The rhythm game genre has been around for quite a few years now, reaching the height of popularity about a decade ago with games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, DJ Hero, Taiko Drum Master, and even Donkey Konga. The genre had some quirky beginnings with button-mashing games like PaRappa the Rapper and Rhythm Heaven, but now it’s time for a new reckoning. Thumper has arrived and it will test your rhythm skills in new and exciting ways, possibly melting your brain in the process.
At its core, Thumper is a rather simple affair and only requires the use of the Control Stick (or d-pad) and an action button. You control a metallic beetle that’s racing down a tube. Along the way you’ll come across small white rectangular objects, called Thumps. You’ll want to tap your action button at precisely the moment your beetle passes over them to earn points. As this rollercoaster track continues to progress you’ll encounter sharp turns, which require you to hold the action button while pressing left or right. You’ll earn more points if you execute this right as you begin the turns, which also will coordinate with the musical score in the background. The audio cues will let you know if you were successful in your timing, but if you totally screwed up you’ll violently blow up and lose your outer shell. One more mistake like that and you’ll be blown to smithereens.
As you make it further into the game, many more types of obstacles will get in your way and you’ll have to learn new techniques like flying and ground pounding to deal with the hazards. Each world also features a boss to fight, where you’ll have to time your beats exactly right to shoot a pulse at the creature. It will usually take a few blasts before you blow up the boss and move onto the next area. If you mess up the timing, the game will loop back around and you’ll begin the sequence anew until you get it just right.
The visuals in Thumper are out of this world. They initially reminded me slightly of the bonus rounds in Tempest 2000 on the Atari Jaguar. Another apt comparison would be those graphical music visualizers that were all the rage back in the early 2000s on computers. The backgrounds are alive, always moving and pulsing to the music. The imagery is definitely sinister looking, especially when you encounter the various bosses. The game simply oozes style, creating an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach. The Switch version of the game is 60 fps in both docked and handheld mode and looks silky smooth wherever you decide to play.
The music in the game is quite astonishing. In one instance it can be soothing and kind of relaxing, but in a flash it can take on a much more deliberate tone that’s both unsettling and downright stressful. The constant clanging beat that you’re helping to create by mashing your action buttons in sync with the Thumps and turns on the track fit perfectly with the musical score. As each level progresses, the soundtrack often gets more intense and provocative, instilling a sense of horror as you encounter the vile boss creatures. If you’re playing on the go, be sure to hook up a good pair of headphones to experience the game as it is meant to be played.
Thumper makes great use of the Switch’s HD Rumble. You can feel every Thump and every turn. Shooting your weapon at the boss feels especially satisfying and it’s probably one of the best uses of the technology I’ve witnessed in a game so far. The Pro Controller works wonderfully here, especially since I noticed I began to grip the gamepad harder and harder as the difficulty began to increase. Indeed, your journey will not be easy, and in fact the game has some very hard sections. Luckily the checkpoint system works well and you’re never thrown back very far, so the game never seems unfair.
I’ve had the pleasure and the pain of playing Thumper on the PlayStation VR as well as on the Switch. Both are fantastic choices, but if you have access to both it’s hard to not recommend the VR version over the Switch in most cases. This is a game that benefits from your full attention – one where you may soon discover that you haven’t blinked in several minutes. Being completely closed off in VR fits this game to a tee, but that’s not a slight on the Switch game. Quite the contrary, I highly recommend this version as well. It’s a fantastic port that takes advantage of all of the Switch’s technology and makes for an amazing experience – even on the go, which is something you can’t do with VR. Rhythm game fans owe it to themselves to pick up Thumper. You won’t regret it, but your thumbs might!