fine, as they are generally inoffensive, easy enough to solve, and relatively cute. The more common type is the full-blown rhythm mini-game, which can be anything from dancing to outrunning cops to fighting off attackers to kicking a soccer ball back and forth to sword fighting to playing the violin to… well, you get the point. The rhythm games are all over the place, stylistically, and there’s quite a lot of variety to the games themselves, and there are some really crazy concepts to play with. The mechanics are generally pretty simple to understand, as most of the minigames work with drawing lines and circles on the touch screen, or pressing buttons and/or directions, with the odd gyroscope sequence thrown in, and they’re all easy to grasp… but as the game goes on, the challenge goes up quite a bit.

The scoring of the games is simple enough to understand, thanks to the Groove Gauge at the top of the screen. When you hit beats in a game successfully, the gauge goes up, a little for poor hits, and a lot for perfect hits. When you don’t, the gauge loses power. The amount you can increase the gauge is basically the same across each note you can hit, but the better you’re doing, the worse a failure affects you, and it’s easy to bottom out in a hurry if you’re not careful. You can mitigate this somewhat, however, by visiting the shop before each game. As you win rhythm games you’ll earn rankings for doing so, as well as medals based on your performance. Medals can also be found by randomly tapping the screen in new areas, in varying amounts. Regardless of how you earn them, however, they’re useful for a variety of different things, including the aforementioned shop prior to each minigame. You can buy powerups that allow you a one-time-only fail out on the song, or a decrease in how bad missed noted hurt you, or an increase in how fast you can fill the Groove Gauge, which can be quite helpful for passing those games that are a bit on the hard side. You can also use the medals to buy all sorts of other collectables as well, including the movies you’ve seen, minigames you might miss, and “Marathon Mode” versions of some games, which are exactly what they sound like: marathon endurance tests of some of the rhythm games.

You can get through the game in around seven to ten hours, depending on how much time you spend looking around for hidden items and how hard you find the minigames toward the end of the game, but there’s a lot to find in Rhythm Thief. Aside from the aforementioned medals, there are also sound discs you can collect by tapping everything you see, which unlock the various songs in the game for your listening pleasure. You can also use sounds you collect to upgrade the Master Instrument, a ridiculous looking horn looking thing that becomes more and more absurd as it evolves, or tap around looking for Phantom Notes, which allow you to build a large document when complete. Both of these add additional plot to the game, making them worth your time to find and complete. You can also unlock all of the rhythm games by playing them once or buying them with medals so that they can be played at any time, to upgrade your score or just goof off, and you can also play locally against friends, whether they have the game or not, as the game supports Download Play. There is a lot to Rhythm Thief, in terms of sheer content, and you could easily find that you’ll spend hours more with the game after it’s complete unlocking everything and goofing around with the minigames. Oh, and the game even includes homages to Space Channel 5 and Rub Rabbits, for Sega fans, so, what’s not to love?

Well… there are the gyroscope minigames, those are actually not to love. Now, it’s understandable that one might be tempted to put the gyroscope to good use, seeing as how it is a feature of the 3DS and all, but the gyroscope is not sensitive enough to be useful in a game based on rhythmic movements. Period. So when the odd minigame pops up that needs it, you’ll likely involuntarily groan, especially when it’s a plot-required minigame and you can’t come back to it later (or never). Further, several of the mini-games, such as fighting off Napoleon’s guards, ducking behind statues, kicking a soccer ball around and others, repeat themselves in the game. Granted, you can’t expect the game to have fifty completely original minigames given the complexity of the concepts relative to the simplicity of the gameplay, and when you stretch that, you get gyroscope hanglider games that are objectively terrible. Still, the repetition is noticeable and unfortunate given how imaginative some of the games are, especially when the game repeats non-storyline minigames. Finally, for as much fun as it is hunting for hidden items, tapping your touch screen like a madman every time you enter a new location feels silly as a method for unlocking content. It’s a cute idea but the execution for this could have been better, especially after the twentieth time you tap like crazy over a section a second time to see if any notes have popped up since the last chapter.

Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is, overall, a very fun, imaginative and stylish game that’s full of great ideas, and while there are some hiccups in the experiment, the overall product is pretty damn good. The storyline is surprisingly engaging given its somewhat simple execution, and the game looks and sounds outstanding, featuring lots of style and charm. The game is quite simple to play on a mechanical front, and it does a good job of easing you into things and offering you ways to get past even the hardest sections even if you’re not so good at the game in later sections. There is also a substantial amount of content to the game, including a lot of unlockables and multiplayer modes, so you’ll have reasons to come back to the game even once it’s completed. The gyroscope minigames are somewhat less than exciting, sadly, and the fact that there are repeated minigames and the hidden items require you to tap the environment a whole lot can get a bit tiresome at times. Taken in smaller doses, however, Rhythm Thief is a great deal of fun that’ll be worth the investment for Sega fans, rhythm game fans, and players who are just looking for something a little different. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is worth checking out

The Scores:
Story: GOOD
Graphics: GREAT
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure makes a strong mark as an IP to watch going forward, as it’s a good time that, while not without its flaws, is well worth adding to your 3DS collection. The plot is endearing and surprisingly strong, and the game looks and sounds wonderful, thanks to some excellent stylistic choices and a lot of care and attention where it matters. The game is simple to learn and understand but becomes progressively more challenging, while offering options to dull down the difficulty if things become a bit too hectic, allowing players of all skill levels to progress. Further, there’s a fairly substantial amount of content to find across the game, giving it a strong lifespan beyond its initial playthrough. The gyroscope based minigames are not particularly well implemented, sadly, and the repetition of some minigames combined with the “tap everywhere to find stuff” method of searching for hidden goodies can become frustrating later in the game. On the whole, however, Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is a charming, fun and enjoyable experience that’s sure to amuse genre fans and Sega fans alike, and it makes a strong argument to be a part of your library no matter who you are.


3 responses to “Review: Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure (Nintendo 3DS)”

  1. Crystal Steltenpohl Avatar

    I played the demo for this. I am not generally a big player of rhythm games but it was incredibly fun.

    1. Mark B. Avatar

      It’s funny, because the demo doesn’t show off the real creativity that comes up later in the game… but it also shows off the three mini-game types you’ll probably see the most often through the game, so it’s both not indicative and COMPLETELY indicative of the final product.

      1. Crystal Steltenpohl Avatar

        I may have to pick it up at some point. I could use some good games to add to my 3DS library. =)

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