TGS 2011: Rhythm Thief & the Emperors Treasure hands-on preview

Sega has a fine tradition of stylized music games, with Space Channel 5 and Samba de Amigo coming to mind, plus the company had recent success with the cute/unnerving Project Diva in Japan. Now the publisher is turning its musical ear to a whole new series, one that promises international flavor, mysterious disappearances, damsels in distress, and smooth beats. Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure (a title that begs to the first in a series) was playable for the first time at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, where we put it through its paces.

Our demo opened with a brief animated scene at a French museum of some sort where the guards are in a tizzy over the vanishing of Napoleon’s coffin, which looks to be in the hands of the game’s shadowy villain. We then cut to Raphael, the title’s hero, as the young man changes from his nerdy, Clark Kent-ish disguise into the gentlemanly Rhythm Thief of Tokyo. He seems to only steal to get clues to his missing father’s whereabouts, which have something to do classic art being kept in French museums. He’s accompanied by his dog Fondue, who may be the cutest canine sidekick since Ghost Trick’s Missile.

After the quick transformation into an outfit reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video, Raph says, “It’s Showtime,” which apparently means it’s time to dance on the streets of Paris with two similarly dressed chaps. This is how we’re first introduced to the rhythm game elements, as we flick the stylus on the touchscreen in multiple direction to match the movements of our fellow dancers. It was pretty similar to Elite Beat Agents, which is hardly a bad thing.

Don’t let the introductory minigame fool you; like any classy rogue, Rhythm Thief looks to have more than a few tricks up its sleeves. After exploring Paris some and talking to the locals, it was time for the next round of minigames, which got pretty varied. One involved sneaking through a museum at night and using the stylus to strike the pose of whatever statue you were hiding behind. Another involved breaking a lock with a color and timing based puzzle.

We saw footage of some later levels that appear mix things up even more, such as one with Raphael jumping from rooftop to rooftop via timed presses of the A and B buttons. Two others we saw in the trailer focused on using the using the tilt functions of the 3DS, as Raphael ducked attacks and Fondue moved to catch food being thrown to him. One more alternately used the D-pad and A button to punch out incoming foes. So if you mistakenly thought Rhythm Thief was a dancing game based on early footage, it looks to be much more than that.

With a plot that promises intrigue, suspense, and lovely anime cutscenes, we were reminded of Miyazaki’s Lupin film Castle of Cagliostro, which is high praise indeed. Though it certainly looks like Sega is trying to make its own Professor Layton with this release via replacing logic puzzle with timing and music minigames, it looks like it might be good enough to make a name for itself. It’s planned for early next year, and by then we’ll see if Rhythm Thief & the Emperor’s Treasure can keep of the variety of minigames to hold our interest for a full game.

Sep 20, 2011

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