Welcome to your new rhythmically-based nightmare, though in this case that’s generally a good thing.
If ever there was a game that you could believe simulates a nightmare’s barren hellscape, it would have to be Thumper. It began life as a VR game, and you can quickly appreciate how it would work well that way. Even on your TV or in handheld mode, once you get dialed in and consumed by the game, you’ll still feel like you’ve been sucked into its surreal and strange landscape. For those with the drive and fortitude to stick it out through its 9 increasingly challenging levels, there’s an utterly unique experience to be had there.
While at the beginning it doesn’t quite feel like a rhythm game, once you get past Level 3 you’ll find that being able to feel and remember your beats will become vital to your survival. For mini-bosses and level bosses, in particular, precision is required as each round will essentially reset itself if you miss a beat. Aside from these battles things are generally a little less picky and you’ll be capable of missing some elements thrown at you, though you’ll always need to keep an eye out for big turns and a few other elements that will knock out your single shield and then kill you if you’ve been exposed. While you may start out focused on maximizing your score to get your S ranks on individual stages before long you’ll be glad to accept the C rank in the interests of moving on after scraping by to simply complete some stages alive.
With each new level there’s typically a new obstacle, enemy, or skill to master and for some people the lack of direction in some of these cases may cause some frustration. The game will initially give you direct prompts, telling you to press the button or what direction to push your joystick in (this is the general extent of the controls, though with the pressure on you’ll often find they’re as much or more than you can manage anyway). However, as the game progresses, you’ll often suddenly encounter a new situation and you’ll be expected to either figure it out quickly or continually die trying until you do. To some this may be irritating but on the whole I found new situations to be either self-explanatory or understandable within a few attempts.
Tied to these added challenges as you progress you’ll also find the game throws in more opportunities to drive up your score and will try to tempt your focus away from merely surviving. Even as I would struggle through some stages I would be tempted to fly up and knock out bars that could be skipped. I would temporarily convince myself I’ll only get this one set, then attempt more and quite often pay the price for that line of thought. The damage done when you blow these attempts isn’t just a lost multiplier or score, as things continue to speed up in the levels. Any mistake that throws you off your beat can make it difficult to recover from and that will result in you getting blown to pieces. In addition, as you correctly perform some tasks in sequence, there can be distractions like screen distortions or flashes of light to help you know you’re on the right track. The problem is if these are timed poorly they can also pull your attention away from staying alive, sometimes causing everything to fall apart.
While it is a rhythm game for the most part I will say it is very much unlike any other I’ve played. The theming is a big part of that, with fascinating and beautiful geometric forms undulating and morphing all around you as well as the various bizarre bosses that you’ll have to defeat. However, another element that I really enjoy about the game, and that differentiates it quite a bit from its genre brethren, is its structure. As you make your way through the various stages you’ll hit a checkpoint at the conclusion of each one. This almost makes the game seem like an adventure of sorts, forcing you to brave your way through each level’s challenges to first be faced periodically by mini-bosses and then to finally take on the level boss themselves. The music then acts more as a vehicle for helping me in my quest, but the primary driver is finding, facing, and ultimately defeating the final boss. This may be the thing I like most about the game.
As has been the case with quite a number of games I’ve enjoyed on the Switch to date I would gladly recommend Thumper to anyone, but would throw out two caveats as well. First, while I don’t think being good at rhythm games is necessarily essential to you being successful in the game, there’s no getting around the fact that being able to feel and anticipate the beats will help you immensely. The second is that this game gets to be extremely challenging, playing it has maxed out my personal intensity to the point that my thumb hurts from me mashing down the A button with apparently all of the force my hand can exert. I would expect that it is a game many people who decide to buy it won’t ever finish just because at some point the bar feels just a bit too high. Regardless, if you like its aesthetics, its pounding beats, and a stiff challenge, there’s really nothing holding me back from recommending it whole-heartedly.