In the year of 2016, it’s pretty rare that a game can release and claim to have invented a brand new genre. We’ve all played platformers, action adventure games, RPGs, shooters, puzzle games, and everything in between. However, one of the newest genres that emerged a few generations ago would be the rhythm game, created as a byproduct of the advent of high-quality music in video games. Now this week, Thumper, from Drool, takes the formula created in experiences like Audio Surf or Amplitude, and injects a hefty dose of adrenaline-fueled, pulse-pounding violence.
By all accounts, it feels like an entirely new type of game genre dubbed ‘rhythm violence’ and I’m in love.
Before reading further, do yourself a favor and watch the trailer above. It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to play Thumper, especially in VR, but watching that video first will help provide at least a baseline frame of reference. At its core, Thumper is dead simple. You are progressing along a seemingly endless track and must press buttons that loosely coincide with the beat and thump of the music to surpass obstacles.
Throughout it all, you control a metallic beetle creature/vehicle/thing that morphs and adapts to the environment based on your prompts. See a bright, blue pad approaching? Press X to launch into the air. See sharp crystals protruding from the track? Launch into the air holding up on the analog stick to flutter over them. See a pulsing wall coming up next? Slam your vehicle beetle thing in the opposite direction to slide around the curve.
On first glance, it can look like a bizarre, singleplayer racing game, except instead of racing against other opponents, you’re racing against the slow-moving dread of pulsating defeat. It’s an infectious process as the beat of the music mingles with the sharp tones of your crystalline beetle, banking and zipping across the track.
Every level is split into a multitude of sublevels, each of which contains a graded checkpoint. This ensures that failure is never too frustrating as you’ll only ever have to replay a handful of seconds before finally making progress again.
Due to this forgiving progression system, I’d be remiss to really describe Thumper as a ‘difficult’ game since trial and error is just part of its inherent DNA. You will not complete the entire game from start to finish without failure and that’s part of the madness.
Once you do find that sweet spot and — pardon the pun — get into a rhythm, it’s downright invigorating. The blur of the track and the smear of a cacophony of colors in your peripheral vision pumps the addictive stimuli into your eyeballs. The heavy thud of the bass and surrounding music pushes you forward. The boss at the end of each zone emerges in horrendous detail, whirling and gyrating to the stream of music, forcing you to nail every button press in order to silence the beast.
Levels feel like equal part nightmare fuel and gaming nirvana. Since Thumper can be played entirely inside of or outside of VR, you’d assume it doesn’t really make a difference which you pick, but I’d argue that not to be the case. The intensity will surely be too much to handle for some people, but if you can stomach it, Thumper in VR leaps above and beyond its 2D counterpart.
Rather than ending at the edges of your TV screen, the environments surround you in full 360-degrees. The 3D spatial audio reverberates throughout your body and the thump of your actions creates an even more hypnotic rhythm. Looking ahead, you can get a better view of what’s coming and the timing feels more natural once obstacles reach you.
It could be first impression bias, but after playing the VR version, I found it difficult to then go and play outside of VR. It just didn’t feel as visceral and exciting.
Thumper is a one-of-a-kind gaming experience. It is at first immediately familiar as an entry in the now classic rhythm game genre, but enhances virtually every aspect of the experience through brightly pulsing visuals, intense music, and nothing short of violent, visceral rhythm-based gameplay. While you can play Thumper entirely outside of VR, the experience truly shines and envelops you the most once you place a VR headset on your face. This one is not to be missed.
Thumper is now available for PlayStation 4 and PC for $19.99. PS VR support is included on the PS4 version and the headset itself releases to the public on October 13th. This review was conducted on the PS4 edition of the game, both inside and outside of VR.
Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.