The 3DS hasn't exactly been bursting with quality titles since its launch. We've had a handful of remakes and few decent sequels, but not a lot of must-own titles. Kid Icarus: Uprising is probably the only game I'd place in that category. In fact, that and Mario Kart 7 are the only two titles I've been willing to let rot on my shelf for months after release despite having the option of selling them off for fresh experiences. I can see myself going back to either of them at any point, which is more than I can say for most games that come out today.
So, the new title on the chopping block is Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure. As a big fan of rhythm games and goofy acts of thievery (I'm looking at you, Lupin III), Rhythm Thief has been on my radar for months. However, it seemed as though it was constantly getting pushed back (or my store's previous release dates were inaccurate, which is totally plausible), so I likewise pushed it to the back of my mind. I even picked up Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy to sort of fill the void that Elite Beat Agents left in my heart so long ago, but ultimately, I just couldn't get into it. While it is a fantastic little rhythm game (that I desperately hope they will make more of), I simply don't have the Final Fantasy experience to enjoy it (I've played a ton of the spin-off titles, but my time with the numbered games is limited mostly to FF7).
Of course, now that Rhythm Thief is on the scene, I can finally sink my teeth into a music-based game that doesn't require that I have 25 years of prior gaming experience to enjoy.
Before I begin talking about my feelings for the game thus far, let me take a moment to NOT recommend the demo available on the 3DS Shop. I tried it the day it hit the network and it almost made me want to pass on the full release. While it does give you a taste of the first three rhythm sections, these are not a good measure of the game's charm. They're presented in a sparse menu with no story context provided, which is a pretty key part of having fun with the experience. There's a ton of variety in the rhythm segments as well as Professor Layton-esque puzzle solving, but the demo does neither of these aspects any justice. By the way, I'd highly recommend you turn off the guides for each stage (this goes for the full game as well). They seem like they'd make it easier, but they just give you another thing to watch and throw off your timing really bad. Maybe they help some people, but I found that it made the difference between failing a level with it on and getting an A when turning it off.
Alright, now that that's out of the way...
As I just mentioned, Rhythm Thief is part Professor Layton and part dancing theivery. Yeah. I can't pinpoint a good title to reference to fully capture the essence of what the rhythm segments in the game are like, but the closest I could probably get is Rhythm Heaven. If you've played that game before, you know that while it involves a basic use of the touch screen for each mini-game, each one is pretty different in the way it's presented. Rhythm Thief follows suit. You'll be doing a lot of tapping and swiping to the beat, but the story mode changes it up in some pretty cool ways. One of my favorites so far is in a segment where you play violin and have to slide the stylus back and forth to do so. Some of the mini-games even ask for you to switch to button inputs, which is pretty cool. I certainly think games that use strictly touch controls can be good (Kirby Canvas Curse and WarioWare Touched are shining examples), but in a game like this where you have plenty of downtime between mini-games so it's not terribly frustrating or inconvient to have to put the stylus away for a minute.
I also recall playing one motion-sensitive mini-game so far, which I have mixed feelings about. The concept was fun, but I had trouble making the game register my movements correctly. It was an optional one and I haven't given it another shot now that I understand the range of movement, so I'll let it slide for now.
When the game isn't having you leap across rooftops to escape the fuzz or shake maracas in a delightful Samba de Amigo throwback (which did make fantastic use of the motion controls for posing, now that I think about it), you're scouring the streets of Paris for clues about your father's disappearance. It's not an especially complex story from what I've seen so far, but it gets the job done. Although I don't love Raphael the way I had hoped I would and I scratch my head everytime someone he knows doesn't recognize him in his lazy "Phantom R" getup (or even when people that know of Phantom R don't recognize him when he's sneaking into the constabulary in broad daylight), I do find myself getting into the story at times. If you can get past his somewhat bland character and suspend your disbelief when he outsmarts everyone by wearing dorky glasses and pushing the hair out of his eyes, there are some pretty enjoyable (albeit cliche) moments to the game. One part that really had me smiling was when Phantom R saved the female lead Marie from Napoleon's goons (which, by the way, remind me a lot of the spiky-fingered assassins in Lupin III's Castle of Cagliostro).
The majority of gameplay is spent talking to people on the streets and occasionally solving puzzles using recorded sounds. For example, there's a professor you need to speak with, but oddly enough, during class is the only time he DOESN'T sleep. So, like the respectable E-rated thief that you are, you must wake him from his standing slumber in the middle of the road rather than rob him blind. To do so, you must have tapped (touched? neither word makes this sound appropriate) a rooster to record the sound of it crowing in order to play it back and make the man think it's time to wake up. And considering the rooster was to be found on the screen prior to the one with the man sleeping, that's one of the more difficult challenges I've faced. While the recored sound mechanic is kinda cool on paper, it fails to create especially difficult puzzle situations when most of the sounds needed for a particular challenge are on the same screen as the NPC that needs to hear it. What's worse is all the non-sound related puzzles, which usually boil down to entering numeric codes in various locks. All of these are pretty quick and easy thanks not only to the required code being handed to you right before the puzzle starts, but because they also post it up on the top screen while you're managing the lock.
I'm about two hours in and the puzzles haven't really gotten much more complicated than that, but I've been told they do get more difficult, so I'll leave my gripes at that. To be fair, I have been pretty thorough with my pixel hunting on scenery (just as in Professor Layton, you can tap the shit out of everything to get paid), so it's unlikely that I've missed any sounds that may have been for puzzles that otherwise would have stumped me. I really like the idea behind using the sounds to affect the world around you, but most of the time it just feels like the game is holding my hand really tightly and mentioning the name of the exact item I need to find over and over again each time a puzzle arises. As for the number locks...come on, at least put them somewhere more creative than on a post-it note next to the safe. You know, I think I'd be able to stomach the complete lack of competence from the police force if the game took it a little less seriously. I'd enjoy the inspector's character more if he was more goofy like Zenigata as opposed to being a tough guy cop that's too busy doing his job poorly to spend time with his son (or at least, if the rest of the game matched the seriousness he exudes).
Rhythm Thief has a lot of cool stuff going for it. None of it is anything fantastically original (seemingly Lupin-inspired in story and Layton-inspired in adventure gameplay), but the mini-games are fun and the story is a lighthearted bit of fun. It does feel very storybook-like and aimed toward children, but the gameplay can be pretty challenging at times so it's probably worth a look if you're into music-based games. The soundtrack is pretty solid and compliments the stages well. There's also a handful of stuff to unlock, including optional levels (which can be happened upon during story play or bought later if missed, as I understand it) and optional story chapters that expand upon some of the side characters a bit more. I'll likely finish the game up and give the side stories a shot, but in the end, I can't see Rhythm Thief sticking to my shelf for long after I've completed it. I'd definately recommend it if you're looking for something a little different, but I do have a feeling it's mostly going to be forgotten after a few months have passed.