I’ve enjoyed music/rhythm games for as long as I can remember: Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Crypt of the Necrodancer, and so on.  When I saw a “rhythm violence” game by the name of Thumper teased a while back, I was immediately interested.  I was hooked from its release a few weeks ago until I finished it last night.  No matter how you look at it, Thumper isn’t a game to be missed.

One of the best games of 2016, hands down.
One of the best games of 2016, hands down.

  • TL;DR: Incredible speed, excellent difficulty, and driving bass make Thumper not only a top-notch rhythm game, but one of 2016’s best period.
  • Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed), PSVR, Switch, Xbox One
  • Time Played: 8:00
  • What I Played: All nine levels, reaching #1677 on the leaderboard

The reason behind driving an armored beetle down a never-ending track isn’t explained in Thumper, but that’s what you are tasked with.  Over the course of nine levels, you’re mainly asked to survive which boils down to hitting X in sync with the music.  Hell, the only input you even use is the left stick and the X button.  Sound simple enough?  Trust me, it’s not.

You’ll learn about a half dozen techniques during your eight or so hour journey through Thumper.  The most common is simply hitting X when the beetle drives over a blue light on the ground.  When you see a banked turn, hold X and left/right to slide along the bank and keep moving forward.  You can hold X to plow the beetle through red bars along the ground or tilt the stick up when you hit a light to fly over spikes or into arcs of blue light.  The simplest goal is to make it to the end of the stage using these techniques, but the true calling of Thumper, like all rhythm games, is high score.  In order to climb the leaderboard, you’ll need to hit every light and bank every turn perfectly while staying unscathed.

Perfectionists and high score hunters will have a blast with Thumper.  Each level is broken down into 20-30 smaller sections that act as checkpoints if when you die.  Your beetle can shrug off a single hit before exploding and each section acts as a checkpoint that, thankfully, refreshes that armor for you.  These sections are scored from D to S based on how many perfect turns you hit, if you took no damage, and so on.  As if banking an armored beetle off brightly lit walls wasn’t strange enough, each level ends in a boss fight.  These fights are typically four sections that you must hit perfectly in order to send a ball of light barreling down the track towards the increasingly frightening enemy.  It’s a nameless being with spikes, teeth, and glowing eyes.

Obviously this is a rhythm game. Why do you ask?
Obviously this is a rhythm game. Why do you ask?

If I had to sum up Thumper in one word, that word would be “fast”.  The beetle is constantly moving forward at a breakneck pace and I could not get enough of it.  Everything about this game requires your focus from the pounding bass to the turns, twists, and banks in the track.  You should play Thumper with big noise-canceling headphones if you can.  Just turn the volume way up and commit yourself to the endless beat.  That focus does come with a price, though.  No matter how much I enjoyed playing Thumper, and man did I enjoy it, I could not bring myself to play for longer than an hour, hour and a half max.  I found myself mentally drained after finally getting past a boss and in need of a small break.

All of that focus and energy is spent trying to navigate Thumper’s difficult yet not unfair gameplay.  There are sections of certain levels that are almost impossible to get right the first time, like rapidly alternating bank turns with a background colored the same as the turns themselves, but those are few and far between.  It’s also a joy to see how perfectly synced the music and gameplay are.  I found myself tapping my foot or humming repeated sections on more than one occasion.

I’ve tried my best to explain what Thumper is and how it plays, but it would be best to just show you:

This section actually shows every one of the ways you can die in Thumper: the circle enclosing the track shoots you with lasers if you miss a single beat, the rushing enemies will crash into you, the banked turns will tear the beetle apart, and the spikes are obviously bad news.  If you do die, which you will, you explode in a glorious shower of sparks that fits right in with the shimmering metal and neon lights that make up Thumper.  The whole thing is trippy as hell.  This section doesn’t show any of the distractions that will try to grab your attention on the side of the track or how much more intense it is when you are rushing through a tunnel.  Thumper is also available on PSVR.  I need to get in touch with my friend who has one.

I’d like to get my hands on more of Thumper in any way possible, really.  I’d gladly embrace trying it in VR.  I’d even shell out for a DLC pack of more levels, which is something I don’t say lightly.  The amount of focus required to succeed in Thumper is something I haven’t seen in a long time and no matter how frustrating a section became or how many times I had to restart a boss fight, I always felt so accomplished after getting through it and was hungry for more.

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Driving an armored beetle is one of the best experiences 2016 has to offer.

That really sums up how I feel about Thumper as a whole.  No matter how frustrating it may have been at times, I loved it.  The raw speed, the pixel perfect execution of matching rushing lights and turns to the music, the near seizure inducing bolts of neon, all of it.  Thumper is a rare game that puts a completely new spin on a genre.  It’s a game that will be talked about for a long time to come.

5 Comments »

  1. Played the demo that came with the PSVR. I’m a bit conflicted on whether to get this or Rez next for it. I’m a bit confused after reading your post, though. Are you supposed to jump when the beetle is travelling over the blue lights, or are you supposed to jump before the blue light (jump over the light)? I think I’ve been trying to jump over the lights, which may have been causing me some trouble.

    • First off, thanks for reading! You should be hitting X right when the beetle crosses over a blue light on the ground, which typically matches a quarter/eighth note in the current song. Similarly, you should hit X and tilt up as you cross over a light with spikes in front of it or if their are arches of blue light above the track just beyond it.

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