IGN Preview of Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure
Without a doubt, Rhythm Thief will prove to be one of the oddest 3DS titles released this spring. Focusing on a young thief named Raphael's quest to find his father, the game mixes touch-based puzzles, beat-based challenges and map-based exploration to create an experience that feels mildly disjointed, yet calls upon some of the ideas of another franchise - Level-5's Professor Layton.
Much of your time in Rhythm Thief is spent between the game's most entertaining and engaging tasks, solving simple brain teasers or hitting buttons to music. The majority of your time is spent wandering the streets of Paris, talking to various residents, learning more about the city, and generally uncovering clues that slowly unfold the game's story. Between conversations, you'll be able to click around the static scenery with your stylus, searching for collectible coins or sounds that can be redeemed for various non-essential items.
By and large the game has the same laid-back feel of a Layton game, though Level-5's puzzler has a more seamless feel, while Thief's musically-inclined gameplay is slightly more jarring. You'll want to get back to the music rather than hearing more semi-boring, semi-historical facts. Anime-styled cutscenes round out the package, serving as bridges between some of the more significant moments in the game, which include the apparent resurrection of the Emperor Napoleon.
Below are clips from some of the more significant types of interactive elements. Though there are more than these four concepts, there are mini-games that will repeat these exact ideas.
So far the puzzles in Rhythm Thief are pretty basic and very forgiving. Don't expect too much difficulty here. In fact one puzzle didn't seem to have any punishment for getting a sequence wrong, despite the fact that Raphael was attempting to hack a security panel. These gameplay moments are certainly the rarest in the game. Expect to spend far more time wandering maps, talking to residents and timing button presses to music.
This is by far the most basic challenge you'll encounter. Raphael is typically being chased, and you have to hit buttons set to music. In this case you're just pressing one button at set intervals, but there are other games where you'll alternate between two. Nothing too complicated here.
The above video is conceptually the same as Rhythm Thief's very first challenge. Set to music, you'll slide your stylus in the indicated direction. A ring around the arrow is the best way to time your actions, though watching the music and characters can also be effective.
Of all the puzzle concepts so far, Raphael's attempts to evade security by posing behind statues are by far the best. Four poses are displayed on a touch pad, each with its own color. On the top screen you'll see Raphael running toward a statue, and either through a color indication or simply recognizing the statue's pose, you press the necessary button. The timing between the visuals, commands and music really line up well here. In some ways Rhythm Thief wasn't too impressive until these mini-games started to appear.
Rhythm Thief isn't due out for a couple months, and it remains to be seen if the core single-player experience can keep a strong pace throughout its entire life. When the music is playing, the game is reasonably lively, but the fact that some of the tasks repeat is a bit concerning. Likewise when those mini-games aren't happening, and when Raphael is simply wandering the streets, the game slows down in a odd way. It's similar to Professor Layton, but that franchise's concept allows for that type of transition. And the Layton storylines are far better. Time will tell if a more complete Rhythm Thief experience will smooth over some of its inconsistency. The individual elements work well, and have been fine in other games, so it will be interesting to experience the final product.
Rich is an Executive Editor of IGN.com and the leader of the IGN Nintendo team. Follow his ridiculous adventures through MyIGN and Twitter. Keep it cool, Koopalings.