Thumper PC, PS4, PSVR

EDGE - - GAMES -

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

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