Thumper PC, PS4, PSVR
There’s a reason the vast majority of rhythm-action games are set to such upbeat backing tracks, and if you weren’t aware of it before, you will after about five minutes of playing Thumper. This foreboding work is what happens when two former Harmonix developers, tired of making music games where the band plays on and the crowd goes wild even though you just made a terrible mess of the solo, strike out on their own, taking a genre and subverting its every convention.
Suffice it to say, this is no dance party. You control a metallic, beetle-shaped craft that’s haring lightning-fast along a track through a hellscape made of neon. Obstacles come at searing pace; taking one hit will lose your chromatic shield, but a second will kill you, depositing you back to the nearest checkpoint. The solution to every hazard is mapped to the X button, either tapped, held or combined with a D-pad direction. Levels are broken up into stages, a couple of dozen or more, each lasting no more than a minute – assuming you survive, that is – and climaxing with a boss battle against a recurring foe. Crakhed, a giant flaming skull, can only be damaged if you nail an entire section, the final button press shooting an energy blast at it. Fail, and the stage loops elegantly back to the start.
There’s an awful lot going on in that single-button control system. You’ll hold left or right on the D-pad to round corners; press it up to jump over spikes, then down to slam back down on a note, the latter sometimes required to shoot through barriers. Before long you’ll be switching between multiple lanes, or faced with laser forcefields that will hit you if you miss a single note. Every new level brings a new idea, a new way of developer Drool taking the multi-button ethos of a plastic-guitar game and compressing it down to a single input.
There’s only one difficulty level, and we’ll readily admit to looking for a way to change it. With its offkilter soundtrack, you’re more reliant on visual cues than in most rhythm games, and with busy neon scenery flying at you at such a rate, it often feels like Drool wants you to learn a level layout through failure, rather than improvise your way to success. When a checkpoint arrives or a boss goes down, the feeling is more often one of relief that you won’t have to do it again than one of satisfaction at your success. Drool styles Thumper as a ‘rhythm violence’ game, though it’s more a game of survival, of constant, frantic tension with the occasional wave of relief. Fraught, oppressive and tense, Thumper has been built to a singular vision – one we can certainly respect, if not always enjoy. We suspect Drool wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thumper makes few concessions to the lesser skilled, but does throw the novice a bone by not insisting on absolute perfection. Some obstacles can be ignored entirely, though doing so means losing your score multiplier Developer/publisher Drool Format PC, PS4, PSVR (tested) Release Out now