Rhythm games have fallen off in recent years. There have been attempts to revitalize games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Amplitude, but each has largely failed to spark the hype and positive reception of the original games. In a seemingly dying and outdated genre, it only seems fair to put expectations for Thumper into check. Created by two individuals known for their previous work at Harmonix, the game is a fresh new take on the genre that even surpasses some of its predecessors.
Thumper takes the simple on-rails rhythm formula and turns it into a fully fleshed out gaming experience. Abstract visuals accompany fantastic gameplay filled with challenging levels and frequent boss battles. It evokes feelings of the otherworldly, as your metallic beetle vessel blasts down the track to a hellish bass-heavy soundtrack. Appropriately marketed as a “rhythm violence game”, Thumper uses jerky sharp turns and immense force to maintain a destructive atmosphere.
What is most impressive overall is Thumper’s ability to accomplish so much using very few resources. Gameplay consists of traveling down a track while hitting beats (or thumps, in this case) and anticipating turns with precise rhythm. Its one-button control scheme is simple and accessible, but it builds upon itself in smart and intuitive ways. Utilizing this button along with the left analog stick opens a variety of new “abilities” and options. Later levels require the player to hit rapid-fire beats, make lightning fast turns, and jump over spikes in quick succession. Split-second decision making and a solid understanding of the game’s mechanics will result in victory in the many stages ahead.
Thumper consists of nine very long levels, each with 20+ checkpoints, or stages. Flawless execution of each stage results in a seamless transition into the next one, while failure brings about a devastating, violent crash as metal shatters in all directions. Additionally, player performance is rated at the end of each checkpoint, allowing for a ton of replayability for those who want to work towards getting flawless S rankings.
Though Thumper is polished in all of its aspects, it truly shines as an example of fantastic gameplay. The vessel travels with tremendous speed, through twists and turns and terrifying obstacles. Its simple controls allows for a greater focus on movement, which always feels smooth and natural. Each obstacle and turn is placed with great care, feeling purposeful and necessary to each level’s architecture and design. Even the smallest subtleties in movement are natural and precise, allowing the player to have complete control over the vessel.
Along with its excellent controls, there is also an incredible sense of speed throughout each of the nine levels. At times, things will be moving so fast that keeping up with each obstacle seems impossible. For players who are not as agile, a perfect run is not a necessity to move onto the next stage. Staying on the track is the biggest priority, with all of the extra nuances aimed at highly skilled and experienced players. Boss battles are the only exception to this rule, since they require players to hit every beat in order to unleash a devastating energy blast on the target.
Imagery changes throughout the experience, reinforcing the science fiction horror atmosphere. Tunnels and structures sometimes house the vessels, tentacles and skeletal limbs that reach out of the track, and aquatic-like entities float around the empty space on the screen. Throughout my time playing Thumper, I felt like I was on a constant descent into some kind of cosmic hell, which was only reinforced by alien creatures and demonic imagery. Traveling at high speeds through the cosmos is like a journey with some kind of dismal purpose. A flaming skull enemy awaits at the end of every level, which gradually becomes more disfigured and mutated as you approach later levels.
Music, art design, and mechanics compliment each other very nice, and it only gets more interesting in later levels. Mechanically, Thumper is always building upon itself in new ways, utilizing every possible option that a one-button control scheme has to offer. Following sound cues will become a necessity in more difficult stages. I began trusting my ears more than my eyes in some cases, which was remarkable due to the immense speed of the game. At some points, thumping to the beat of the song almost felt natural and second nature. I was able to anticipate where the obstacles were before even seeing them.
Thumper is a fantastic experience, utilizing simple-yet-perfected game mechanics and a dark atmosphere to create a phenomenal otherworldly experience. Its industrial noisy soundtrack and shiny visuals stick with you long after playing, leaving you wanting more. Smooth controls and deep gameplay result in a wholly addictive and obsessive game that never fails to be exhilarating.
Thank you to Drool for providing Gamer Professionals with an early review copy of Thumper.