With a unique brand of rhythm violence, Thumper astounds unlike anything else that you will have ever played. Its elevator pitch is a simple one: as a metallic space beetle, you must brave the hellish void in order to confront a maniacal giant head from the future. Magnificent.
While developer Drool presents a classic rhythm-action game that propels the player at a blistering speed down a seemingly never-ending track, it is Thumper‘s lust for brutal physicality that unrelentingly wants to break your spirit.
That lends an immediate sense of unease to the experience, with this wild ride soon becoming more about a sheer fight for survival beneath the otherworldly sights and sounds that you will witness in the hell that it inhabits.
Thumper starts calmly enough, easing you in as you steadily grasp the basic controls and when to use them. The simplicity in approach will only ever see the player required to use the Left Stick and the A Button to control the space beetle, but, as you move through each level, Drool introduce a mechanic meaning that players are repeatedly challenged in new ways.
Early on you will learn to thump, bank, and slide to successfully steer your space beetle between each checkpoint, with the developer soon throwing in the chance to jump, pound, and switch lanes. These will all come into play as you hurtle along the rail, and, as you reach the later levels, the unyielding rhythm at which the player is required to react becomes entrancingly hypnotic.
Thump is required to interact with white rectangular thumps that appear on the rail, first positioned in time with the beat of the music but soon become increasingly tricky to place accurately as you progress deeper into the hellish void when placed in syncopated or an off-beat rhythm.
Bank sees you hold the A Button and use the Left Stick to position the space beetle to survive a sharp turn in the rail, whereas slide simply sees you hold the A Button to smash through red bars without taking damage. Jump requires that you time a thump while pushing up on the Left Stick to soar over mercilessly spiked obstacles, with the pound added later in that, while jumping, you can pull down on the Left Stick when on a thump to send a shockwave rippling down the rail. And switching lanes is as simple as pulling the Left Stick right or left.
These moves work harmoniously together and there can be nothing more satisfying than successfully pulling them off one after another as Thumper starts to throw everything it has at you in rapid succession.
That is certainly the case with the bosses that you will face, which appear partway through and at the close of each level. These monstrosities must be defeated using a green energy weapon that ripples along the track, activated after the player successfully completes a rhythmic loop. Some bosses will soon have shields protecting them, requiring that players unleash a pound shockwave in their direction in order to shatter them.
With blue gems to collect and checkpoint bonuses to earn, it won’t come as a surprise that there is a ranking system that comes into play. Based on your accuracy and skill, players are advised to hit all thumps, slide into all red bars, jump into all blue rings, avoid taking damage and to execute perfect turns in chasing the elusive S Rank, with their efforts shared with others in online leaderboards.
With nine levels to conquer on your ride into hell each broken into as many as 30 separate stages, Thumper is packed with more than enough content to keep you busy for a long while. And, even if that didn’t sound like enough, a Play + mode is unlocked after you beat the third level that heightens the challenge – playing as a golden beetle as you look to earn the S+ rank.
Moving away from how other games in the genre have simply challenged the player to hammer buttons in time with their favourite licensed track, it is the music that Drool co-founder and Lightning Bolt bassist Brian Gibson has penned that underpins the unrivalled spectacle. Without the exceptional soundtrack that accompanies it, Thumper wouldn’t come as alive as it does.
Best in class, Thumper is an atmospheric and compelling addition to the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch, whose hellish drumbeat will pound in your memory for a long while. It’s that fearlessness to stand apart from what has long been expected in the genre that sees Drool succeed where others have faltered, and it won’t require spending too much time with the game for you to recognise why.