Wot I Think: THUMPER

THUMPER is knives in my skull.
THUMPER is fire in my veins.
THUMPER is the driving beat that has no beat, inhuman rhythm, a bug-eyed dance that starts in the shoulders, moves to the jaw, ends in a chin thrust mechanically forward with murderous intent.
THUMPER is a descent into Hell that transforms into liberation.
THUMPER is/is not a music game.
THUMPER is the videogame you should play today.

Fractal shapes, metallic hues, undulating road to nowhere, a midnight Beyond forever surrounding it: the hallmarks of the rhythmic racer, from Wipeout to Rez to Audiosurf, that ongoing attempt to interpret the auditory as something visual. But where those games chase euphoria, THUMPER is interested in the sickly place between anxiety and drive. Its abstract tracks and surrealistic landscapes are not looping celebrations of synaesthetic psychedelia but instead some industrial vision of hell, Daft Punk parsed through a Sisters of Mercy filter.

THUMPER is evil.

THUMPER is a triumph because it is evil.

Its sounds grind and boom and quake, do something to the belly, tweak nerves along the spinal cord, create an overwhelming sensation that I am about to be murdered. Or perhaps that I am about to commit a murder.

Yet there is no murder. All I do is watch myself – transformed on my screen into a giant insect – be carried at speed along a hovering path through scenes of a Winamp visualiser sent from a hell dimension. When there is an obstacle, I slam a button to turn to one armoured side, or another button to woodlouse-roll against it, or another to hover briefly above it, or increasingly all of these things in heartbeat-quick procession, constantly. Like all the best rythmic racers, success – or rather survival – comes from that formless mid-point between reflex and prediction. My mind is trained as I play, from the anxiety and the fumbled keypresses of the earliest, quietest stages into a near-psychic flow of dodging sustained danger. I began THUMPER terrified of my presumed inability to cope with what it was bound to ask of me before too long, but such is THUMPER’s insistence, so effective its arrhythmic rhythm that I became capable of great things. Fast, furious, forever.

The scoreboards will say otherwise, of course. My hodge-podge of C, B and A-ratings will be dust on the heels of those legions scoring perfect Ss – never colliding, never missing the optional pick-ups placed in the pico-seconds between obstacles, taking down the bosses of whom I shall talk of shortly without suffering any damage. I leave those scoreboards to the olypmians of videogames, to those who take heart from besting others. I don’t need that, and THUMPER does not demand that I need it. My journey in THUMPER is my journey.

Hell, my early anxiety transforming from queasy fear into sure conviction that I can do this. Do I mean to escape Hell? I don’t know anymore. I think maybe I like it too much here. I prefer to remain some spirit of steel-shelled vengeance racing through its veins, fuelled by brimstone. Fuelled by that music, that music.

Is it always the same music? If it’s not, it’s always a variant upon the same industrial opus, some sprawling, shifting epic bastard child of Nine Inch Nails and Vangelis and Future Sound Of London. I cannot find the beat if I stop and listen for it, because the beat only comes if I hit the right buttons, therefore the beat only exists inside me and as such I do not know if it really exists at all. There’s a grind, there’s, yes, a thump, when I slam here or scour there, but it only happens because I will to it happen. I construct this music, this soundtrack from my own actions, and it is always the same and yet it never repeats. It is always my soundtrack.

Without my action it is deeply unsettling, the almost sub-audible boom of some unseen reality collapsing. In my first hour I felt paranoid, alone and scared. To watch and hear another play Thumper is to feel fear itself. To play it is to feel the determination of a sledgehammer hitting granite again and again. In my second hour and onwards I felt like a vengeful god. And once in a while, there was a lull. Beauty. Synths and calm, a burst of sunlight through the tar-black clouds, a chance to admire how perfectly beautiful THUMPER is, before the storm begins in earnest.

The storm. The boss. It does not – cannot – attack directly, though surely at least some of those obstacles, those steel walls, those spiked barriers, those icy hoops, are its doing. I must defeat it to continue onwards. I must concentrate my reaction/anticipation into concentrated patterns of behaviour, sliding then, slamming now, flying then. Specific combinations that, if done without error, ultimately lead to one particular slam on a green highlight that fires, does damage to that oncoming storm. Debris fills my world, briefly. But the thing’s still there. Do it again. Four times, usually. When I do: it is dead and I am not, and I am proud.

THUMPER is magnificent, and THUMPER is evil. It is a snarling inversion of the dancing-around-the-candles, toe-tapping euphoria that is the lifeblood of those music racing games it seems to ape. Make no mistake, it becomes euphoria, but that euphoria is earned, not given. It is the euphoria of survival and of dancing in solitary anger, not happy fellowship.

THUMPER, with its minimum of menus and explanation and guidance is absolutely pure, to the point that those who do not enjoy its light-from-darkness aesthetic will think it too small, to samey, too one-note, too much about the same sound playing forever. Perhaps it really can offer nothing to those people, or perhaps accepting that is it very fucking sincerely intended to be the same state of mind held for an eternity will let it seep into their veins after all. For the rest of us, let it take its place alongside Devil Daggers, reigning in hell.

THUMPER is the videogame you should play today.

Thumper is out now for Windows via Steam.

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  1. Da5e says:

    You liked it, then?

  2. Premium User Badge

    Dorga says:

    You got me

  3. barelyhomosapien says:

    I would not want to play this in VR. I don’t think my soul could survive it…

    I’ve played for 2 and a half hours but it doesn’t feel like 2 and a half hours, maybe it stole them from me. I…I should go back and get them…I must go get them.

    • Premium User Badge

      Syt says:

      I gave it a try for 15 minutes. Well, it felt like 15 minutes, but was in fact 45.

      And even now, 20 minutes after I quit for the moment, I still feel a certain disquiet.

  4. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Just thinking about playing this in VR edges me ten percent of the way to a panic attack.

    On a screen, though, I think I can maintain my composure and “enjoy” this soul-charring rollercoaster through Hell. I’m not sure I’m ready for Gaspar Noë Makes A Videogame, but I’m going to find out.

  5. RedViv says:

    It is the logical extension to rhythm games. DDR and the others celebrate the ecstatic motion and flow, while Thumper is the part in the evening where you need a lie down but beats and shrieks and lights still linger in your skull and bones and you would rather get rid of them but still they come and come and come a

  6. ButteringSundays says:

    Oh I thought this was another game in review-code stage – was pleasantly surprised to see a buy link at the end! Yay it’s finally out!

    Kind of feel £16 is a tad steep for what’s being offered though (I hate saying that, but it’s how I feel), seems to me it should sit more around the £9 zone – and I’ve been keeping a close eye on this for ages. Maybe a winter sale purchase for me.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Given the magnitude of the recommendation by which you clearly just learned of this game, I’m frankly curious what IS worth full price to you..!

      I mean I completely get it if you’re of the budget or disposition that no game is worth full price and you always delay gratification, that I can understand. But it’s specifically when you say, “for what’s on offer” that makes me give pause. Cus like I say, if you know nothing of this game outside of this review, well, it kinda makes it sound like this game will be the last anything you ever need… I’m sure that isnt *quite* the case, but yeah, my wonderment remains..

      • Geebs says:

        Comments about a game’s value proposition are, in general, pretty crass – “I wouldn’t buy at 15 quid, I’ll wait three months until it’s 12 quid, because I am a SHREWD CONSUMER and need to TELL everyone about it” but admittedly I have no idea whether this’ll be fun for more than 5 minutes on the basis of the review, and I’m not sure I’m edgy enough for this game anyway.

        • trjp says:

          I disagree almost completely with that

          People telling other people whether a game is ‘worth’ an amount is crass – stupid – pointless

          People themselves have a rock-solid idea of what their money is worth and what they’re willing to pay for a thing.

          People who buy/play a lot of games have a pretty good handle on the value proposition (if they care about that, at least) – I kinda agree with the OP that the price is a BIT too high (esp as I’m tempted by the Soundtrack version but kinda resent paying more for that at the best of times)

          tl;dr telling other people if a game is ‘worth the money’ is crass but people making that assumption for themselves is find-and-dandy (and sharing that as a personal thing rather than a statement of fault in the game itself is also fine)

          • Geebs says:

            I’m totally OK with people saying “I don’t have much money, this thing looks cool and I will get it when I afford it”. The people I find crass are the ones who feel the need to talk about the value of stuff they’re not even going to buy in order to brag about their incredible financial acumen. Worst and dumbest being people who spend more time banging on about a price difference than would be spent earning that same amount of money at minimum wage. What a bargain! For evidence of this behaviour, see any gaming site comment section anywhere.

            That said – I looked at the actually very well written IGN review (who woulda thunk it?) and now I reckon it’s probably worth a punt.

    • CriticalMammal says:

      I had a similar first reaction to the price, but I think it’s worth it. It’s very tightly designed, some really wonderful execution on simple mechanics and the whole thing put a smile on my face the first couple sessions I had with it.

      I’m around level 7 now, and if you’re worried about the depth of the experience it certainly has it. I had to claw my way past level 6 (levels are fairly long, 10-15 minutes not including deaths and restarting at checkpoints, with ~20 checkpoints throughout), and there’s still a LOT of room to learn and come back older levels with a new perspective.

      I’ve played it for about 6.4 hours total now, for those who want playtime. There are 9 levels total. But I feel like it’ll take me ages to finish 9 given how each level drastically can increase in difficulty.

      • trjp says:

        The price is simply a reflection of PSN Shop/retail pricing – which is generally rather higher than similar games would be on PC/Steam – is my guess

        That also explains the catastrophic disaster which was NMS of course

      • CriticalMammal says:

        Figured I’d come back and re-confirm my initial impressions. I’ve played it for 17 and a half hours and I don’t intend to put it away anytime soon. This game is spectacular, and I’m not even the type who normally gets competitive with setting high scores and whatnot, replaying levels over and over to beat records. If you dig the music and tone of the game from the videos just pick it up, it’s definitely one of the top games of this year.

  7. poliovaccine says:

    Nice.. sounds like the sort of game w.s. burroughs would play, and for about the same reasons. I was sold at “that sickly place between anxiety and drive.”

  8. Christo4 says:

    I never see Osu! mentioned even though it’s such a good rhytm game…

  9. sleepisthebrotherofdeath says:

    >THUMPER is the videogame you should play today.

    What should I play tomorrow then?

  10. gwop_the_derailer says:

    Thumper? But I barely even knew ‘er!

  11. Premium User Badge

    cpt_freakout says:

    The music is by Brian Gibson, who’s the bassist for the legendary noiseters Lightning Bolt – that made it awesome already even before this glowing recommendation confirmed I need to BUY BUY BUY

  12. GallonOfAlan says:

    I was wondering where this had got to after the spoogeathon over the reveal a few years ago.

  13. Premium User Badge

    AutonomyLost says:


  14. Shazbut says:

    Much as I’m going to be trying this, I can’t imagine an all-out violation of my senses is going to be appealing for very long.

  15. shagen454 says:

    The dude that created this is in a band called Lightning Bolt, one of the best live bands one could see. Make sure to check them out.

  16. Laurentius says:

    Can you give a bit more technical details? Is it a good port? what resolutions it supports? Can it be played with keyboard or mouse or only gamepad?

    • Geebs says:

      FWIW, it runs pretty well on my rather old 6-core Xeon and GTX970. The game is optimised for PlayStation VR, so there is little in the way of complex graphical stuff.

      I still refunded it, because the music is terribly boring, the audio-visual latency (on my system with Hammerfall DSP sound card, YMMV) is way off, and the music desynchronises from the gameplay if you take a hit so that it becomes impossible to recover if you’re playing the game by ear.

      Just in case it was my terrible reflexes I booted up Bit.Trip Runner 2 and aced a couple of levels even though I couldn’t actually remember the controls. So yeah, Thumper is a rhythm game with broken rhythm.

  17. racccoon says:

    Seems a overkill of words for just a jumping game that has nothing but repeat steps without rinsing & washing included. I’d rather watch the video for a few seconds and then close it, it can be forgotten quiet quickly that way.

  18. iainl says:

    So is it just the video, or does the whole game sound like the late, much-missed Michael Kamen’s score to Event Horizon?

    • Jalan says:

      Didn’t get that at all from it, personally. It may just be you, if I were the guessing type.

      However, on a related note, I wish a game developer had the funds and clout to build a rhythm game around the works of some of the great film composers (and I’m not talking about “well, just put tracks in Audiosurf” and so on). I’d gladly pay for the chance to interact with the sounds of Jarre, Kamen, Mancini, Goldsmith, Bernstein, etc.

      • uhsurewhynott says:

        That is a… strange list of composers to want in a game like this. I’d think something like Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Bartok, etc. would fit in mechanically and stylistically a bit more.

        Anyway I don’t think budget or clout have anything to do with it since classical music rarely costs much or anything to license. It’s because one of the two developers in half of the experimental/math rock band Lightning Bolt, so he scored the game with his type of music.

  19. SableKeech says:

    Imagine your heartrate playing this on some Gian-Luca.


  20. unsanity says:

    But can I travel the landscape of this psychedelic hellscape to the sounds of the Beatles?


    Well I guess I’ll just stick to Audiosurf.

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