Game Review

Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

It’s got the rhythm

The early part of 2012 has brought us some blockbuster titles on 3DS that, in their own way, involve plenty of tension and shooting enemies. Perhaps it’s time to sit back and indulge in something a little more off the wall and unexpected, and Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure certainly fits the bill. Despite the danger of the rhythm game genre leading to a mediocre, disposable title, SEGA has succeeded in producing a game with an irrepressible beat.

Much of what makes this title succeed is down to its character, self-confidence and refusal to take itself seriously. Protagonist Raphael is a polite teenager who, with a simple removal of his glasses and the donning of a snazzy hat, becomes the renowned – or perhaps notorious – Phantom R, a fugitive art thief. Never without his charming sidekick dog Fondue, he travels around beautifully recreated locations in Paris meeting characters along the way, most notably the talented violinist Marie. The storyline involves a former French Emperor being brought back from the dead and trying to procure treasure that will give him the power to retake France in the current day: bonkers but enjoyable.

The storyline is entertaining to the point that it’s capable of holding your interest, but the experience of this title is ultimately all about rhythm-based mini games. Like titles such as Rhythm Heaven on DS, your task is to complete various musical stages by tapping and swiping your stylus, as well as occasional use of buttons and the system’s gyroscope. The stylus and button controls are responsive and accurate, avoiding the potential pitfalls of lagged input responses. With clear and easily understandable prompts for each beat, these stages are enjoyable and immaculately constructed.

The gyroscope controls, however, are a mistake. It feels like the levels with gyroscope inputs were included simply because the functionality is available, and they are typically awkward and unresponsive, with the speed of movement not suiting a dual-screen system with a loose screen hinge, for instance. We’re thankful that only a small number of the 50 rhythm stages use motion controls in this way, as they detract from the otherwise exceptional controls.

There’s also a problem with the scoring, which applies a grade from A to E. The quest for A grades can be a frustrating business, as it’s possible to accumulate a big score and hover on an A grade for 90% of a song, only to make a couple of mistakes and tumble to a C. It’s harsh and uncompromising, with some in-game objects available to buy to ease the pain slightly: the grades should have been based on score alone, as the existing system means that you can achieve a higher score than before but still get a lower grade. Not game-breaking, but irritating nevertheless.

These rhythm sections are interwoven into basic elements of exploration and puzzle solving. The story mode is broken up into ten chapters, with each lasting around an hour if you’re playing relatively quickly, and it’s not just a case of going from one rhythm challenge to the next. You explore different areas of Paris, albeit in a linear fashion, by walking between screens. On each screen there’s often a character to talk to, and there are also a lot of hidden items to find, ranging from coins which serve as currency, to soundtrack clips and side-mission objects. It’s basic hidden-object gameplay, blindly tapping everywhere on the screen to find items: it can be redundant, but is also strangely addictive. It may be a contradiction, but extra goals of finding items to unlock bonus content may draw you in, and it’s also a simple style of play that will suit children: it’ll also feel like a familiar practice to fans of the Professor Layton series.

Beyond tapping every square millimetre of each area, there are objectives to follow that advance the story. The typical process is to travel to a landmark, such as the Louvre, and the storyline will take you into a new, one-time area where you repeat the object hunting and rhythm games. These sections will throw up an occasional music or rhythm-themed puzzle, but there are unlimited attempts and they are never challenging. Although some will wish for more difficulty in the puzzles, they serve the purpose of adding variety to your activities.

While basic puzzles and hidden objects play their part, the memorable moments all revolve around the rhythm sections, so it’s a relief that the – mostly – tight controls are complimented by exceptional music. With the exception of a gorgeous violin performance of a piece of well-known classical music, the soundtrack features original tracks that impress throughout with catchy beats and high production values. While the 3DS speakers are competent, this is a game above all others on the system that fundamentally has to be played with headphones. The quirky, off-beat nature is also perfectly portrayed by cel-shaded visuals, with some attractive animated sequences used for storytelling. The 3D effect is unnecessary – it’s even disabled in gyroscope sections – but does add vibrancy to the environments and animations. For a title so reliant on its presentation, especially sound, Rhythm Thief hits its mark impressively.

While the story mode and its various side missions and collect-a-thons will take over ten hours to finish, there are some extras to add value to the package. It’s possible to repeat all rhythm challenges that you unlocked in story mode in order to chase high scores, while you unlock the Hard setting by beating the campaign. Marathon mode poses the greatest challenge, taking the four prominent rhythm styles and setting them up in punishing long routines, best suited to the most musically talented players. A gallery, meanwhile, will allow you to listen to the soundtrack, watch the storyline movies bought in game and access three short bonus chapters, all of which are unlockable in story mode for those with enough persistence. For families sharing a game card, there are three profiles to go around.

The final options are multiplayer, which include local and StreetPass options. If you have a friend with a copy you can choose levels to play together, competing to get the highest score. There are also three stages available for Download Play, if you only have one cart, but the limited options mean that it’s unlikely to be used often. StreetPass, meanwhile, takes an opponent's score for you to challenge, with a victory earning you a ‘fan’ on the streets of Paris. We haven’t accumulated enough hits or fans to see the pay-off, but it’s a decent if unspectacular addition.


Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure is a title overflowing with charm and verve, with a style that can entertain children and adults alike. It has a couple of missteps, the biggest of which is the occasional use of gyroscope controls, while simple puzzles and missing object searches don’t quite match the title’s overall quality. It’s the audio-visual presentation and stylus/button-based rhythm challenges that steal the show, representing some of the finest beats in the genre. It may not be perfect, but musical gamers with some groove to share should certainly consider a trip to Paris with Phantom R.

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User Comments (43)



FonistofCruxis said:

I'm hoping to get it for my birthday next week and look forward to playing it as it looks awesome! It got 88% in ONM.



ThePove said:

I'm hoping I can find it easily, surely it should be with it being SEGA already checked local ASDA but nope. They did say that they get new releases on fridays so fingers crossed.



mamp said:

First time I saw this I knew this was trying to have a professor layton feel to it and I was totally right.



Wildvine53 said:

Nice review, July seems so far away now.
I can't wait to play this, and I'm glad to see the 3DS is host to a few great Rhythm games.



ThomasBW84 said:

@mamp Bear in mind I was saying that the hidden object element would be familiar to Layton fans, but the overall experience has a different vibe: the developers did an excellent job in making the game imaginative and fun, and it certainly isn't a puzzle game.

Just to clear that up right away



mamp said:

it feels like Professor Layton but with rhythm games replacing puzzles it kinda has that layton-esque animation style. I also heard just like in Layton where people ask you to solve puzzles for them in this game they usually have some task that involves rhythm games. I heard you also find coins not for hints but to buy stuff. Plus professor layton and the... Rhythm Thief and the... IDK when I first saw this game it just seemed to have some similar features I'm not saying it's a rip off or anything like that if anything I really want this game.



Takosuke said:

Normally I loathe these sorts of games (well, be loath I mean 'suck at'), but I really enjoyed the demo for this.



Kitsune_Rei said:

I'd been looking forward to this game, glad to see it well-reviewed other than a few small hiccups. Although now with so many games seeing June-July release dates, its making it a harder decision on what to get now and what to wait on.



misswliu81 said:

i really hope the sales of this game help SEGA considering the financial troubles they are having at the moment. they need a hit on their hands, and this one might be it.

the concept looks imaginative, original and fun. can't wait to pick this up!



WolfRamHeart said:

Very nice review Thomas. I am pretty excited about this one. I wish that it was already out here in the US. I can't wait to pick it up.



Sneaker13 said:

Mine is on it's way. Should be arriving tomorrow. Can't wait. The demo really convinced me.



Smashbro99 said:

YES! Glad to see I was right in calling it a love child of Rhythm Heaven, Layton, and Elite Beat Agents (My 3 all time favorite DS games).



accc said:

The more I read about this game, the more I can't wait to play it. It's like Rhythm Heaven meets Professor Layton. What's not to love?



BenAV said:

Good review.
This one goes on my 'maybe pick up some day if it's cheap' list.



Objection said:

Still 9 weeks away for NA, dag.
Not that this is a day one for me, but I am interested.



James said:

@mamp Ahh, so it's like Layton in that people ask you to do things for them (rhythm games, not logic puzzles) and it's animated Got it!



BJQ1972 said:

I feel guilty about not buying this, because I think it's important to support games like this to ensure that they get made in the future - but I just can't get away from the feeling that it will drop in price very quickly, and so in a couple of weeks I'll be able to pick it up for 15GBP.



ImDiggerDan said:

Just bought this after playing the demo. I never would have even considered it without having played the demo.

Let that be a lesson to you, Nintendo! Demos are good! Now, just let me get a demo of Digger Dan on the eShop....



dario86 said:

Great game! Rhytm Thief may become my favorite rhytm game after Parappa the Rapper!^^ Here in Italy the game is avaiable now and I'll buy my copy asap! :3



Henmii said:

Nice review and nice score! Might pick it up someday. The demo was fun.



CanisWolfred said:

I might pick this up somewhere down the line, but rhythm games aren't really my thing.

@mamp - First logic puzzles, now rhythm minigames. It's likethey're trying to come up with good, charming games I'll never be able to play.



CapedGodot said:

Dunno, it looks similar to what Elite Beat Agents was, and I liked that. I may pick this one up, if I have any money left after the next few releases.



cc-plus said:

The rhythm demo was a little on the easy side but I'm glad they let you hide the EBA circles which made things a bit trickier. Hard mode sounds great as well. Looking forward to getting this some day. It was a very charming and stylish game.



OldBoy said:

Demo was great. The music was fantastic. I'll definitely be picking this one up now.Its has the silliness that is missing from a lot of today's games. Keep those demo's coming Nintendo.



Ducutzu said:

I have the game and I must applaud this review. It really gives you an idea about what this game is like - instead of being a vehicle for the reviewer's attempts at cleverness. It also manages to convey what is the intended audience of this game.



wariowarewolf said:

@OldBoy You like silliness, rhythm games and fantastic music, then? Pick up a copy of Rhythm Paradise on DS (at least that's what it's called here in the UK) for all three!



emiru69 said:

I just tried the demo and I love it! I'm not really into rhythm games but the gameplay is so much fun and the main character has so much personality! without even talking just posing! ^_^



gamerchick_22 said:

This and Pokemon Black 2 are the MAIN ones i'm waiting for, everything else can take the backseat!!!



gamerchick_22 said:

i'm up to R30 and i'm now stuck. it's a great game, but i'm finding the game to be a little unresponsive to the buttons.

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