Described by its developer Drool as a violence rhythm game, Thumper certainly lives up to its name. You play as a metallic beetle travelling through space on a track to defeat some sort of great evil, all to the beat of electronic music. So, the story isn’t really clear because nothing in the game is described in words, but as you’ve probably already guessed, Thumper is all about that gameplay (and that bass). Players tend to either love or hate rhythm games because they’re usually “all or nothing.” That is, it can be easy to fail levels quickly, which can make improving your skills near impossible. But I feel Thumper successfully overcomes this for a variety of reasons.
One of the first things I noticed about Thumper was that it isn’t very strict on the player. To progress through most of the game, you really just need to survive until the end of each section of each level. You can survive many of the sections simply by holding down the A button (with an Xbox controller) and holding the joystick left or right as prompted. In the early levels, you can see turns coming from a long way away, and you can turn any time you like, as long as you aren’t too late. Of course, you’re not going to be getting any high scores by doing this, but if a certain part is frustrating you, it is possible to move on to the next level by just focusing on avoiding damage.
Thumper also has boss levels, where you have to get a certain sequence correct in order to deal damage. It almost feels like an exam to make sure you learnt everything you were supposed to in the preceding parts of the level. While it is possible to skip through the other parts by simply avoiding taking damage, you can’t beat bosses like this. Players may find themselves replaying earlier parts of the level, or earlier levels, until they master what it is they need in order to win.
This may sound a bit tiresome, but that’s not the case at all. It’s very satisfying to go through an old level you struggled through before, only to now be able to do everything perfectly because your reflexes and understanding of how the game works have improved. Additionally, Thumper has a global leaderboard that lets you see every other player’s best score for the level. If you want to get to the top of the leaderboard, you have to play it “properly”. This means taking turns at exactly the right time, hitting all the flying targets and hitting all the glowing pads.
Even if your goal isn’t to claim the top score for a level, the game still lets you know every time you reach a new personal best. And because the levels are so long and varied, they are difficult to memorise completely, so the game never really loses the challenge of needing to react to things. But once you learn how to listen ahead, or figure out what’s coming up next based on the music, life does get a bit easier in that regard.
Thumper is also visually interesting. Sure, you might occasionally wonder if it was inspired by someone’s drug trip, but the way the lights and colours work together do make some really cool effects. There’s also a surprising amount of variation in the backgrounds. Sometimes you’re travelling through a tunnel on a winding path and can barely see what’s in front of you, while, at other times, everything will be laid out before you so you can easily prepare for what’s coming up next. Some players may dislike this variation, but I felt it provided good pacing.
The save feature is also very considerate. Each level is divided into segments, and the game saves as soon as you reach the end of each segment. This means you can very easily retry parts of a level over and over. It is also a simple matter to put the game down part way through a level and come back to finish it later. Thumper will let you store saves part way through several levels at once, so if you get frustrated with trying to complete new levels, you could always switch to the previous level that you were halfway through completing a perfect run on without losing any progress.
The music is a basic beat created by something that sounds like a war drum. The melody, kick drum and other effects such as bass drops are filled in by the player when they successfully go through obstacles. The soundtrack isn’t something I would play just to listen to, but it suits the game perfectly. I didn’t get tired of it at all because I was too busy focusing on the next challenge to notice it was exactly the same beat, just sped up as the difficulty increased.
Thumper is an excellent rhythm game that’s easy to dive into, even for those who are inexperienced with the genre. At the same time, it offers depth and challenge for more experienced players. It’s fun and satisfying to replay levels and see yourself improve. While the soundtrack isn’t something to write home about, it works extremely well within the context of the game, and it makes every successful movement satisfying and impactful. Thanks to its great save feature, Thumper can either be played in short bursts, or for several hours at a time. Thumper isn’t the typical or traditional rhythm game, but it will be very enjoyable for a wide range of players of varying skill levels.