Review: Thumper (PS4/PSVR)

2016 Golden Minecart Awards:

  • Best Action (PS VR)
  • Game of the Year (PS VR) **
  • First Ever Write-In Winner **

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PC

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Optional
  • DualShock 4 Required
  • PlayStation Move None
Title: Thumper
Format: PSN (1.34 GB)
Release Date: October 10, 2016
Publisher: Drool
Developer: Drool
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Thumper is, according to the developer, a ‘rhythm violence’ game. It plays like some odd melding of games like Audiosurf, Groove Coaster, and Laserlife and comes out working quite well. Using some very simple controls and straightforward gameplay, the game manages to provide quite the challenge in a crazy, enjoyable ride.

Gameplay:
Thumper is a rhythm game. Of sorts. It is very non-traditional though compared to what most gamers would think of when they imagine a rhythm game. Rather than selecting songs or mimicking an instrument, Thumper features a series of stages that have you playing as a space beetle on some crazy psychedelic adventure.

The stages start out super simple. The player only has a couple of actions, a thump and a slide, that they must string together in time with obstacles as the beetle hurtles down its track. Putting these together, along with the game’s ambient sounds, forms the song and gives rise to the ‘rhythm’ aspect of the game.

As the player progresses through the stages, the game slowly demands more of them by sometimes adding new abilities like jumping or switching tracks, or other times adding mechanics that use old abilities. Even the very last area of the very last stage adds a new mechanic that’s so crazy I’ll leave it to players to discover on their own.

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There are even boss fights in the game. These sections change the rules slightly, and are an area in which the player has to perform exceptionally well to progress. Each stage ends in a boss fight against a giant skull thing and some also have mid-stage boss fights to keep the player on their toes.

All of this is done with a very simple control scheme. Thumper only ever uses the D-pad and the Cross button for gameplay. Not only does this lend the game well to the “easy to learn, tough to master” adage, but it keeps everything feeling precise and deliberate. Everything feels and controls like it should and the track charts are well designed.

… just the right amount of content …
There is a slight exception to the precise feeling, and that can arise depending on the player’s set up. As I’ve mentioned in numerous other rhythm game reviews, even in game mode my TV has lag, which can be noticeable when a game requires precise inputs.

When I first started up the game, I found myself needing to preempt the game slightly to compensate as Thumper does not include any lag compensation options.

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Optional PlayStation VR Content

The game feels like it has just the right amount of content. There are nine stages, each of which has fifteen to thirty sub-stages. Each stage can take anywhere from ten to fifteen minutes to an hour or more depending. As the game only resets the player to the beginning of the sub-stage if they die the iteration time is short, but later stages can require a lot of retries to get right depending on player skill.

Each sub-stage assigns a rank, S thru C, and at the end of the stage, the total score and rank is tallied. There’s no real replay value to the game aside from score chasing. Still, as Thumper is a budget digital title, I don’t think this is an issue.

… unnerving and spooky …
Visuals:
The screenshots in this review don’t really do the game justice. In motion it looks very good for what the game is aiming for. There aren’t too many extra bells and whistles to distract the player as the kaleidoscope effects that occasionally fill the backgrounds serve more to focus the player than pull attention.

The different actions the player must make are all clearly marked and easy to notice, though the game does purposely start hiding them in tunnels or the like as the game progresses. This is never unfair, just a tactic to give the player a little less time to react.

The end of stage boss is a particularly special note. This skull-like boss is especially menacing in VR but even without VR it’s unnerving and spooky. It shows up repeatedly at the end of each stage but each time becoming more and more angry with the looks to match.

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Audio:
As this is not a traditional music game, it also doesn’t follow the convention of having the player pick a track or song to play. Rather, the stages are simply numbered and don’t really correspond to a track. Instead of playing a song along with the player, the player’s actions build up the ‘music’ in the game, on top of some slight background elements.

The actions form a very basic drum’n’bass style to the audio, with very conscious reoccurring patterns. These not only feel like they give the audio a backbone but also to serve as a useful tool to expand upon for the gameplay itself, with minor variations that advance the melody as it were and give the player challenges. It’s a very cool style that works very well as a videogame and music style.

Online/Multiplayer:
Online leaderboards are the only online component in the game.

… a good challenge and interesting gameplay hook …
Conclusion:
Thumper is proof that sometimes all it takes is a simple but solid concept to build a great game. Without complicated control schemes or in-depth tutorials, it still provides a good challenge and an interesting gameplay hook with enough variation to build a satisfying experience from. This is a title I would definitely recommend to a variety of gamers.

Though it supports it, VR is not integral to the experience so it isn’t necessary to run out and buy PS VR to play. However, those who pick up the game who already have a VR unit, the added dimension and immersion factor does help the game immensely.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Andy Richardson

Andy Richardson

A longtime PlayStation fan who enjoys JRPGs and rhythm games when he’s not tweeting about his parrot.

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