Most rhythm-action games look to ease players in and ensure accessibility by offering easier charts and no-fail modes for those not ready to face Hard or Expert-tier difficulty levels. Thumper is not most rhythm-action games. It’s relentless, ruthless and uncompromising, its blistering pace, myriad hazards and undulating courses all deviously devised to punish anything less than perfect play. And as frustrating as that can be when the challenge ramps up as quickly as it does, the whole experience is just so intense and unique that you’ll recover from every audiovisual kick in the face with a masochistic desire for more.
Considering it only uses one button and directional control, Thumper offers a surprising amount of depth and variety as you attempt to match its increasingly complex patterns. You start by simply cornering and hitting floor panels but before long, you’re soaring over obstacles, slamming beats for bonuses and rapidly switching lanes, most of which are tricks you can employ when returning to levels earlier than they were introduced to help achieve higher scores. There are also plenty of optional hazards for those looking to push their luck, test their skill and smash the leaderboards, although the safer option is usually the preferable one on a first run.
Brutal in both difficulty and presentation and even more oppressive than usual when you’re immersed in this surreal hellish world in VR, Thumper truly feels like the kind of game you ‘beat’ rather than ‘finish’, a trial to be overcome against all odds. It revels in complex timings and tricky off-beat hits in later stages, more abstract and misleading beats sometimes pushing it closer to memory test than rhythmic challenge, which can be frustrating as passages get pretty long later on. But when it all comes together and you’re bashing, slamming and screeching out call-and-response beats, Thumper is absorbing, rewarding and utterly unique.