Thumper (Mini Review)

After months of punishing players on PC and PS4, the “rythym violence” spectacle that is Thumper arrived on Xbox One and Switch a couple of months ago and I finally got a chance to give it a go. Being a fan of shorter, more arcade-like experiences this sounded like a title that might fit my interest in bite sized gaming action.

How would I describe the game? At first it made me think of the synesthesia experience of Rez through the lens of the Nine Inch Nails album cover. Then I thought it might be a racer or a shooter with the visuals hinting at a track and taking on enemies. But as you play it soon becomes clear that it is definitely a rhythm game with players being pushed to complete combinations to progress through each stage and to eventually defeat bosses. Considering the developer’s past history at Harmonix (creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band), you might even think it could be a spin on Rock Band Blitz but with a harder edge and a strong focus on its darker theme.

Bosses are the ultimate test of what you’ve learned coupled with hand-eye coordination. I think I need work on both.

Thumper sets you up as a space beetle travelling solo down a one way track. To proceed past each section you need to navigate through a set of obstacles requiring you to time your movements and button presses closely to what you see on screen. Timing these sections right not only lets you pass each section but rewards you with audio feedback that complements the soundtrack perfectly. You want to go well so you can continue to feel the vibe… it’s quite compelling.

For a game that’s about timing, Thumper definitely punishes you heavily when you make a mistake. Though your controls are limited to a single button and directional stick/pad you might find that getting that timing right will present more of a challenge than you might think. With some obstacles damaging your beetle, it only takes a couple of mistakes to be destroyed and forcing you repeat that section again. Thankfully each section is short enough that if you are able to successfully complete the sequence you’ll move on to the next quickly and have your progress saved.

Dotted through the levels are bosses who will challenge you based on what you have learned so far and can be the most challenging sections you will face as they force you to get your timings right if you want to defeat them. It’s where I’m stuck at the moment as I’m finding my timing is just short of getting it right – I wonder if it might be due to a slow response rate on my old TV or more likely a slow response rate in me! But I’m happy to repeat the section over and over and am slowly getting closer to defeating it. I think once I do I might need a stiff drink or a lie down because it is hard work!

As an audiovisual showpiece, Thumper really delivers and could work as the ultimate attract screen for anyone’s home theatre. Big screen and big speakers is what this is all about. A strong nerve is needed too… this can be an intense experience that might also be frustrating for some people but there’s a part of me that wants to keep trying and that’s got to be good sign.

Thumper is out now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Switch. Reviewed on Xbox One.

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