Game: Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure
Release date: 2012
A few of the words I'd use to describe Sega's Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure: Ambitious, disappointing, dramatic (sometimes overly so), ridiculous and sweet. Oh, and tedious. Yes, tedious. As much as I hate to admit it, and as much as I enjoyed the Rhythm Thief demo, I found playing through the "real deal," so to speak, to be a chore.
That's not to say this Xeen-developed 3DS title failed to bring a smile to my face. On the contrary, I found certain aspects of it to be both charming and fun. The art style, for instance, is appealingly colorful and pleasant (although it appears a bit "cheap" at times). Rhythm Thief's funky, jazzy soundtrack--which harkens back to that of another Sega property, Space Channel 5--could be described in similarly positive terms. Also, it features the most unique array of control schemes I think I've ever encountered in a portable game.
So, why did I suggest in the first paragraph of this review that Rhythm Thief was disappointing and a "chore"? For starters, although the game is admirably ambitious, its many "pieces" never quite came together for me. You know how various folks have described this release as being "Professor Layton meets Space Channel 5"? Well, that's exactly what it is, at its core. Unfortunately, the mash-up just doesn't come together as well as I'd hoped it would.
Chiefly responsible for this, in my mind, is its story--or, rather, its ratio of story to rhythm games. If I were to guess what said ratio was, I'd say it's about 75-25 in favor of the game's story, and in the end it was just too much for me. I have to say, though, that I think I would have found Rhythm Thief to be a bit trying even if the ratio were closer to 50-50, as the story here--which is set in Paris and involves, among other things, a young guy who's leading a double life as an art thief and an older one who claims to be Napoleon--isn't all that engaging. Or at least it wasn't to me.
Another aspect that failed to engage me: The game's Layton-esque exploration element, or lack thereof. You're rarely at a loss for where to go or what to do next while playing Rhythm Thief, as the next plot point's quite literally pointed out to you (often by a big magenta exclamation point, no less). This game steals ideas from the aforementioned Level-5 series in other ways, too, although I think it would've been better off if its developers had refrained from doing so. In particular, the random tapping of background images--required to find medals (which allow players to buy items than can make difficult mini-games a bit easier), pieces of music and hidden scores--injects an additional layer of annoyance into a title that was annoying enough already.
Finally, it has to be said that although most of Rhythm Thief's mini-games are amusing, "have their heart in the right place" and all that jazz, a good number of them are downright broken due to awkward controls. (In fact, one particular mini-game nearly prompted me to give up on my playthrough altogether.) And even when they don't feel broken, they're often unforgiving to an unbelievable degree. All of which is too bad, as Rhythm Thief's best mini-games easily call to mind those found in such classics as Samba de Amigo and Space Channel 5.
Are those brief, shining moments--along with the others mentioned earlier--enough for me to recommend this quirky mutt of a release to anyone but the most diehard of Sega fans? (Do such people even exist anymore?) To be frank, no, they aren't. I guess if you can find a copy that's cheap enough, it may be worth picking up if you're really into rhythm and/or Professor Layton-ish games, but even then I have a feeling it's more than likely to disappoint.
See also: Previous 'Great Gaymathon' posts