Rhythm-based games tend to be very simple in their design and very intricate in their execution. The beauty of a game like Thumper lies in the satisfaction of making a perfect sequence sound exactly that; perfect. Thumper strips almost all of the fluff that modern games tend to have in favor of a far more visceral experience. In order to succeed at Thumper, you need to almost go into a meditative state and let the music and the beat flow into you to keep up with the beats and the visuals simultaneously. While this sounds cheesy, once you play Thumper, you will understand where such a statement comes from. With hypnotic visuals and a distorted electronic sound, there is a quality to Thumper that sits on a knife edge between dream-like and nightmarish.
The game itself is very simple; you control a metallic beetle on a rail heading toward, well, somewhere and you only need worry about directly controlling the beetle by the direction buttons and the x button. You turn sharp corners and extinguish lights that you travel over, all of which create sounds which make up the beat of the music. The commands are introduced to you one at a time and are never overwhelming, but the execution of said commands is where the difficulty is. This game is an epitome to ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’. The key is not to watch the track as it unfolds, but to listen to it and feel the rhythm as it comes. The beats themselves come from the beetle smashing itself against the walls of the rail or slamming itself back down from a jump, all of which are met with a rumble from the screen and a drum or deep synth noise that comes across as violent without actually being so. Missing a beat throws your rhythm off and feels like punishment enough while your headspace is in trance enough, but miss two or three and your beetle explodes and forces you back to the previous checkpoint.
The intensity and speed of Thumper is most apparant during its’ boss battles. The beats are less about survival and more about attacking during these sequences where the beat icons turn green instead of blue and you must hit them all in sequence in order to launch a neon green missile that gives a feeling not unlike that of torpedo-ing the Death Star in Star Wars. Miss one and you have to survive the sequence anyway with no payoff in order to try again on the next time around. The bosses could look a little more varied than they do, but they are still quite horrific in their own way, in the same way a nightmare would play on your thoughts rather than gore and jump-scares.
The longevity of Thumper depends entirely on how much you care about score attacking. If you only plan to play through each of the games’ 9 levels once, then Thumper will probably be quite short lived for you, but you will very rarely find that anyone can finish a level with an A-Rank, let alone S-Rank on the first time through, and with online leaderboards also being present, Thumper lasts for as long as you want it to. Some sequences are overused a little bit, but even they will last in your mind long after you put the controller down!
The immersion of Thumper is taken to the next level when played in VR. Looking out into the vast nothingness is nothing short of mesmerising and with a decent set of earphones and the VR headset, you can truly lose yourself in the music and the speed of Thumper. Everything I’ve previously described has the volume turned up to 11 in VR. The violent thumps and grinds are that much more vivid, the emptiness is that much more empty, and I found myself genuinely not wanting to look at the bosses, but looking anyway out of sheer psychadelia. The infrequent reprises during each level give you space to breathe, but you find, like a dream, that you almost can’t remember what you’ve just done.
Thumper may come off as repetitive to those who, like many, feel that rhythm games are archaic in nature, and in a way, they’re right. But the repetition of Thumper is a great part of its’ charm. Some may not like the fact that there’s no story to follow and that they don’t understand why a small metal beetle is travelling along a speeding light rail towards cosmic entities, but again, who can explain the dreams or trances they enter? This is what Thumper preys upon, and it does so magnificently. Thumper is probably the only game released alongside the Playstation VR that truly captures a sense of being completely entranced by the things happening around you. If you have a PSVR, I wholeheartedly recommend Thumper, and even if you don’t have one, it’s still well worth checking out!