Friday, June 23, 2017

Thumper Review (Nintendo Switch)

Written By: James Nicolay

Title: Thumper
Developer: Drool
Publisher: Drool
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: May 18, 2017
Also Available On: PC, PS4, PS VR, XB1

It's funny that I have to start this review with a disclaimer: the best way to review this game is through a video. For a written review, I feel obliged to use silly metaphors in order to describe the gaming experience more aptly. Thumper, which has been described as a 'rhythm violence' game is an unforgettable gaming experience that is akin to riding a virtual roller coaster in the 22nd century and defeating Aliens in perfect rhythm and beats. I love this game immensely.

I did warn you that it's difficult to put this review into words. Haha.

The gameplay sounds deviously simple: you navigate a space beetle in a roller-coaster-like path and you press your controller buttons when obstacles and turns appear. You press a button to 'put pressure' on some road sections to mark the beats, another button for jumping, avoiding spikes and other obstacles, and a couple of buttons each time you skid as you turn, avoiding bumping into sharp curves. If you get hit once, you will lose a protective layer of the space beetle. You get hit twice, you repeat the segment where you started.

Good thing, Thumper's levels are broken into smaller segments that could be anywhere from ten to maybe thirty. Each segment is broken into a series of turns and obstacles, and your performance is rated after each segment. This is very helpful because of two things: in case you fail, you won't have to repeat a really long segment of the level. And the second benefit is that, the numerous segments allows for casual mistakes for noob gamers like me.

It seems deceiving that you will see only nine levels of Thumper when you start the game. But make no mistake, each level probably takes at least 15-45 minutes of your attention. Some segments require maybe more than 10 minutes to perfect as the rhythm gets stricter and faster the farther you go within the level. Occasionally, you enter a segment with a boss, and here, you have to be able to hit the buttons in perfect rhythm in order to defeat the villain and proceed to the next segment or finish the level.

That's the easy part to describe. Let me try to describe how the visuals and the audio of this game work beautifully.

Many will call the levels very trippy. It's both colorful and dull at the same time, with some metallic and luminous surfaces and lights seen in the tracks and the environments. The beauty of the visuals is that they definitely complement the mood of the game. While for some, they would say that the lack of other visual elements in the game could be boring or even lazy, I feel that the developers are aiming for a claustrophobic experience that almost feels like you are playing in VR, despite not using a VR device (by the way, the game is actually playable in PS VR).

One of the main challenges of the game is for the gamer to be able to react very quickly to the environment and see the obstacles and turn very early on. This is the difficulty I had when I played it on Switch in handheld mode--it's a bit difficult to see the incoming turns and obstacles with the small screen. Playing the game in docked mode with my 55" curved tv, however, the game felt much easier to navigate, and, not surprisingly, more intense.

The best feature of the game, though, is actually its music--and the way the soundtrack really shapes the mood and tone of the entire game. I researched and found out that the music was composed by Brian Gibson, the bassist for the band Lightning Bolt. To most of us who are so used to playing rhythm games with anime themes or pop songs, playing the game with its atmospheric ultra-low bass licks with the brooding colors, with growling monster sounds from the bosses, might really raise the gamer's blood pressure as the game does get intense further on. It goes without saying that you really have to turn up your speakers or headphones when you play Thumper. You're in for an unforgettable ride.

There were moments when I was playing Thumper on Switch, I was trying to imagine how it would be like to play this on VR. I am easily squeamish with some horror games and any case of claustrophobia is something that I often avoid. But for Thumper, the game feels more of an experience rather than a mere game where you just have to push buttons in order to get through with it. Playing Thumper is comparable to going on a trip to a Tron-like high-tech environment--and you leave the world with a thumping heart but incredibly satisfying grin on your face. 

 Rating: 4.5/5