Bang the drum!
Curiously proclaimed as a ‘Rhythm Violence’ game by its developers, the term makes perfect sense once Thumper is experienced. Previously on PS4/ PSVR in October 2016, the game has now come to Nintendo’s newest system, the Switch. Co-founder and head programmer Marc Flury explained how it came to be.
“I met a couple of guys from NCL (Nintendo Japan) at Bitsummit (An annual indie game festival in Kyoto). They played it on PSVR and liked it. They were particularly interested in how the game could utilize the console’s HD Rumble feature.”
Upon starting the game, an ominous parallel track appears and snakes off into the distance. With a combination of subtle screen shaking and motion effects, the titular hero – a nameless, metallic beetle – starts careering towards an abyss. Given a few controller inputs, players must jump, grind and plough your way through corresponding obstacles. Where other rhythm or music games require precision to maintain harmony or rhythm, Thumper’s approach is abrasive, relentless, brutal and cathartic.
Whether you are trying to crash through gates or making sparks fly drifting round corners, the impact and perpetually frictional nature of completing stages and destroying the bosses of Thumper is sadistically satisfying. As with other games in the genre, unfamiliar territory will bring a little frustration, but rarely is victory unattainable. Even better, the breaks in the stages are of little comfort and merely serve as a chance to regain composure. Missing beats or notes in other rhythm games normally results in just aesthetic consequences – crowds boo, score combos crumble or chefs scold. In Thumper, you only ever have a maximum of two chances. Miss one obstacle, your wings spark and crack off. Fail again and you’ll ricochet, spin and explode. As elegant as it is ferocious, you’ll dread every twist, turn and boss you’ll hurtle towards, and will yearn for the next pattern to test your nerve.
Aside from the portability factor brought in by the Nintendo Switch, the real X factor in this version is HD rumble. Composer Brian Gibson’s musical score is a pounding techno-industrial masterpiece, like a sword fight on an angle grinder, supported by tribal drum beats, clinks, crunches, buzzes and metallic swipes. While the absolute premium way to play Thumper in terms of an audio-visual experience is on PS4 Pro with a decent pair of wireless headphones, The Switch version is no slouch when it comes to immersion. Flury explained that Drool were “psyched” about the port to Switch and its development process.
“The Switch is a very different hardware configuration than our previous platforms (PC/PSVR). And Thumper uses a custom engine/ renderer, so I had to build up everything from scratch. But I enjoyed the process. It’s clear Nintendo made a serious effort to make the hardware and tools developer friendly.”
The variety conveyed in the Joy-cons is genuine to not only the game, but the hardware in general. Never jarring or intrusive, the overall experience of Thumper reminded me of Mad Max: Fury Road: straight up, relentless action with a monstrous soundtrack and little respite between set pieces before you continue on your intense journey of reverberating effects and psychedelic, surrealist imagery.
It was probably to be expected, but there have been a couple of minor technical, aesthetic sacrifices. More advanced lighting and motion effects have been reduced to keep the Switch version at a rock solid 60fps, 720p in handheld mode, 1080p while docked. In motion, it’s very doubtful you’ll notice; after all, it’s the same limitations on PSVR.
If you own a Nintendo Switch, this is a pure, prime example of what the HD rumble feature was designed for, and one of the most visually unique, unhinged and thrilling experiences you can get.