If there is one genre in particular that flourished during the reign of the original Nintendo DS, it was the adventure/puzzle hybrid. Uplifted by smash hits such as Ace Attorney and Professor Layton, both proved the platform was not only ideal for the occasional on-the-fly brain teaser (courtesy of Dr. Kawashima) but for more complex, over-arching mysteries too.
It may have taken more than a year for Nintendo’s latest handheld to get its first overseas adventure puzzler, but does Rhythm Thief live up to the high expectations grounded by its precursors, or will SEGA’s orchestral spin on the genre be met by a chorus of sighs?
Set in a flamboyant, hand-drawn depiction of Paris, Rhythm Thief follows the story of Raphael, a young man who leads a peculiar double-life. Donning the alias “Phantom R” he has become infamous throughout the capital, stealing prolific works of art by night only to return them the very next day. Unbeknownst to the Parisian constabulary is Raphael’s true motivation.
Just a few years prior to the events of the game, his father disappears, leaving a legacy of pilfering behind which Raphael stumbles upon; priceless artefacts and paintings stolen from museums and galleries, replaced by forgeries. Wanting to learn more of his father, Raphael sets about undoing his work, swapping the forgeries for the original national treasures, unearthing a sinister plot along the way.
Told mostly through dialogue boxes, there’s enough story-driven content to get your teeth sunk into, though optional conversations among NPCs add little to the narrative, attempting to inject a degree of vibrancy into otherwise gauzy bystanders. It may sound like an unusual complaint, though some will criticize how quickly the plot comes full circle; adventure puzzlers have a tendency to feel drawn out in places, though the sense of reward once the credits begin to roll is justified.
However, in Rhythm Thief the pieces of the puzzle appear to fall almost too quickly, as if forced; major characters come and go, as do plot twists and set pieces, all of which seem sudden with hardly any build-up, rarely leaving much impact on the player. Though its problems are mainly attributed to how the game is structured, there could have been more effort concentrated on generating likeable, worthwhile characters.[drop2]As the name suggests, Rhythm Thief isn’t your conventional puzzle game. Although it gives players access to an urban pseudo-sandbox, puzzles aren’t solved by gathering clues, exploring or bantering with NPCs. Instead players are either lumped with fairly straightforward fetch quests, or dropped into rhythm-based mini games.
Obstructing Raphael from his objectives in each chapter will be a number of pesky characters, usually consigned to the role of guards or awkward Parisian OAPs. In an almost formulaic manner, each one subtly informs the player of noises which will distract them and ultimately cause them to leave their post, opening way to the next area.
Using the in-game sound recorder (which isn’t as exciting as it sounds) players must locate people, animals or objects capable of emitting the desired sound. An old lady standing by the subway, for instance, is scared of mice, whereas a dutiful housemaid is susceptible to sound of sizzling steak.
It’s interesting at first, though the top screen navigator will always point out the exact location of what you’re looking for, sapping away any real challenge from the game. That said however, it’s hard to imagine the quest system would be any more enjoyable if players were forced to pan from screen-to-screen, searching all surrounding areas instead.
Luckily the rhythm games are an absolute treat ( in most cases anyway). Often reserved for the more action-oriented set pieces, these mini games demand a keen sense of timing with players responding to on-screen/audio prompts, matching each one with a correct button press or touchscreen gesture. The context of each rhythm-based game varies, though some appear more than once; unlocking doors, hiding from guards, violin recitals, rooftop chases and even impromptu dance sequences each having their own select tunes and tempos.
Similar to other titles such as Parappa the Rapper, the lengthy mini games are split into three parts that will gradually build up the pace, also adopting a persistent, grade-based score meter. Matching the correct inputs will rack up points with extra bonuses awarded for perfect timing and combos.
In-game performance is represented via a meter which will also begin to erode if button presses/gestures are out of sync or missed completely, triggering a game over screen if players drop below an “E”.
Your overall grade for each mini game is calculated by your position on the performance gauge once a mini game has ended which is unfortunate really; players can muster insane combos, not missing a beat for the first two rounds, only to be brought down towards the end of the sequence by a few awkward inputs.
In a way, Rhythm Thief is constrained by its own ambitions. It pines for the longevity and substance of a fully-fledge adventure game, though the snappy nature and brevity of its rhythm based sequences has forced the developer to pad out the rest of the game with filler.
It’s only when the game does away with the open environment and walls of text that it begins to come into its own, the penultimate chapter being a good example. Almost completely linear, it bombards the player with cutscenes and puzzles, making it by far the most enjoyable and consistent part of the overall experience.
The voice acting and dialogue waivers in a number of places, from the slightly under par to the downright poor, reaching out for every French stereotype along the way. In contrast, the accompanying audio is actually rather good; during the many rhythm games it accurately denotes when the player should respond, the actual backing tracks being quite catchy too.
Visually, Rhythm Thief does little to separate itself from rivals, though the hand-drawn environments and cast of animated characters still have a certain aesthetic charm. Cutscenes are certainly the highlight here, though the 3D function adds very little, either being too obstructive during rhythm sequences or not as integrated when it comes to the downtime inbetween.
- Mini games are a blast.
- Looks a treat.
- Extra content for those paying attention.
- Something different.
- 6-7 hours long.
- Feels nowhere near as meaty as some adventure games.
- Trapped between linearity and player freedom.
- Neglectful, diluted storytelling.
At just over six hours of content, Rhythm Thief will prove to be disappointing for some, even if the game does offer a number of bonus side missions. It excels where rhythm-based gameplay is concerned, though the accompanying portions lack the same level of interactivity, falling short in comparison.