"Has Swagger, But Not Quite Like Jagger"
The gaming industry is pretty starved for new and unique franchises. The publishers are more than willing to tap the same wells again and again, with Assassin's Creed becoming a yearly event, Street Fighter getting new iteration after new iteration with only minor tweaks, and New Super Mario Bros. no longer being "New" after four retro-styled 2D entries. So, any time a game comes out that isn't part of an existing franchise or an imitation of an existing game, it should get some benefit of doubt. Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure is such a game, offering a genuinely unique and compelling experience. Its world is so creative that it elevates the more formulaic game design underneath it.
If Rhythm Thief could be summed up as an "X meets Y" high concept, it would be "Elite Beat Agents meets Doctor Lautrec". Like the classic DS music game, Rhythm Thief has players tapping and sliding the touch screen to the beat as a means of somehow solving various tasks, from the mundane to the astounding. Like the not-so-classic 3DS game, this title also takes place in an anime-styled version of France and draws much of its appeal from its cultural context. However, Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure is much more creative and appealing in its use of the Paris setting. For one thing, the story revolves around a gentleman thief named Phantom R (the mild-mannered, bespectacled Raphael in his daily life), who fights with his little dog Fondue against an undead Napoleon Bonaparte to stop him from re-conquering France. Certainly "zombie Napoleon" should be enough to get peoples' initial interest.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard for rhythm games. You tap, hold, and slide across the touch screen in accordance with the music, and if you lose the beat enough times, you fail. The tasks represented by these rhythm mini-games vary wildly and entertainingly, from dodging well-meaning policemen to fighting off Napoleon's skeletal hordes, or battling a prepubescent wannabe detective in a game of soccer. Sometimes there are rhythm-based puzzles that involve memorizing certain sounds or sequences of sounds, and while these aren't terribly challenging, they offer a nice change of pace between missions. There's even an overworld connecting the different levels, where players can explore Paris and record the sounds of the city (which can be used later to unlock more areas of the city).
Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure has a lot of charm, but ultimately it's not that deep a game. The missions are engaging, but most of them boil down to just pushing the button in accordance with the background beat. The simple puzzle sequences don't do much other than break up the pacing, and the exploration boils down to little more than tapping different parts of the map screen in the hopes of unlocking something. This isn't a bad thing if you enjoy rhythm games, and Rhythm Thief has an excellent original soundtrack. It's just not excellent enough to elevate the game's enjoyable but rudimentary design of tapping when prompted by the beat.
GameDynamo's Score for Rhythm Thief and the Emperor's Treasure (3DS)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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