It’s been a very long time coming, but after months of being in Japan and Europe Rhythm Thief has finally arrived on American shores. If the rumors of the game selling out are true, it seems to be a hit! But was this game worth the long wait? Will Phantom R’s musical escapades win you over or does it fall out of tune? Read on.
Rhythm Thief has a ton of style to it. It’s part Lupin the Third, several parts Professor Layton (for dummies) and a few parts of classic Sega rhythm games like Feel the Magic, Samba De Amigo and Space Channel 5. That last part is due to the game being directed by former Sonic Team member Shun Nakamura who also directed Samba De Amigo and ….. Sonic ’06?! Well, it’s still a good game regardless. The story takes place in Paris, France. A boy named Raphael was taken up the moniker of Phantom R. A master thief who steals great works of art only to return them later for reasons that baffle the police. Hot on his trail is Inspector Vergier and his child, Charlie. Phantom R is working on a mystery of his missing father who abandoned him as a small boy. He left Raphael with a coin that has a strange symbol that he later finds on a bracelet. He comes a across a girl with the same symbol on her violin. They find out their fates are similar as the violin was left to her by her mother whom she’s never met. It seems their symbols are related to a dragon crown that a villain who calls himself the resurrected Napoleon is after. This leads into a huge, musical adventure on the streets of Paris that’s incredibly charming and whimsical.
Both the story and the characters are fun and well thought out. Our hero is very nice and polite as Raphel and smooth as butter when dodging the police as Phantom R. Raphael’s dog, Fondue gets into just as much trouble as his master and loves to romance the local poodle. Marie is the sweet violin player who gets mixed up in Phantom R’s mystery. Vergier is a determined detective similar to Inspector Zenigata (of Lupin the Third fame) who’s determined to bring Phantom R to Justice. His…kid Charlie is also just as determined to capture Phantom R with some soccer ball attacks. Lastly, there is the main villain, Napoleon. Well, someone who claims to be Napoleon resurrected from the dead. He wants absolute power over France and the dragon crown along with Marie is the key to it all.
The graphics are pretty simple. When you are not looking at 2-D art on the bottom screen (which you’ll be doing a lot of), the game uses a cell shaded style to give the characters their anime look. It works well, but when half the gameplay on the top screen is just an overhead map, it makes me wonder if they wouldn’t have been better off making this a regular DS game which would give it a wider audience. Especially since the 3-D barely plays into it at all. That said, the character designs are pleasing and it works well for this type of game.
GameplayThese snippets of gameplay are from the Japanese version.
When not playing rhythm games, the game plays very much like Professor Layton only with puzzles that wouldn’t challenge a toddler. The top screen during your travels is used as your map while the bottom screen is where you talk to the locals or to poke around the scenery for hidden coins, sounds, CD’s or Phantom notes. This is important as you won’t unlock the secret chapters without collecting certain items. When I talk about the puzzles being simple, one has you needing to get past a security guard who’s scared of bulldogs. There just so happens to be a bulldog on the next block over on your map because there’s a big exclamation point showing you exactly where it’s at! You go to that part of the map, record the bulldog’s bark, go back, play it near the security guard and he runs off. Pathetically easy and there’s several times you’ll do something similar throughout the course of the game. The only puzzles I really enjoyed were the ones where you had to assemble some scrambled music notes into the right composition. Often I’d have to re-listen to the original composition to help get the music in order. It fits the tone of the game well and is at least slightly challenging.
My only other gripe is the amount of padding in this game. While playing the music mini-games is where the best part lies, you’ll end up playing about 75% of the game traveling along the map, talk to locals and poking around. You need to do this not only to move the story along, but there’s hidden rhythm games amongst the locals as well. While some of it is necessary and fun, often times it feels like the games is being padded out. Like a Peter Jackson film, Rhythm Thief is great but could do with some editing.
Now, onto the meat of the game, The rhythm mini games! They are awesome. They play out similar to Feel the Magic and have a variety of different styles and controls. One will have you playing a violin, one will have you romancing a poodle through synchronized eating while another might have you fighting off Napoleons’ guards. (All that training, and they get knocked over by one punch from a kid.) While some games may repeat throughout the course of the game and get harder, there’s still a good variety (50 games in all). There’s even some tributes to rhythm games of Sega’s past. Games such as Samba De Amigo, Space Channel Five and Feel The Magic. It’s a nice way to tribute Sega’s heritage. The only downside is the gyroscope games. Sega turns off the 3-D for these games and they end up being hard because they feel unnatural. One rhythm game has you dodging and weaving punchout style in a way that would have been much more preferred on the D-Pad. The only Gyroscope game that fit well was one involving a hang glider that had some analog movement. Outside of that, the rhythm games are fantastic except…the chef game! The bane of my existence! I’m sure it’s just me, but I had a really hard time getting the pacing of this mini game just right. You have to tap, hold then slide the food after it’s done cooking, but each piece of food takes a certain amount of time to cook and it’s easy to get thrown off when the cook quickly throws another piece of food at you just when you slide of the one cooking. There’s just something about it that doesn’t work well for me. I’ll give you a video to show you what I mean (this is NOT me playing BTW).
It may sound like I’m being negative but in reality, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Rhythm Thief tells a wonderful tale, is full of great characters and leaves me wanting more. I’m really hoping for a sequel since the ending is left wide open for one. While the puzzles can be very simple and it feels like it has a lot of padding to give the game it’s 6-8 hour campaign, in the end it’s the rhythm games that are the reason for picking this up and they do not disappoint. I’ve put almost 10 hours in and I‘m not done until I get an “A” rank on all the rhythm games. Especially since that’s how you unlock the last hidden chapter. If you’re a fan of games like Rhythm Heaven, Feel the Magic or Space Channel 5, Rhythm Thief is an absolute must buy.
– The Characters are well written and designed.
– The story is well done and engaging. Full of charm.
– The Rhythm games are the main reason to buy this and they do not disappoint.
– Oftentimes, the game feels padded out to meet the 6-8 hours common for a single player campaign.
– Puzzle games are too easy.
– The few gyro games are not fun and hard to control.
– Curse you chef game!!