Thumper sells itself as a classic rhythm game under the genre of rhythm violence. Players take control of a silver space beetle as it hurtles through a hellish void at breakneck speeds while trying to keep pace with the game’s rhythm.
Thumper is, at its heart, a simple game. Players take control of a giant space beetle that’s speeding hell-for-leather along a track in space. Using the control stick in conjunction with the A button players are able to dodge the various obstacles that present themselves.
Thumper’s very design reminds me of an eighties heavy metal music video. From the sharp reds and blacks to the shimmering silver, almost liquid in its look. The track twists and turns while everything ahead warps and bends, out of touch with reality. Aside from the music, the visuals in Thumper are everything and really help with the sense of speed. The space beetle really stands out adorned in brushed steel, a texture of which reflects a stark contrast to the colours surrounding it; the same can be said for any item of interest. An ethereal glow surrounds many of the game’s obstacles offering a visibility to the player seconds in advance before needing to react.
But despite all of the effort that has been made making Thumper visually appealing, I can’t help but feel the game is lacking in the music department. For a majority of the game, I found the soundtrack to be dull and underwhelming. The occasional heavy beat can be heard during gameplay but for the most part it’s fairly soft; I was expecting a thrilling heavy metal soundtrack but instead, I felt the music was almost and an afterthought in the background and masked by the other sound effects. I found this to be true both in handheld mode with headphones as well as in docked mode through my TV.
Music issues aside, my biggest disappointment was actually with the rhythm aspect of the game. This seems to be a little hit and miss and I think my statement requires clarification. To me, a great rhythm game has a fantastic soundtrack which allows the player to almost anticipate what comes next by listening to the beat. I found that Thumper’s rhythm relies more on the successful execution of the mechanics of the game to generate its own repetitive pattern. Rather than relying on the rhythm of the backing track, I felt that I was required to get into my own rhythm of button presses.
As the track twists and turns, players must use a combination of the left control stick as well as the A button to navigate the obstacles on the track. Missing an event causes the beetle to receive damage and removing its outer shell. This can be regenerated by hitting certain criteria during the level. Thumper can be pretty unforgiving in some areas; two misses and it’s game over. The controls in general or pretty tight. They respond well and the HD rumble acts as a nice feedback (though I’m still unimpressed by the Switch’s HD rumble overall).
During boss battles, players are required to be in perfect rhythm with the game track in order to do damage. This can be done by pressing the A button at the correct time either on the track or in the air. The latter option causes the beetle slam into the track. If done in time a pulse, of sorts, will be launched at the boss, damaging it. While in the earlier levels this can be fairly easy, as progression is made through each of the game’s nine levels the speed increases and timing becomes everything. Dealing damage to the later level bosses feels great and comes with a true sense of achievement.
Visually, Thumper is a great looking game. It plays well in both docked mode and in handheld mode with no visible slowdown or glitches. The game runs at a smooth 60 frames per second in both modes and can be played for a few hours on end or just for quick, short bursts of gameplay. The entire game spans over 9 levels with smaller sub-levels to provide a sense of progression. Each level, however, is very similar to the last offering little in the way of variety and can feel a little repetitive at times.
My overall feelings on Thumper are mixed. It’s a game I really want to like, and I do, but it just doesn’t offer enough for me to love it. From a technical aspect the game plays great with no obvious framerate issues or graphical glitches, but on the other side of the coin it just doesn’t offer the rhythm gameplay it promises. It has this fantastic 80’s music-video style visuals but a soundtrack that, in my opinion, feels a little lacklustre and could do with a lot of work to make Thumper a great rhythm game.