Review: Thumper

Disclosure: A code for Thumper was provided to VGBlogger.com for review.

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Thumper, indie developer Drool’s new rhythm action game for PC and PlayStation 4, opens with a slow building tutorial world that isn’t shy about forcing players to learn the mechanics. Press X while traveling down a single pathway to hit colored gems along the way. Hold down the X button and move the left analog stick to the right or left while taking sharp corners. That is the basic gist of how to play Thumper. Additional obstacles will appear on the track that require X to be held down to plow through the objects, while others will require X to be held down while pushing the left stick up to avoid spikey blockades or collect angelic halos. That’s it. Simple, right?

A droning melancholy begins each level. A calm, peaceful introduction of the barren track that is unfurling before the scarab-like ship players control.  Suddenly the music picks up the tempo, a drum beat intensifies, a driving guitar powers the intensity, and then the pathway sparkles and the game truly begins. Left, right, gem, halo, left, right, left right, gem, gem, stick, stick, stick. Exhale. Repeat. There is a beauty to the pacing and placement of each obstacle on the track. A perfection. Miss any of the gems, or forget to hold down X while taking a turn, and the scarab ship takes a hit and loses its shield.  Make another mistake and the ship explodes, sending it back to the beginning of the section. Drool smartly builds in a repetition to the placement as a method of learning or developing muscle memory. When the scarab is destroyed, the stage repeats.

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Repetition provides a mastery of almost Jedi level reflexes. Nothing feels more amazing, though, than getting to the next stage and nailing an S Rank on the first go. Performance on each stage is critiqued by how well turns are made, how many gems are hit, as well as halos. Not all stages require hitting the gems, but some do. If turns are botched or gems are missed, the score awarded is lower and the ranking is adjusted accordingly on a letter grade scale (S, A, B, C, etc). Online leaderboards also provide a way to measure how well players are doing compared to folks globally or on friend lists. Getting higher grades in each section or completely S Ranking the entire run obviously is cause for replay.

Other stages put up roadblocks that require hitting green gems. Miss a green gem, and the pattern plays out, but the loop restarts and then all the green gems appear again and must be recollected. A very satisfying surge of energy shoots down the pathway from the scarab once the last green gem is collected, shattering the roadblock and allowing the stage to continue.

Similar to road blocks, each level has at least one boss battle, which requires a particular pattern of gems to be collected before a power surge is sent up the pathway to attack the boss. Typical of boss battles, these gem sequences are built with at least three required surges before victory is gloriously achieved.

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Controls are simple but tight, and if a section is botched, it has everything to do with the lack of coordination on the part of the gamer. I haven’t been so amped to play a game like Thumper since… I can’t even remember when. I also haven’t been so completely shut down and shamed by a game. My reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and when I begin to overthink a section my ability to hit all the expected marks quickly diminishes. Instinct and intuition are key to playing well in Thumper. Having reflexes like a Jedi don’t hurt either.

A VR headset is not required hardware to play Thumper, but I honestly can’t imagine playing this game any other way. Whenever I attempted to play from my TV, like a normal PS4 game, something just felt off. Almost like I couldn’t judge the proper timing of when to take a turn or pounce on a gem. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I started playing in VR and only after getting up to the fifth level did I opt to go back and see how the game played in a more traditional setting. There is just something completely hypnotic about having the pathway rolling out directly in front of your face, feeling the raw surge of energy when a turn is properly timed and the scarab slams into the wall but doesn’t take any damage. Hearing the drums pounding away while wearing noise cancelling headphones adds to the overall sensation of being in this foreign world where fighting a looming boss is the only way to escape back to the calm.  That said, VR doesn’t add anything truly groundbreaking other than a proper submersion into the world. Looking to the left, right, or behind simply reveals a black emptiness. There isn’t anything to see, which actually adds to the complete dark void that is Thumper.

Thumper‘s high degree of difficulty may be beyond some players’ abilities, but thanks to the easy to learn, difficult to master hook the game is an absolute blast to play. Playing in VR adds to the enjoyment by putting players directly on the pathway, enveloped by an atmosphere of dark, spooky visuals and heavy tribal, almost ritual-like metal rock. Drool has created a masterpiece.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Amazing dark music
+ Hypnotic, demanding controls
+ Absolute blast when S Ranking a section
+ Smart level design with looping progress when necessary
+ VR heightens gameplay immersion

Cons:
– Very challenging

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR, also on PC (VR is optional)
Publisher: Drool
Developer: Drool
Release Date: 10/10/2016
Genre: Action/Rhythm
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: PlayStation Store or Steam for $19.99

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.