In Thumper you are a metallic space beetle speeding down a track in some sort of psychedelic void. It’s described as a rhythm violence game which, for what it’s worth, couldn’t possibly be more fitting. This is a game about thuds, booms, thumps, and crashes. It’s not your typical music game, but rather a mentally and physically draining trip through the void. A trip that I loved every eye-bleeding second of.
Thumper is a pretty simple game to learn. As you race down the track you’ll come across glowing gems, red barriers, turns, and blue rings. Smash the X button to thump gems, hold to crash through barriers, and use the left analog stick to either turn or take flight. As each stage increases in speed, the game introduces new concepts and does so at the perfect pace. Thumper is great about introducing something, giving you the opportunity to try it out, and then flipping the script right when you’re starting to feel comfortable. It can be overwhelming, but everything the game asks of you is always within the realm of possibility. At some point you just enter a Zen-like state, pull off impossible feats, and finish sections of a stage left wondering what the heck just happened.
Thumper is made up of nine stages that are split up into smaller chunks, these chunks typically have a set repetition that you’ll go through a few times before advancing to the next section. They also act as checkpoints just in case things go terribly wrong, which they most assuredly will. Thumper is tough, taking just two hits spells immediate doom and, with so many obstacles directly in your path, there’s very little room for error. The result is an adrenaline filled, and sometimes terrifying, descent deeper and deeper into the void.
Rhythm violence as a descriptor is great because it gets you thinking. What does the violence part entail exactly? For Thumper it’s twofold. Thumping each node, crashing through barriers, and taking a perfect turn each result in a very specific sound that makes up most of the music that plays throughout the stage. There’s a physicality to the thuds, crashes, booms, and clangs that echo through the ether that really makes Thumper feel so different. Then there are the mini-bosses that appear throughout the stage as you steadily make your way towards each level’s ‘Final Boss’. Boss fights add a new node that is a bit more prominent and only active if you’ve hit every node that leads up to it. Smashing down on this node shoots a wave of energy directly at the boss; four hits and the boss is defeated. The sound design in Thumper is second-to-none, it’s here where so much of the impact is felt, but the visual effects that go along with everything on the screen simply cannot be understated.
Visually the game feels reminiscent of Wipeout’s Zone mode with a splash of Audiosurf. It looks fantastic on PS4 and was just updated to support 4K on PS4 Pro, but for me, it’s in VR where this game excels. Thumper in VR in unreal, while not exclusive to VR, it is imperative that you take some time to try it for yourself. First off, it’s easier to see what’s coming towards you and judging the distance between obstacles becomes a bit more natural. Second, the perspective is closer to the track and in general the scale of everything is far more pronounced. This is especially evident when the final boss of each stage slowly emerges over the horizon. The design of this boss is pretty scary on its own, but in VR you really get the full effect as its towering presence looms over you. It’s horrifying in the best way imaginable. I only wish that the final boss design wasn’t repeated throughout each stage.
Thumper really isn’t like anything else I’ve played and I don’t say that lightly. Yes, there are similarities to other games in the genre, but the rush of adrenaline and existential dread felt throughout the game are just small factors in what ultimately sets it apart. Thumper is a brutal deep dive into the abyss, one that will relentlessly push you to your limits again and again.
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What I Like:
- Sound design and visuals coincide with each button press. Creates an impact that plays into the 'violence' part of the rhythm violence label.
- On a TV or in VR the game looks fantastic
- Final Boss design
- Playing in VR
- Good at introducing new things at a steady pace.
- The last section of the final stage is pretty incredible.