Some gamers out there might think that the golden age of rhythm games have come and gone, with franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band a thing of the past. However, more astute fans of the genre may realize that the rhythm games are finally coming into their own. Instead of straight mechanics driven experience, more adventurous developers are branching out and experimenting with rhythm-based gameplay as part of a larger story-driven game. Take, for example, Sega's latest 3DS release, Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure – a game that relies entirely on structured mini games with rhythm-based mechanics to serve as the gameplay for the plot heavy story.
To get the story going, Raphael, the game's main protagonist, is living in the wake of his father's mysterious disappearance three years earlier, leaving him to fend for himself on the streets of Paris. Fortunately, he has done rather well as his alter ego, the Phantom R, is one of France's most notorious criminals – targeting high value pieces of art and items of historical note. The Phantom R's criminal streak is less malicious than anything else, as he usually returns the items after investigating them in the hopes that they may help Raphael figure out what happened to his father. The only connection he has to his dad is a coin that bears an odd insignia that seemingly connects it to some of the highest profile people, places and things all over Paris, and the Phantom R is the chosen one to solve the mystery of what ties everything together. The story takes some nice twists and turns, and ends up being a bit more than you might expect from a 3DS game like this. With relatively well-crafted cutscenes, and a good amount of humor injected into the dialog, Rhythm Thief does of a solid job of giving you a reason to want to know what happens next.
In order to solve the mystery, Raphael must follow the clues and avoid or defeat everyone and anything that gets in his way. The gameplay in Rhythm Thief revolves around a series of rhythm-based mini-games that can have the Phantom R doing everything from kicking soccer balls to fighting Napoleon (yeah, he's the "Emperor" in the title). There's a nice variety of games here, each with their own touch or button pressing mechanics that task the player with keeping in time with the music that's playing. It's one part Rhythm Heaven, one part Elite Beat Agents, and one part Professor Layton... but with a Parisian twist. Fortunately, all of those games combined somehow mixes to make a pretty enjoyable experience.
Rhythm Thief isn't perfect though; there are a couple of design flaws that hold the game back a bit, and occasionally even make it feel tedious. The biggest misstep is the game's over-world map, which basically allows you access to all of the key landmarks in Paris, as well as the occasional interior of certain buildings. Ultimately it wouldn’t be a huge problem, but every time Raphael moves from point to point on the map a new scene needs to load, and along with that new scene comes potential conversations, hidden coins or collectables, and even new mini-game opportunities – in other words, it's really easy to get distracted. In addition to that, some of the mini-games can really ratchet up the difficulty as you work your way through the story, and this could stifle some of the less rhythmic gamers out there. Fortunately, you can purchase items at the top of each game to help you work your way through them – otherwise you're just playing them over and over until you eek out a passing grade.
Rhythm Thief takes a little bit from this game and a little bit from that game and produces just about what you would expect from a game that borrows so much from other titles. That's not to say it's a bad game, the developers at Sega did a great job of blending everything into one cohesive experience; just don’t expect something too new or original from the game. It's a good way to pass the time if you doing mind tapping your 3DS in time with the music, but for anyone that has already has an aversion to rhythm games, you might want to look elsewhere from something a little more your speed.