Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure breaks out of the standard rhythm game mold. It seemingly aims to take the rhythm game fun players are so used to and inject it into the frame of a mystery/adventure game. The idea is sound – like mixing peanut butter and bananas on a croissant – but creates too conflicting tastes in my mouth.
With Rhythm Thief in the title, I expected a rhythm game. Turn on the game and you get swinging tunes. The tutorial introduces how the mechanics work: tap in time with the music. I got it, and I'm digging it. And each of the missions are different! The first had me swipe in different directions to strike poses. For the second, I had to choose colors in time with the music as they were presented on screen (Phantom R was hiding behind different colored statues, if you were wondering).
They continued to change, some requiring touch controls and others using the face buttons, but all were built around reacting in time with the music. You had to follow the rhythm. This felt great, and I enjoyed the extra thought put into the designs.
The title also includes various sound- and music-based puzzles. Those that I encountered were pretty simple: playback the audio in the order it was heard, à la the electronic game Simon; or identify the note that's different; or find the notes that are the same. The player is even tasked at times with remembering a particular sound, like gurgling water or a cat's meow, and finding and recording that sound later. This keeps the music-vibe going – it's clever.
Then we reach the rest of the game, the mystery/adventure part of the game. Leading up to, following, and in between each of these sound puzzles and rhythm game portions is something akin to a point-and-click adventure game of old. The player scrolls through dialogue, navigates along a pre-made path (which looks somewhat like a Mario Party board without the Monopoly elements), and searches scenes on the touch screen.
The dialogue isn't too terribly lengthy but may take up between three to ten minutes of time. Some portions are voiced (with hilariously stereotypical French accents) and some portions are beautifully animated. Navigating through environments can be a bit slow, since you generally have to stop at each location. There also doesn't seem to be much exploration; I never encountered very many branching paths or alternate routes – just a straight shot between the starting point and the destination with three or four stops in between. "Searching" means tap the lit button, talk to the guy on screen, or find the hidden gift for more coins.
This process is slow. At this point, I'm no longer grooving to the music. Instead, I'm reading a bunch of text and trying to follow a plot. The issue is that, as a player, I sat down to play a rhythm game. I enjoy the rhythm game. The rhythm game gets my blood pumping and my feet moving. Dialogue, searching, wandering – these are more cognitive processes and less impulses reactions. The two are disjointed and the balance is uneven. I can pass a rhythm portion in three minutes; I can solve an audio puzzle in thirty seconds; then there's ten or fifteen minutes of travel and exposition.
This doesn't mean that I dislike adventure games or dialogue. It's bouncing between the two that spoils the experience. The dialogue breaks my rhythm – and in a rhythm game, that's very meaningful. The two flavors just don't complement each other right.
Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure was developed by Sega and Xeen and published by Sega. For this post, I played for about 2 hours on the Nintendo 3DS.