It has long been established that I like a good rhythm action game; a genre that hasn’t had many good releases recently. I think most people know that I also like horror games, especially those that delve in the madness tinged Lovecraftian styles of terror. I never once thought someone would consider making a horror themed rhythm action game though. But here we are with Thumper, a game in which a space beetle flies through some sort of wormhole towards a giant head thing, whilst terrifyingly intense industrial orchestral music (at least that’s how I’d describe it) pounds in your ears.
I would describe this game as staring into Satan’s kaleidoscope during a bad acid trip whilst listening to a black metal version of Stomp. Think of that what you will.
In its simplest form, the game plays like a very basic Amplitude clone. The is one lane (sometimes more) that you fly along, and you press X when you fly over a note. There are gates that you pass through by holding X, and corners that must be navigated by holding X and pressing a direction. The whole game is played with the X button and the analogue stick. So far, so simple. But good god does this get difficult. It wouldn’t be unfair to call this the Dark Souls of rhythm action. You learn or you die.
Each level introduces a new layer of gameplay. Leaping up and slamming down on alternating notes, multiple lanes, and killer snakes. This game is weird. Anyway, by the end of the game, you’ll have to make use of all the maneuvers in rapid succession, without missing a single note whilst going absurdly fast. Mechanically this game is near perfect in that regard. It teaches you each new skill and than forces you learn how to use it flawlessly before you confront the boss. And forces is the right word here; you either learn to use your skills perfectly or you will not progress. This is not a simple undertaking.
Just to give you an idea of just how fast this game can be. This is a pretty tame level too…
A level is broken up into about 20 sections, each of which taking between 30 seconds and a couple of minutes. A whole level would probably take about 20 minutes to complete, but spending over an hour on one was closer to my experience. The stages are extremely difficult, throwing corners, notes, walls and lane changes at you at ludicrous speeds testing first your reactions, and then your memory as you inevitably die. All this whilst the pounding, intimidating soundtracks assaults your ears. It’s an incredibly intense experience, made even more so when a boss appears.
Bosses can only be defeated by playing a section perfectly, allowing you to fire a shot at the target. Do this 4 times and it’s job done. That’s easier said than done though, there’s a lot to memorise (and I mean memorise, you will die) coupled with the music and the boss taking up huge swathes of your view to confuse you and throw you off. It never felt cheap though, as everything is in time to the music, meaning that mistakes are because you weren’t focused enough, or you forgot what was coming next. The boss designs are interesting too, ranging from tentacle triangles to the recurring Crakhed who becomes more and more deformed and horrifying from level to level. Oh, and in case it wasn’t hard enough, there’s a Hardcore mode where death is permanent.
Now, this game can be playing in VR. In fact I assumed it could only be laying in VR until I did a little research. I get the feeling that the game was pushed as a VR product to try and sell more units (especially on the PS4), but I don’t see what VR would really add to this. Considering this is playing in 3rd person, I’d have though VR would be a rather odd experience. As I understand it, it allows you to look around the environment as you’re traveling, but considering how focused you need to be I would think looking around would be a mistake. Anyway, it works without VR very well.
Thumper looks gorgeous, with lots of interesting effects around the track and the aforementioned detailed bosses. You probably won’t have a lot of time to enjoy the graphics as you’ll be concentrating on the rhythm, but it does look great. It runs excellently as well, with no frame rate drops that I could notice. The sound is fantastic as well (which makes sense considering the genre), but it isn’t just the music. The sound effects work very well too. The clang as you swing around a corner, the blast as you slam down onto a note to attack a boss, and the snakes hissing their was past you all sound great. And the sound of drums heralding the arrival of one of the enemies constantly filled me with dread. Seriously, that guy was a jerk.
Thumper was developed by Drool, a two man team! I played the game on Playstation 4 and would strongly recommend you at least check this out. It’s a totally different gaming experience, just be prepared that you may not finish it due to its high difficulty. An absolute treat!