To the beat of the rhythm of the fright.
Dread. Fear. Fright. I would have never of thought I’d be using these words to describe a rhythm game. Outlast? Sure. Resident Evil? Of course. However, Thumper redefines what the rhythm game genre is capable of by crafting a visceral nightmare of colors, speed, and sound.
In Thumper, from developer Drool, you control the Space Beetle, a chrome-finished insect barreling down a roller coaster-esque track surrounded by pulsing shapes and neon lights. The Space Beetle’s track is laced with obstacles the player must dodge through simple button commands. For example, a well-timed tap of the X button will allow the Space Beetle to clear an illuminated speed bump. As expected, things get more complicated as more complex obstacles like grind rails are introduced in new stages, and eventually, things get very challenging when even more obstacles are introduced, like switching between tracks.
At its core, Thumper is a very challenging, yet simple, rhythm game; but what separates and elevates this title above other games in the rhythm genre is its ability to intensify the elements of gameplay to create a frightening atmosphere. This intensification is done through the game’s aesthetics, and most notably, the art design.
Almost immediately, the visuals of Thumper will grasp the player and never let go. The abstract bright hues that swirl around the background’s black void create a world unlike any before. Describing this world without a point of comparison is almost impossible. It’s like if Space Mountain went to hell, or 2001 was an evil monster. Trying to explain with words what Thumper looks like doesn’t do the visuals justice though. More importantly, it’s how they make you feel. The emptiness paired with the lively colors creates this feeling of uneasiness inside you. Gazing into Thumper‘s barren realm of nothingness creates this unnerving sensation while you play, similar to watching an effective horror film. This feeling of dread encourages the player to focus on their actions, making each button press feel even more satisfying when done correctly.
The game’s music adds to the sense of terror as well. Thumper‘s soundtrack is atmospheric and bombastic. Smooth synth melodies are paired with crashing drums, forming an intense sound that keeps the player on edge. The player isn’t exactly matching beats with button inputs like other rhythm games, but rather echoing them, and smart sound cues help indicate when a sequence of maneuvers are correctly pulled off.
Thumper has nine levels composed of multiple stages. Each stage is generally a short experience, but they gradually increases in obstacles, and especially speed. As the Space Beetle glides into the stage, the tempo of music increases, and more speed bumps, grind rails, and tracks approach you with such fervent tenacity that the player must be prepared, or they will fail. The game’s increasing sense of speed causes the player to constantly be on edge, adding to the immersiveness of the Thumper experience. So often, my heart was racing when narrowly completely a stage, and this was enhanced with the boss fights, which are multi-phased battles against a horrific floating demon head.
The speed of Thumper further creates an immersive experience, but this adds to the game’s brutal difficulty. Thumper is unforgiving. When you make a mistake, like miss a grind rail, you’re punished instantly. Often, one mistake like this will lead to the player unable to recover, and failure of a stage is imminent. This brutality is clearly intentional, but some sort of mechanic to assist the player, like a more realized 1UP type of item, could make some stages less frustrating and more engaging.
Thumper is also sparse content wise. Again, like the difficulty, this was probably intentionally to maintain a quick arcade-like feeling that best complements rhyme games, but something like a challenge mode would have been welcome. The game is playable through PlayStation VR, no doubt adding greater immersive value to the title, but we don’t have a VR unit (yet) at our disposal.
Dread, fear, and fright are emotions I would have of thought a rhythm game would make me feel, but Thumper did this constantly. Through an emphasis on visuals, sound, and speed, Thumper creates an immersive and terrifying experience worth the nightmares that may ensue.
FINAL SCORE: 4.3/5
Thumper is available on Steam and the PlayStation Network.
Second Opinion by Robbie:
Thumper‘s controls are straightforward and easy to use, but after 30 minutes of gameplay, I had a pounding headache. Not sure if the developers were jacked up on LSD or if I should have been jacked up on LSD to understand what the hell was going on, but the background visuals were confusing. Thumper has an interesting idea of combining quick reaction time with obstacles that influence the soundtrack of the game, but I would not recommend this game to a friend unless I knew they took acid daily.
UPDATE 5/20/17: Thumper on Nintendo Switch Impressions
Drool was nice enough to provide us a copy of Thumper for the Nintendo Switch!
So how does rhythm action feel on Nintendo’s new portable platform? In short, excellent. Thumper on Switch is the same great game it is on PS4 and PC when in docked mode, but when in handheld, it is elevated into symphonically sinister experience on the go. The game looks as atmospheric as ever on the Switch’s display screen, and plays just as well with the Joy-Cons, but it’s the HD Rumble (“Rumble Violence”) you feel with each tight turn or narrow match that creates a sense of satisfaction and dread with each rumbling blast of feedback.
The portability and HD Rumble of the Switch create an intensely frightening and intimate experience that makes the Switch our platform of choice for this title. And plug in your headphones!!!