Thumper is a self-proclaimed "rhythm violence game" and has you controlling a little silver space beetle which you guide down a lane dodging obstacles in time to the music, either on-screen or in VR. As you fly down the track there are obstacles in your way, although the controls are simple and you can dodge danger with single button press. Simple does not mean easy, however, and timing when to jump, land, hit the notes and turn your beetle is half the battle.
The distinguishing characteristic of Thumper is its speed. When you say a game is fast, people prepare for a certain level of speed, but you'd wouldn't necessarily prepare yourself for this. This is especially true in the later levels (there are nine throughout), splitting into between 20 and 30 checkpoints each.
There are even bosses, with mid-level challenges usually taking the form of different shapes at the end of the track, and you have to hit green notes in sequence in order to activate a final attack, and this has to be repeated four times for each boss. Final bosses, however, take the form of a giant skull-like monster at the end of the track which gets more and more ferocious each time you face it (if it's the same monster).
Throughout these levels you are always searching for the perfect audio mix. Executing all the obstacles flawlessly will sound pleasant to the ear and gel with the music that underpins the game. However, failing to time your moves this will offend your ears. The fact Drool doesn't force the player to hit all the notes perfectly is something we'd praise about Thumper.
Another incentive to hit everything perfectly is to get a higher rank, ranging from S through to A, B and C, the lowest, from what we can tell. Perfect timing, flawless runs and no missed notes will increase your chances of getting a higher rank, but obviously sailing by and simply surviving will get the lower ranks. This gives high-score-chasers something to aim for, especially if they have friends they can compare scores with.
More ranks would be appreciated, however. In the later levels, getting a good run is obviously very difficult and it's a little disheartening when a C is rewarded for those who hit half the notes as well as those who don't hit any. Another complaint we'd have with Thumper is that when you take damage the screen goes so wild as your little space beetle's shell comes apart, it's disorientating, making it harder to hit upcoming obstacles. The same applies here when you slam down on a note, as that can throw you off your game in the same way, something you don't need when you're playing at such high-speeds.
Ironically, the music of Thumper doesn't take centre stage, and is actually quite minimalist and industrial in its sound. For the most part you don't notice it, but there are incredible moments when the music and the track's obstacles synchronise in a way that you notice your movements reflecting the beat of the music. We must admit that it did get a little samey after a while, but the discordant audio works well.
Thumper impresses most on the visual side of the experience. The whole game takes place on an infinite stretch of track and, although there isn't much time to examine things in detail, ethereal and dreamlike things come off of and surround the track at different points. Colours are also used sparingly and with great effect as the world is in inky darkness and the flashes of colour come and go as your silver body speeds past it all without time to take it in.
Technically Thumper runs very well, something which is a blessing in this genre, and the same applies to the VR side of it. The virtual reality experience is pretty much flawless, the only difference being a drop in visual fidelity. However, this is countered by a greater level of immersion, and you feel closer to the action. It's also worth noting, that even despite the super fast speeds and the intensity of some of the stages, we experienced zero nausea while playing and found it very forgiving on that front.
Thumper is an intense experience than justifies its title as a "rhythm violence game", and we had immense fun sliding round corners and dodging attacks as we helped enhance the soundscape. We revelled in the eye-catching scenery as much as we did as its demanding challenge. Rhythm action fans should certainly check it out and will test even the best of you.
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