Thumper is the last thing a beetle imagines when it smacks into a windshield. Thumper is what it’s like to peer into the subconscious of the guitar-playing Doof Warrior from Mad Max: Fury Road. Thumper is a rhythm game stripped down to the rims – a primal, uncomfortable nightmare by design. Though it shares a few DNA strands with other games out there, Thumper is its own unique beast – a mean, unrelenting animal that I wanted to put down after a few hours.
You control a metallic beetle traveling along an autoscrolling trough. You move at a blistering speed, accompanied by a pounding, percussive score. As strange as a metallic beetle may be, it’s that score that sets the game apart from other rhythm games you’ve played. It sounds like something ripped from a dystopian movie, and it’s striking and hypnotic. Unfortunately, it can’t maintain the rest of the game.
When you begin, you only have a few different things to concern yourself with. You can pick up score-enhancing objects by pressing a button as you pass over them. Holding the button down will allow you to pass through hazards that would otherwise damage your bug. You need to steer through tight turns and jump over spikes or take the hit. Your beetle may be made of chrome, but it’s fragile; take two hits, and you have to replay the stretch you died on – a process that may take you back anywhere from a few seconds to a minute or more. Additional elements, such as widened lanes and enemies, are added as the game progresses, but the core remains.
Unlike traditional music/rhythm games, which focus on a playlist of individual songs, Thumper’s soundtrack doesn’t offer much variety. The sounds move through the levels continuously, rarely changing or building into anything larger. It actually works to its favor in the short term, helping to create a sense of dread and an almost hypnotic state. After a few hours, however, it’s a real bummer. It doesn’t provide those moments of catharsis that come with great music games, and nailing a difficult section – of which there are plenty – doesn’t change the audio landscape in any significant ways. You’re just a bug, propelled along a track, your own personal feelings be damned.
The game starts off fairly easy, but it quickly escalates. I had a tricky time reliably pulling off a couple of maneuvers, such as one where your bug briefly goes airborne and slams back to the trough, which added to the frustration. Even when I pulled things off flawlessly, I sensed a disconnect between my actions and the rhythms that I was hearing. And I lost count of how many times I was certain that I turned perfectly, only to watch as my beetle shattered against the wall. You don’t have any difficulty settings to play around with in Thumper, so as with the rest of the game, you experience it on its own terms.
I enjoy challenging games when there’s a rewarding payoff. With Thumper, the reward of doing well is just more Thumper. If you’re really into the game’s bleak conceit, you may have the patience to hang with it for the duration. Personally, I was ready to leap out of the trough and never look back.