Thumper (Switch eShop) Review
When I was a kid we had this weird VHS tape. I’m not exactly sure what its purpose was, but I assume it was for meditation, self-hypnosis or some kind of jive therapy. You’d stick it in the player and there was no introduction or anything, just a trippy display of moving colours, constantly pulsing towards the screen, simulating the image that you’re flying through a tunnel of hippie-esque light, across a spectrum of bright colours. That’s what Thumper is like. Well, you know, if you replace the images with that of an alternate dimension, akin to the road to the underworld.
Developer Drool refers to Thumper as a Rythm Violence game, an accurate description if I’ve ever heard one. You take control of a space beetle, whose goal is to brave the hellish void and face its nemesis in a battle to the death. The nemesis, by the way, is a giant floating evil head. That’s as far as it goes for a story line in the game but that’s okay, as it’s all it needs. Gameplay is what really matters in Thumper and the gameplay is pretty damn addictive.
It’s very easy to pick up and play, with a nice tutorial introducing you to the simple one-button mechanics. At its base, it’s all about pressing A in time with the industrial sounding, drum-heavy music, as the space beetle flys over the glowing rectangles. It’s simple enough. You just sit and watch as it automatically flys along the hot wheels track of doom and you press your little button every now and then. At least that’s how it starts.
As the game continues more mechanics are introduced, incorporating tilting the thumbstick in different directions so as to overcome the obstacles in your path. It might be a hard turn against a wall, a long jump over a stretch of thorns or possibly even a group or hurdle like bars that need to be smashed through with your hard outer exterior. If you mess up and miss a button press or tilt combination you’re gonna take some damage, and if you mess up twice — you dead.
Dying isn’t too critical, as each world is broken into many stages that act as a checkpoint as you complete them. It’s only the odd occasion when you come across a longer stage than most of the others, where the constant dying and retrying becomes annoyingly irritating. As the game progresses more and more techniques are introduced for getting through this crazy roller coaster ride and you should really pay attention to what you learn. There was one time where I spent about twenty minutes getting past the introduction to a particular series of moves that lets you defeat a sub-boss. I literally got taught how to defeat the sub-bosses shield and subsequently did not implore that method, constantly shouting at the television in a questioning manner, “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!” Maybe you won’t be as daft as I was and will realise you need to do the thing you were just told to do. This certainly wasn’t a flaw in game design, just a sign of my stupidity.
At first keeping in time with the beat didn’t actually seem like it was part of the game. It didn’t feel like I was playing in time with the music. I was also doing pretty good and not dying at all, yet I was only getting A or B ranks and not the highly sought after S rank. Then I realised I was playing wrong. For example, one key thing I was doing incorrectly was handling the turns. I’d tilt the control stick left or right to ride the turn and make it through alive, but the beat didn’t sound quite right and the ‘success’ sound wasn’t playing. It turns out that I wasn’t pressing the A button enough. When taking a turn I was meant to hit A as well as tilt the stick at the same time. Not only did my points go up, but the additional button presses made the beat of the music sound like it was finally a big part of the game.
Even though Thumper is all about playing in time to the beat, it wasn’t enough to get me through some stages. It got to the point where I wasn’t able to rely on my ability to keep the rhythm, but more so on memorising the stage. After failing so many times on some of the stages, I just had to burn the track into my mind. “A + forward, followed by a rectangle of light and a quick short left turn. Don’t forget to press A at the same time to keep that score high, and then it’s a quick right turn followed by another rectangle.” Thankfully this only happened a few times, as the game is much more fun when it feels natural and you’re not having to think about the moves ahead of time.
When you face a boss battle things are a little bit different. Instead of just trying to get to the end of the run, you have to complete each obstacle perfectly to activate the final powerful glowing rectangle of light, which becomes a projectile that darts along the track and smashes into your foe. If you miss an obstacle, not only is it likely you’ll take damage, but you also don’t get that projectile. When that happens, the loop starts again. After successfully landing several hits from a few different loops of track, Mr. Floaty Evil Head retreats, until the next world anyway.
Thumper is a great looking game in either 1080p on the TV or 720p in handheld mode. Though the shiny chrome graphics may be a little basic and start to repeat, it looks great. Personally, I prefer playing on the big screen with my surround sound turned up high, but I can see the appeal of playing on the go with a set of headphones, pumping those drums directly into your head. If I have one gripe, it’s that the audio does lack variety, which sounds like it should be a major issue for a Rhythm game. I’d love to hear something a bit different from world to world.
With nine worlds to play through, there’s enough content here to keep you busy for more than a few sittings, or less if you’re feeling really committed. The replayability factor is there too. Though it’s not always overly hard to beat a stage, getting the S rank might be more frustrating than you first realise, requiring precision on every turn and a flawless run. When you do have the S rank you can also fight for a top spot on the online leaderboards. If you need a game that’s easy to pick up and play, Thumper is a good choice. With a heap of stages, designed to let you play a little or play a lot, a decent difficulty level and pretty visuals to match, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Some more variety in sight and sound wouldn’t have been so bad, but the gameplay and continuous introduction of new gameplay elements forgive this.
- Easy to play and difficult to master
- Looks great, sounds great
- A wild ride
- More variety in graphics and audio wouldn't go astray