Review: Thumper

The folks at Drool have cooked up something very special.

Frightening, immediate and exhilarating, Thumper does well to immediately set itself apart as a rhythm game. You play the titular character, a chrome-silver beetle, hurtling down an on-rails psychedelic landscape, thumping your way through nightmarish stages, accompanied by a pulse-pounding industrial soundtrack that complements and assists your progress.

Its breathtaking pace, too, is noticeable even in the tutorial stages, when you’re first taught to “thump,” the blue blinking on-screen prompts flitting past in a flash, demanding a simple button input as you pass over, releasing a dazzling shockwave of light and bass. Soon, the game has you clanging around turns, crashing through barriers and zipping through score-multiplying rings – faster than you may ever have thought yourself capable of – with each gameplay action having a corresponding audio/visual reaction that add layers to both its wonderful techno-horror aesthetic and the forceful, percussive tracks that populate its levels.

Aesthetics of violence.

Especially striking in its opening moments is Thumper’s sumptuously singular aesthetic. Careening through its nine expansive levels – the interface looking like a luge race on bad acid – you’re met with countless feasts for the senses, from laser-spewing zombified voodoo masks to geometric chasms that envelop you in a trippy air of claustrophobia.

The game is completely VR compatible too, whether on PC or PS4. Headphones are one thing, but if you’re already equipped, it’s highly recommended; to have Thumper’s monolithic bosses towering over you and its synesthetic obstacles exploding and flitting past with full-immersion gear can only enhance your experience with such a sensory spectacular.

The levels themselves contain a wealth of obstacles that are all clearly defined with a distinct neon glow and accompanying sound cues, vital to precision-based input needed when such obstacles fly by so quickly. When you jump up to hit a glowing blue ring or prepare for a harsh turn, the respective collision comes alive with its own satisfyingly distinct sound effect, complementing the track of the level you’re playing.

There can be the odd moment here and there when Thumper’s visuals become a notch too hyperactive. For instance, when you miss a cue and take damage, a loud pulse of red flashes across the screen, occasionally making it quite difficult to re-acclimatise to the level’s pace before getting hit by another obstacle. But given the pace and replayability of Thumper’s rhythm-centric gameplay, your ability to overcome obstacles with ease will also depend on ol’ fashioned practice.

Thumper’s fair game.

Thumper’s control scheme is deceptively simple in that it’s a two-button system; everything centres around the thumb stick and the X/A button. Slowly, the game introduces you to the obstacles you’ll be facing. To crash through a barrier, simply hold X. To turn a corner; X and the direction you want. To jump; X and up. It even sounds simple when you spell it out, but Thumper is quick to ramp up the challenge: Increasingly fast-paced and complex tracks demand tighter inputs, later levels bear longer stretches without checkpoints, a pesky recurring enemy appears in small sections to punish you for missing obstacles, and you’re eased into the game introducing multiple lanes, with accompanying obstacles – such as a fleet of torpedoes forcing you to hop from one lane to the next.

The basics are fairly well covered in the first 15 minutes should you be so inclined:

The various new shake-ups to the formula are teetered out to the player slowly and intuitively, and you’re given more than enough to simply survive the game; the game makes it clear that survival is the bare minimum it expects from you. Like any great rhythm game, Thumper prides itself in being a game that’s easy to pick up, but daunting to master. In fact, for your first playthrough, you may find yourself simply fighting just to survive, rather than nailing high scores straight off the bat, at least, during later levels.

A level playing field.

Each of the nine levels of Thumper are split into around 20 to 30 checkpoints, each allowing a ranking of C, B, A or S, with the player given an average rank for the entire level at the end of the run. If you’re going for survival alone, unless you’re an absolute prodigy, it’s unlikely you’re graded better than a B. Those enticing “S” ranks are made even more alluring by how perfect button inputs present Thumper’s music at its most full-bodied and propulsive.

Trust us, the first stage is relative child’s play. This actually means nothing… :’)

It does seem at first unfortunate that certain track measures and sections are repeated over the course of a level, but over the long run, this familiarity feels more like a thematic and game-teaching tool for the level to build upon, rather than lazy design.

Whether you’re practised or tackling a stage for the first time, Thumper works best when the player is thinking less about what they’re doing. While in a typical rhythm game, this sensation may come with practice, thanks to Thumper’s amazing audio and visual cues that complement your on-rails progress, you may find yourself subconsciously stampeding through obstacles, only after you’ve completed a stage asking yourself “How in the world did I just do that?” It’s an adrenaline rush of a way to appreciate your growth and skill as a player, and makes it more exciting than ever to seek out other ways Thumper can make you surprise yourself.

Show ‘em who’s boss.

Aesthetic and gameplay delights all culminate in Thumper’s myriad boss fights, where you’re fighting for your life against the fearsome and stunning denizens that populate the game, sending massive, distortive balls of energy hurtling back at your foe with sequences of perfects Thumps. Before you know it, you’re matched up with pulsating luminescent prisms, menacing desiccated masks and geometric wormholes that all show off just how arresting Thumper’s visuals can be, and only bolsters its anxious atmosphere.

The masterminds behind this intense, original, maddening experience – Drool LLC – has described Thumper as “a rhythm violence game,” and it’s honestly a neat summation of a game that’s easy to pull apart in game terms but harder to define. It’s a blisteringly-paced, UI-light, delightfully suspenseful tour-de-force where the slightest lapse in concentration can spell utter annihilation.

It’s a game that can be recommended solely on back of its uniqueness, both in look and feel, but for those who relish a test of their reflexes or just love a good, innovative rhythm game will no doubt stick around to ace those high scores; maybe score a platinum, or even traverse the dreaded no-death mode the game includes, for the true sadists out there.

Interning Video Game Journalist & Social Media Manager at Gamers Classified. Student currently pursuing a double bachelor's in Journalism & Arts at UOW. Creative arts dabbler, namely in photography, short films/documentaries and video essays. Dedicated gamer. Hails from Wollongong, NSW.

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