Real Talk By: Zombie Zac
In Thumper, you control a metallic beetle as it races along a glowing track that descends further and further into a digitized virtual hellscape. What begins as a looming anxiety that pervades your peripherals quickly transforms into a screaming cacophony of quick reflexes and heart-pounding rhythmic action. The further the beetle travels, the more sinister it becomes and the more locked-in you are. You become the conductor, motioning the beetle left, then right, under and over— you are at once in control, but also completely out of control. Thumper could be classified as a rhythm game, a horror game, or even an action game, but it defies categorization. It is simply one of the best VR experiences you can have today.
Take a time machine back to the 90’s, pre-Virtual Boy, and close your eyes; How do you imagine a future with VR? For me, I would have imagined something close to Thumper. In the spring of 1992, writer director Brett Leonard presented The Lawnmower Man to audiences, a film based off a Stephen King story most famous for it’s visual portrayal of a futuristic VR world. There’s something sinister in the dated presentation today, a wobbly VHS lens into a computer generated realm of clean geometric shapes, dark universes, and rigid polygons. Much like Thumper, these pieces forming together to construct almost recognizable features, but always alien. There’s something extremely gratifying about putting on the PSVR and playing the manifestation of this futuristic VR escapism, but in real life.
Developed and Published by Drool, Thumper was designed by the two co-founders, Marc Flury and Brian Gibson. Marc is the sole programmer and created Thumper’s engine. Brian is a musician and artist who worked previously on Guitar Hero, Amplitude, and Rock Band. He created all of the music and art in Thumper. The singular vision shared by the two can be felt in the bold presentation and simplicity in its execution. When you begin a game you are led through the controls with on-screen prompts with new abilities stacking as you pass through levels. As you play, you reach checkpoints that award you skill points, enticing you to try multiple times to get the highest “S” ranking for each section.
In my time with the PSVR, it has been Thumper that has captivated those I have shown the tech to the most. There’s something absolutely hypnotic about navigating the beetle through tunnels, shattering through psychedelic gates and pulsing shock-waves out like some kind of multidimensional symphony. It smartly adds complexity over time, while retaining a pick up and play simplicity that lures you back in. It’s perfect for passing around the VR helmet and the music is great with an original mix of percussion, orchestration and dark electronica. While it may remind players of past ideas of VR, that is only in the most flattering of ways— Thumper has it’s own unique voice and feels completely uncompromised in its vision.
It’s difficult to criticize anything about Thumper, especially at $19.99. Don’t expect tons of modes, or multiplayer. There are leaderboards for scores, but that’s it. Behind it’s new tantalizing VR glow Thumper is a score-based arcade game at its heart that can still just be played on your TV. In fact, it runs at 1080p and 60 fps for PS4 owners. If you have a PS4 Pro it renders at full 4K and maintains the 60 fps, which is impressive. This is largely due to the fact that nothing you’re seeing is overly complex. The VR mode works flawlessly, but doesn’t give you reason to look around or interact with your environment as you’ll be staring straight ahead the whole time. So while it doesn’t show off everything that VR can do, it provides a very compelling experience that is made possible only by VR. Ultimately, it is instant escapism— addictive and infinitely repayable, even with its terrifying atmosphere, Thumper is a pure joy.
4.5 out of 5
+Superb audio/visual presentation
+Simple to play, difficult to master
+VR adds a whole new level of immersion
+Great value for price
-A Two Player score attack mode would have been really fun