New Obsession: Thumper


New Obsession is our weekly column on whatever game or app has us hooked, with a focus on what gives it such an addicting quality.

All things come back to one experience when you work with Ev McIntosh, our Deputy Editor: You know Star Fox 64, inside and out, or you’re not at the table.

Am I winning? Aaaand I'm dead.
Am I winning? Aaaand I’m dead.

There’s a certain rhythm to arcade shooters in that vein that truly great players just seem to sense; beats punctuate great rail shooters, a rhythm is established, and visual bursts serve both as target and distraction.

This is the sense I get with my time in Thumper, despite it most definitely not being a shooter, a Nintendo game, or anything even close to a blend of the two.

Playing as a silvery beetle, careening through space-cyberspace-hell, you seek to replicate the intense, guttural, beats as you slam through the ephemeral.

And slam you will.

Unlike rhythm games such as Guitar Hero, Thumper requires two inputs only: X and the direction you hope to move. This simplicity gives way to a complex design where, like the great players of arcade shooters, you seemingly need to feel out a level. There are edge of your seat moments where I’m not sure anything but intuition will save you. It’s exhilarating to shape the music through my actions, not yet knowing what the ramifications may be.

Thumper is uncompromising, and only a couple of errors in a short span will spell your doom, lest you couldn’t already feel the dread set in. This is an experience that can be played without VR component–indeed, it feels like it was initially made without VR in mind–but VR enhances the feeling in every way.

This is a rollercoaster ride–in the non-PR jargon sense of the phrase–with ups and downs. There are times when I felt totally out of control. At other times, I felt I controlled my own destiny completely. But there was never a time when I didn’t feel panicked, stressed, or otherwise concerned. This anxious feeling pervades all else in Thumper as a VR experience.


Perhaps the best comparison I can make isn’t any other rhythm game but in one particular section of Star Fox 64. Opening a Warp in Section X, players are sent hurtling, at breakneck speed, through an eerie, acid-trip sensation of a pathway. In no time, obstacles emerge, dealing massive damage and ending the flight of inexperienced pilots. Watching a great player here makes me feel inept in every way; the way they read the screen is nothing I can do.

Thumper doesn’t require reading the screen, necessarily. Rather, reading the beat, even the understated bits, is what separates a great Thumper player from, well, me.

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