THUMPER ON PLAYSTATION VR
When developer Drool described Thumper as a “rhythm violence” game, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Now that it is out, what we have is a fast moving rhythm game, just as you’d imagine, but with an emphasis on avoiding damage and defeating bosses.
Taking control of a chrome space beetle, you are sent hurtling down a narrow track, stretching out into the distant hell-scape, littered with obstacles to overcome. By controlling movement with the left stick, and hitting colored pads that act as notes with the ‘X’ button, you hurtle through levels made up of 20+ small sections. Every 10 or so sections are boss levels that see you faced by a giant structure at the far end of the track that can be defeated by hitting all the notes in a specified section. Then, the final part of each level introduces a giant demonic creature, looking like something from an old-school horror film, and you have to defeat it to finish the level. This same structure is repeated over 9 levels that increase in length and difficulty as you progress.
Each level introduces a new mechanic, forming the ‘violence’ part of Thumper, whether that be the ability to jump or a move that sends an earth-shattering ripple along the track. The trickier elements are introduced slowly so that by the time it is incorporated into a boss level, you have mastered it. For the first few levels, everything seems easy but, as soon as you hit level 4, the pace is ramped up and the sharp turns seemingly come out of nowhere. Some sections do feel frustratingly difficult later in the game as more and more mechanics are thrown at you, but they are manageable. You’ll need to concentrate and rely on sharp reflexes and thinking ahead. If you look at what is coming along the line, you’ll know how to deal with it without being surprised. Hitting every note and perfectly timing turns increases your multiplier so that the more you risk failure, the higher your score will be.
The ‘rhythm’ element of Thumper is not in the vein of Rock Band or Amplitude. You won’t be humming along to the tunes as you speed through space. If you imagine a stripped back version of a Hans Zimmer soundtrack that leaves you with the heart pounding percussion, then that’s what the ‘music’ amounts to in Thumper. That isn’t a bad thing however, as it adds to the tension of every level and you use the sound to predict the structure of each section. The interplay between the gameplay and sound makes for quite an overwhelming experience.
Whilst it is playable on a television screen, there is nothing quite like the experience of playing Thumper in VR. You’re moved closer to the action and every twist, turn, and note rushes past you alongside the psychedelic landscape. The track goes off onto the horizon and you feel minuscule with monsters threatening you in every moment. The boss levels are the most impressive as after you hit the towering foe with a shot, debris is fired at you, rushing overhead as you attempt to hit notes that continue to bombard you. Looking upwards into the darkness to see a demon rising over the hill is a sight to behold.
With PlayStation VR, Thumper is extremely intense. So much so that it is difficult to play for much longer than a level or two. The concentration that is required to keep up the the pace leaves you exhausted afterwards and I would let out an audible sigh when I took the headset off after one level. No matter how incredible an experience it is, you’ll be wanting a nap when you’ve finished. With Thumper having this effect, it makes you think whether it would have been a tighter game with shorter segments.
Thumper is an incredible assault on the senses when played in virtual reality. The speed at which you have to turn corners and hit notes in a stunningly designed world makes for an intense and enjoyable ride. Any PlayStation VR owner should pick it up, even if it’ll make you want to go to bed after one level.
SCORE: 4.5/5 – Great