Have you ever had a dream where it felt like you had no control over your fate? Maybe you were falling, or drowning, or trying to run from something vaguely familiar, yet horrifyingly nondescript. It’s dreams like that that make you wake up in a cold sweat, unnerved by your subconscious anxieties.
Of course, they are just dreams and we do eventually shake them off, but the mad scientists from Drool thought it would be better to embrace those anxieties, and put them into their nightmarish, super-slick, and hellishly immersive VR experience, Thumper! And, me being the sucker for punishment that I am, I thought it was about time to test my mental fortitude, as well as my reflexes. So, I lay before you my recollections of rhythmic violence.
Thumper is one of those games that for years has been on and off my radar. Every time it has been brought up, the people that have played it, could do nothing but sing its praises. Celebrating it for its macabre visuals, break neck speed, and apparently rhythm based mechanics that fill you full of dread. A concept that I was having a hard time reconciling in my mind! I say that because looking at screenshots, and even gameplay, it was difficult to figure out exactly what the game was trying to accomplish! Other than trying to impress us with its neon lit, neo-metal aesthetics.
So, the only thing left to do was to try it out for myself. Something I could finally do now that we had access to a VR headset. Now, I know I could have just played the standard non-VR version, but in my mind the only way to see if this anomaly of a rhythm game really held up its part of the bargain was to fully immerse myself in its nightmare-scape.
As I mentioned earlier, when you’re on the outside looking in, Thumper isn’t the easiest game to wrap your mind around. Sure, the eye searingly glossy visuals are stunning, and do a fantastic job of reinforcing the tension you’ll feel once you jump behind your trusty space beetle, but the gameplay itself is almost lost in translation. Especially since as a rhythm game, it doesn’t seem to have much rhythm, at least in a musical sense. Well, other than constant percussive beats and metallic chimes. Which I might add, does an extraordinary job of keeping your blood pressure high!
Once you jump into the game however, especially if you’re playing it in VR, everything just clicks. What seemed overwhelming and incomprehensible at first, almost becomes second nature. Yes, it’s all happening at a breakneck speed, but once you realize that all you have to do is learn how to respond to a few simple prompts, then you’ll be hitting each beat, sliding, and gliding your way through each stage like you were born to do it! That transition from point A to point B is also made even smoother due to Drool’s impeccable job of onboarding you to each new skill you need to learn. Of course, that’s just before they throw you to the wolves.
Nonetheless, although Thumper may be simple to learn, it is by no means easy! The developers do the devilish deed of stringing all of the skills you’ve acquired up to this point, in such a way, that you’ll be constantly on your toes as you progress through its levels. And it’s not always the simple mechanics that keep challenging you either, it can be strange viewing angles that require split second reactions, ominous machinery that punishes you for missing beats, or visuals that overwhelm your senses and force you to hyper focus lest you get distracted and miss your next prompt. Which when taking that all into account, makes your successes, especially after several dozens of failures, that much sweeter. Then just as you become comfortable with a level’s nuances (which never truly happens), you’re thrown into a boss fight! Which changes everything up ever so slightly. Not something you expect in a rhythm game and truly one of my favorite parts!
Although the challenge in Thumper may come off as a hurdle when you first start the game, what I found was my biggest hang-up was its lack of a catchy and less cerebral soundtrack. Now, I typically wouldn’t comment on such a thing, especially when the game in question is so fun to play, but when it falls within the rhythm genre, it’s definitely something I’m on the lookout for. Even if it only loosely fits there. Because of that, I found it that much more difficult to find, well, the rhythm of the game. For the most part, it just sounded like a cacophony of random sounds. Except for on the rare occasion when the stars and moon aligned, and I hit each prompt perfectly to form some semblance of a beat. After saying that however, maybe I just need to get better at the game!
Conversely, everything else about Thumper absolutely hit the mark. In fact, one of my favorite parts was just sitting and enjoying its visual rollercoaster of outlandish sceneries. Which, I hope to see more of, if we were to ever see a new entry in the Thumper catalog.
Without a doubt, if you have the opportunity to play Thumper, I would highly recommend it! It’s an experience unlike any other I’ve played, and that’s doubly true if you are able to play it in VR. If you’re in the mood for a traditional rhythm game however, you probably won’t find that here, but I can assure you that its combination of challenge and unique immersion will have you dreaming about it, and begging for more!