I’d never have thought that a game that’d see me take on the form of a metallic, chrome-like beetle that speeds through a winding lane of destruction would be so addictive, yet Thumper keeps me coming back for more time and time again. You smash and crash through obstacles, drift across corners at incredible speeds, and even launch huge attacks at a giant, monstrous Demon head. It all sounds utterly insane and in honesty it is, but it also just so happens to be insanely brilliant too.
Thumper’s main gameplay consists of sending a speeding beetle through a winding lane, all controlled simply with the use of an analogue stick and the X button. Jumping (or as the game likes to call it, ‘thumping’), drifting across corners, collecting airborne rings, smashing through obstacles, and eventually switching lanes – everything you do in Thumper is easily performed through the use of the analogue stick and X button. It’s a simple approach that makes Thumper easy for just about anyone to pick up and play. Of course, playing is easy; it’s mastering the game that’ll be the problem for players, with Thumper’s ever-increasing difficulty ensuring that the game stays frantic and even a little overbearing. Never frustrating though, a point I feel I need to exaggerate. You’ll die a lot in Thumper (more than a lot actually), but you’ll never stop coming back for more, instead simply feeling more encouraged to try and overcome the hurdles of difficulty. It probably helps that the game is so damn fun to play, but the gameplay certainly has that ‘one more go’ feel to it.
Thumper absolutely demands your utmost attention at all times. Given the simplicity you’d think it’s something you could treat as a bit of casual fun here and there, but believe me, that notion will go right out of the window when you hit some of the later stages. You have to devote your entire attention span to what’s ahead of you and be completely switched on; there’s no room for error and simply mistiming the press of a button can completely ruin your attempt at a stage. Don’t let this put you off though, because it really is only a case of paying attention for the most part… well… paying attention and reacting extremely quickly, that is…
There are nine stages to take on in all, each of which are split up into multiple sections that are clearly separated by checkpoints. Each stage is surprisingly long too, and that’s not because I kept having to replay them due to a rush of deaths. Thumper is by no means a short game and offers plenty of hours of entertainment throughout each section of its many levels.
Each time you complete a section of a stage you’ll receive a rating based upon your performance, ranging from a lowly ‘C’ grade all the way to the prestigious ‘S’ grade. It’s actually fairly easy to obtain those high grades during the earlier stages, but they become a more far-reaching goal the further you progress through the game. The scoring certainly adds to the replayability of Thumper, whilst seeing your position rise on the global leaderboard adds an extra incentive for score chasers.
Thumper is a self-described ‘rhythm violence’ game, though in honesty I found the rhythm side of the game to feel a little less obvious than in other rhythm-based titles. Whilst there are fantastic blistering beats that fit in perfectly with the manic vibe of the game, anyone who’s actively seeking a ‘rhythm’ game may be a little disappointed, especially given the developer’s pedigree of working on titles such as ‘Amplitude’, ‘Guitar Hero’ and ‘Rock Band’. There are times where the music does correlate with your actions, but it never seems to depend entirely upon them – it certainly didn’t feel like a rhythm game in the traditional sense at least. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but rather something I found during my time with the game that I felt deserved a mention.
Whilst Thumper can be played outside of VR, nearly all of my time spent with it has been within a Playstation VR headset. After experiencing the intensity and immersion that the VR mode offers I don’t think I could play it any other way. The high speeds, the colourful neon visuals, the crazy sights – simply seeing everything stream towards you is absolutely amazing. It’s great to turn your head and see everything blast around you too, though actually doing so could come at the expense of your progression; I’ve already mentioned that Thumper’s gameplay demands your absolute attention, remember?
It’s not just that everything looks great in Thumper’s VR mode, but it’s the scale that it offers too. Everything looks absolutely massive, something that’s especially impressive when facing off against the game’s multiple bosses. The bosses are visually magnificent encounters that come at the end of each stage, each encounter testing you on all of the gameplay mechanics you’ve learnt throughout the game. You’ll come up against a myriad of insane creatures as a sub boss, but each stage always concludes with a standoff against the game’s manic antagonist Crakhead, a villain who’s appearance becomes all the more menacing the further you progress through the game. Each boss encounter provides a great showdown that not only takes advantage of the game’s stunning visuals, but also of the brilliant gameplay it offers too.
Perhaps the biggest flaw to be found with Thumper is how little it varies things up. Whilst it does a good job of slowly introducing new gameplay mechanics, by the time you reach the game’s later stages it relies a lot more on making the game more difficult as opposed to making it play differently. It’s a small flaw and in honesty I feel like I’m nit picking, but the experience doesn’t vary too much once you’ve worked through the opening few stages.
Thumper takes a simple concept that’s easy to pick up and play and amps it up to the max by offering thrilling gameplay, slick neon visuals, and a brutal pulse-pounding difficulty that’ll keep you on your toes right until the very end. Add into that the fantastic and incredibly immersive VR integration and you’ll find yourself with one of the Playstation VR’s stand out launch titles. It really is great and something that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. I love it.
The tough difficulty spikes and lack of variety towards the back end of the game may be off-putting to a few, but I know I’m going to keep on ‘thumping’ for a long, long time.
Release Date: 10/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC