Sadly, the rhythm genre isn’t anywhere near as popular these days as it once was. When I heard news of Rhythm Thief’s release on the Nintendo 3DS, I found myself interested — it looked to be a fun game with a colorful art style, so I took note of it. When the demo was released on the 3DS eShop, I was ecstatic because it was, in fact, a fun game with colorful art and the music was excellent to boot.
All of this was only an introduction, giving only a glimpse into the true character of the game. If there is one thing to be said about Rhythm Thief, it’s that the game constantly changes things up — and not always in a good way.
You know that you’re in for a treat when the opening cutscene of a game features the resurrection of Napoleon Bonaparte. This scene sets the stage for the story of our protagonist, Raphael, better known as the eponymous thief, Phantom R. No matter what happens, and no matter how ridiculous it is (and it gets quite ridiculous near the end), Rhythm Thief plays it straight, with a sincerity that seems to be somewhat rare in today’s day and age.
Shortly after, the game throws you straight into the action with its first rhythm game, in which you follow your backup dancers by swiping and circling on the 3DS screen in time with their moves. While most control schemes in the game are fabulously responsive, including the swipes, the circle (activating a spin) can be somewhat dodgy at times, though you soon learn the correct technique. That really shouldn’t even be a problem. Sadly, the somewhat shoehorned gyroscope controls aren’t nearly as effective — appearing in a mercifully small number of minigames, they’re tolerable for the most part, but downright broken in one variant.
Possibly the most impressive part of the game is just how many different rhythm games there are: 47 games within the main story and three ulockable bonus chapters, with a total of about 23 basic game variations. Anything from the aforementioned dance-off to a gyro-based fistfight to Samba de Amigo (Not a minigame similar to Samba de Amigo, mind you, it is literally Samba de Amigo). Each game variety that reappears shows up again harder, better, faster (stronger?), allowing for more fun and greater challenge after the first, easier iterations have been mastered.
Accompanying the varied games is an equally varied soundtrack, containing styles differing as wildly as jazz, high-energy techno, and classical music. While some tunes (especially the jazz) are fantastic, others are quite forgettable, yet almost all of them carry the beat necessary to hit the necessary cues. Almost. As is often the case in this game, there is one rhythm game variant, spread across two iterations, to break up the party in which the optional guide is necessary to hit the cues.
Outside of the action, you find yourself running around the streets of Paris as Raphael (think larger and streamlined Phoenix Wright), interacting with the citizens and backgrounds to advance the story, discover secrets such as hidden music tracks, and unlock bonus rhythm games. Since the developers never seem to be able to stay consistent in Rhythm Thief, the search for treasure can become somewhat frustrating for a completionist — some are hidden well and in logical places (such as a street lamp), while other hidden objects may be found floating out in open space. Essentially, it boils down to jackhammering each scene with the stylus until everything has been uncovered.
In another fun twist, you’ll never have trouble figuring out what to do for long in the game, because the map always tells you exactly where to go. In a game where much of the overworld sections involve detective work, it’s a rather disappointing feature, especially considered that the guide within the rhythm sections may be turned on and off at will.
While the characters may eventually grow on you by the end of the game, a major barrier stands in the way: voice acting. It’s a shame that while many of the cutscenes are quite nice to look at, the voice acting is fairly mediocre across the board. To top it off, during moments in which text is accompanied by voices, the two often fail to match up. It’s absolutely ridiculous that, in this day and age, such simple and stupid mistakes could make their way through at a company as large as Capcom. It seems to be an indication of the care put into the game as a whole, really: while some parts are excellent, others are almost painful.
Despite my complaints, I must say that by the final act, the game absolutely gets itself together, making for one of the most enjoyable stretches of gameplay I’ve experienced in quite some time (for those curious, I’ll just say it begins shortly after guns show up).
If you’re looking for a game that continually amazes and astounds, Rhythm Thief is not your bag. However, if you want a fun and enjoyable experience that always keeps a refreshingly straight and earnest face in an age filled with growing amounts of cynicism, I’d say that this is just the game that you’re looking for. The game has some rough patches, though. Some really rough patches. Despite that, I would not hesitate to include Rhythm Thief as one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in quite some time. I put about seven hours in to beat the game, and I’ve more than doubled that trying to improve my scores and unlock bonus chapters. It’s a shame, though. With just a little bit more quality control, it could easily have become something amazing.
[+Plenty of variety] [+Responsive controls (mostly)] [+Good music] [+Excellent replay value] [-Lackluster voice acting] [-Overworld gameplay is mostly mindless] [-Almost every positive point has painful exceptions]