Developer: Drool LLC
Publisher: Drool LLC
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation VR, Nintendo Switch, PC
Rating: E 10+
When we think of rhythm games, the image that pops into our heads is nothing like Thumper. Instead, our minds end to conjure Just Dance, Dance Dance Revolution, then to Guitar Hero or Rock Band. This genre once had a firm grip on the world and had players having hours of fun by singing, dancing, and playing plastic instruments with their friends and family. Despite an attempted comeback from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, the only franchise still standing is Just Dance. Thumper is indeed a rhythm video game, but it is unlike anything I just listed. It is a rollercoaster ride—adrenaline fueled and stress inducing. I have never associated those adjectives with a rhythm game until I played Thumper for the very first time.
There literally is no negative content to be found in Thumper. However, it does give off a dark tone that is far from any other rhythm video game out there. That tone mostly comes from the way the developers have labeled it. They call it a “rhythm violence” video game, which is due to the intensity and speed of the actions that are taking place and the soundtrack. The closest thing you might get to violence is shooting a pulse at one of the abstract bosses to damage them. I cannot say that Thumper is great for all ages because it is very possible that some children might think it looks scary, which is where the E 10+ rating likely comes from.
It would be foolish of me to try and make sense of what Thumper really is; I can only do my best to share my experience. There is no story-driven plot. I took control of some kind of metallic space beetle and raced along a very roller-coaster like track while dodging obstacles and defeating bosses in the midst of surviving any obstacle that came my way. While battling those perils, I was also tasked with keeping a rhythm to a soundtrack that was made to fuel the intensity that I was already feeling. That is what I experienced playing Thumper, but that does not do nearly enough justice. Let me get into some detail.
Thumper has a very unique visual style. The best I can compare it to is a visualization that I would put up when listening to music on my Playstation 3 or even Windows Media Player some years ago. “Abstract “is an adjective that is mainly used when discussing a piece of art, and this video game surely does feel like a piece of art. The dark and metallic colors do well to accompany the intensity that the gameplay wants us to feel. The part that greatly ties all of this together is the soundtrack. The game opens up to a title screen with a peaceful zen-like orchestral synth track, but that very moment the stage begins, the music becomes dark and intensifies as the action increases.
Though I compared it to a roller coaster, the track also reminded me of slot cars, because of the sheer speed I remembered those little cars racing at when I was a kid. With continuous velocity I had to also handle any obstacle that came my way, whether it was bracing myself against a turning bumper or charging right through small objects that were there to slow me down for good. In later stages I found myself having to jump multiple tracks instead of riding a single one that I grew so comfortable with taking on in the beginning.
Across all nine stages, there are a few bosses that aim to stop you in your tracks. This is going to sound strange, but many of them are abstract looking figures without a face or eyes except a few that look like giant menacing skulls. These bosses are defeated by hitting lights on the ground in a proper order—a large pulsing light races into the boss and damages it once I hit the final light in that sequence. I discovered that there are usually three to four sequences in a boss fight, and each one gets more difficult as you damage it.
After I was introduced to more gameplay mechanics I discovered that Thumper is played entirely with one button. Aside from using the stick to turn it is the A button that I used to overcome the obstacles. This action button can also be remapped for any players who find another method to be more comfortable. The limited control scheme is a great design choice, especially since Thumper is made to be increasingly difficult. There is the luxury of being able to take damage only once when hitting an obstacle; the second blow is always fatal. Some may find it too difficult, but the true objective of Thumper is really about memorizing the pattern of each level. On the bright side there are plenty of checkpoints at which the game autosaves.
The biggest setback I experienced was that long sessions became very hard on my hands. This probably would not be the case if I was using the pro controller, but the best way to play Thumper is in handheld mode with a great pair of headphones. My hands would get tired or cramp up during some of my longer sessions. On some occasions I would even feel it long after I had put the device down. My best advice is that players should put down the game when that begins to happen. Granted, that was tough to do when I was so close to finishing a stage.
Thumper is nothing short of greatness, a video game that everyone should experience at some point. It will be available on every platform once it releases on the Xbox One very soon. This even includes your favorite VR device—I cannot fathom what it would be like to play on one of those. I never expected to find a video game such as Thumper on the Nintendo Switch, and yet it lends itself very well to the platform. Plugging in your favorite pair of headphones and playing in handheld mode is an outstanding experience. Though it may seem challenging and intimidating, Thumper begs to be conquered.
Review copy kindly provided by Drool LLC.
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The Bottom Line
Thumper is one of the more artistic video games I have ever played, it puts a spin on a genre in such a way that no one else has. It may be challenging, but it begs to be conquered. One of the best video games you can buy on your Switch at the moment, especially with a great pair of headphones.