Thumper is a rhythm action game with a twist. As with most rhythm games you complete actions to the beat, but Thumper flips the priority from completing a song, to completing a level.
Thumper describes itself as a rhythm violence game. Thumper is blindingly fast. Many of the actions that you’ll be completing will be done very quickly together at an incredible pace. Completing actions contributes to the music, with successful actions creating sounds that have enourmous impact. The player will create thumping beats, metallic crashes and more if they are able to keep up with the pace of the track. Finally, if you miss a turn, or at times a beat, you take damage, and then one more hit will destroy you, which adds to that violent feel.
Thumper’s gameplay can be described as easy to pick up, and hard to master. Thumper has one action button and one control stick. In order to complete the beats, you will usually combine the action button with a direction. With only 5 actions, Thumper might sound simple, but often times, the actions will need to be combined, or activated in quick succession, and that makes for enough complexity to flesh out the game fully without feeling repetitive, and without the action getting stale.
In addition to completing the levels, you are given a rank at the end of each segment of a track. If you’re chasing score, you can choose to restart the previous segment to improve your rank, or, if you’re half way through a segment and know you’ve stuffed up, you can restart the same segment immediately.
Thumper’s difficulty is not to be underestimated. At first, it feels very possible to S-Rank sections without a lot of practice, but Thumper quickly picks up in pace and complexity, so my experience went from a struggle to get an S, to a struggle to beat a track entirely. According to Steam Achievements, less than 1% of players are able to S-Rank the entire game, and from playing, it looks as though that would have taken a large amount of game time to achieve.
If you do struggle to beat the game, restarts don’t take long, and the track segments start quite short. This allows players to familiarise themselves with the game, before the difficulty picks up and the tracks increase in length to the point where, individual segments take around a minute to beat. Thumper’s bosses are the exception to this rule, as defeating them involves hitting a string of beats in a row. This will create a final beat, that if hit sends out a pulse that damages the boss and allows the player to proceed to the next phase of said boss. If the player is not successful in hitting all of the notes, or the final beat is missed, instead of moving on, the string of beats will restart, forcing the player to retry until they are successful. Usually the boss only requires 4 hits to be taken out however, so a skilled or practiced player can defeat a boss within a minute too.
Thumper’s soundtrack is odd too. It doesn’t act like a traditional rhythm game soundtrack, in the sense that the player acts as the beat, and other than the beat, there’s a consistent drum track, and a brooding, eerie mix of strings and synth. It’s a strange mix of energetic and unsettling, which fits perfectly into the entire feel of the game.
As with the music, Thumper’s visuals are a departure from the standard. The overall tone is dark, with the track and the player being a tone of silver, and the background looks like a muted oil-spill. The only parts that really stand out when playing are the obstacles and beats that the player needs to hit, which helps with quick identification, as is needed when you only have milliseconds to react to the incoming danger.
As a result of the music and visuals, thumper feels creepy, but the creepy environment doesn’t scare the player, instead setting the tone for the game.
In summary, Thumper is a blast to play. Thanks to the extreme difficulty, when completing a level the player can expect to feel a sense of accomplishment, and for those that find that easy enough, there’s always high-score chasing, and a game+ mode which is even more difficult than the regular game. Be warned though, without any form of assist mode, or any other concessions, Thumper may simply be too difficult for some.