Thumper was an intriguing experience. It pulled me in right away with its sounds and sights but left me disappointed towards the end with repetitive design and unfair mechanics. But I couldn’t stop diving back in to play it once in a while. Maybe it’s because the developers were very close to creating that “rhythm violence” game they wanted or that the PSVR does this game a lot of justice. Either way the title starts out incredibly strong but fades into uncertainty in the latter levels.
The game tasks you with controlling a beetle like insect encased in metal. Or at least what I assume to be metal since this world is pretty psychedelic. Now that I think about it there should probably be a warning for Thumper that you don’t play intoxicated in any way. Regardless, we’ll get into that later. The objective is to safely deliver the beetle to the end of each level down a fast-moving track. In doing so you swing around turns, press the X button in tandem with on-screen lights, jump over obstacles, smash through bars, avoid enemy attacks, and defeat bosses. Later levels even open up a bit with small instances of multiple tracks instead of just one. Things are mixed up just enough to keep the moments from getting stale. That is until you hit the halfway point. Then the game just obligatory makes things harder rather than interesting.
The controls are simple enough and even a child will be able to get a hold of them quickly. Holding down X and turning, the way you would on the road, gets you around turns, pressing X once when you go over lights on the track will register your input, pressing X and up launches you across spikes in your way, and holding X smashes through pink bars that appear. These are all done on straightaways, winding turns, or a combination of both in rapid succession. Your ability to perform these actions will dictate your rank for each sub-level and level. Per usual S is the best score you can achieve. Your pension for high scoring will also keep you alive. If your cute, metal beetle gets hit too many times because you failed a turn or crashed into something, you’ll restart at the nearest checkpoint. Which honestly isn’t that bad most of the time unless you’re struggling on one particular area.
As I mentioned, each whole level is divided into sub-levels. The amount of sub-levels there are depends on how far you are into the game. So there could be twelve sub-levels in the beginning but that will easily get into the forties later. Most of them each have their own visual and sound style. One part could be incredibly fast paced and in your face while another was more calm and obstacles came from a distance. The hellish, heavy soundtrack will follow suit. Atmosphere is probably one of the stronger points to Thumper. For lack of a better description, the area around your track is a void lost in darkness. Occasionally, you’ll fly into futuristic tunnels but you’ll mostly be seeing things like metallic tentacles weaving to and fro, unclear shapes of gas moving about and changing colors, and other psychedelic objects entwine that around your track.
Another awesome visual is the explosions that occur when you’re facing off against bosses. There will be some mini-bosses here and there in some levels but the main baddie comes at the end. Every time it’s a giant floating head with characteristics resembling Freddy Kruger. If you successfully launch an attack, a dazzling display of lights will emit from the giant face and fly by you like a strong wind. Once you complete the track and challenges presented, it’ll disappear until the end of other levels. Also, for some reason every time he reappears there are more spikes surrounding it. Everything artistic just comes together so well that you won’t feel “normal” again until you take the PSVR off and considering the completion time for each level (nine in total) can last up to fifty minutes, frequent breaks are recommended.
Unfortunately, breaks will also be taken due to bad design. At its core Thumper is a rhythm game that you have to press buttons in sync with the game’s beat. Too many times the button input didn’t work properly. I’d hit the X button to hit a light that flew by me on time, but it didn’t register and vice versa. There were also clearly times that I was late but the game registered my button press as successful. This is a huge con in regards to a genre that needs absolute tight controls and input registering.
I also brought up that halfway through the game, Thumper loses variety. This is due to the new mechanics introduced in each level running dry. When you get passed the halfway point, you’ll notice things get harder rather than challenging and this doesn’t mesh well with the previously listed issue. The absolute worst is when turns appear out of nowhere or just around the corner, out of view. Unless you have the best reflexes in the world or memorized the track, don’t expect to get an S on most levels your first run through. In addition, most late levels rely too much on just cramming everything together. I’d understand if this was done in the final track or done here and there but it happens way too often.
Initially, the cons at their face value can be summed up as frustration and uninspired repetition. The experience isn’t always bad though. The first few levels were excellent and offered some of the best moments with my PS VR yet. It’s just that it was stretched out too thin, too soon. However, the entry fee of twenty dollars is definitely enough to warrant experiencing the tunes and visuals alone. It’s like a tapestry of voided dark beauty.
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