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'Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure' misses a beat

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- "Rhythm Thief & the Emperor's Treasure" for Nintendo 3DS is quite an homage.

It's "Professor Layton" with a dash of "Rhythm Heaven" and sports a vibe that's a mixture of "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Lupin the Third." It combines what makes those -- two of my favorite game and animated series -- so successful.

This, along with the stylized atmosphere, beautiful soundtrack and gorgeous animation and art style, should make for a great game, and for the most part, it does. Unfortunately, "Rhythm Thief" is a bit boring.

The game takes place in Paris and stars a boy named Raphael, a normal boy by day but the art thief Phantom R by night. Raphael's father has gone missing and he's using the only clue he has to track him down: a coin left behind by his father. Raphael's mission leads him to discover a centuries-old conspiracy, befriend the mysterious orphan Marie and butt heads with someone who claims to be the real Napoleon Bonaparte.

If that all sounds convoluted, that's because it is. "Rhythm Thief" has a good plot and mystery, but it's extremely silly and very Japanese. Still, that doesn't stop it from being a fun and enjoyable ride. No, it's the gameplay that does that.

The gameplay of "Rhythm Thief" is broken down into musical minigames. You'll have to slide, bop and rub your stylus through about 50 of these.

While there is quite a variety to the games themselves, it doesn't stop the execution from becoming tedious. No matter how it's presented, you're always going to be flicking or tapping your stylus to beats. While this is fun at first, it gets to the point where it's not very enjoyable.

The game does sometimes break this up and tasks you with using the face buttons or even gyroscopic controls, though the latter leads to some irritation and unresponsiveness.

On top of this, the grading system is completely bonkers and unpredictable. If you can manage to barely get through the first half of a minigame but finish well enough, you can easily snag yourself an A. However if you've made excellent progress but hit a few snags before the finish line, you'll be bumped down to a C.

When you're not completing "Rhythm Heaven"-esque challenges to progress, the "Professor Layton" side of the game comes into play. You'll navigate the City of Lights and try to complete bonus challenges. This includes recording sounds to help an inventor build a unique instrument, searching for phantom notes and tapping the background to find hidden medals, which allow you to make the minigames a little easier."Rhythm Thief" is definitely not a bad game. It oozes style and charm and is definitely worth your time if you're a fan of either "Layton" or "Rhythm Heaven." Just wait until it hits the bargain bin to snag it.


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