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PAX East: ‘Thumper’ Hands-On

Thumper is an upcoming PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR title from Drool LLC, the two-person development team comprised of Brian Gibson and Marc Flury. They are ex-Harmonix employees who have put their rhythm game background to work to create what they’re calling a “rhythm violence game.”

You play as a space beetle in a psychedelic world, racing down a track at what feels like a million miles per hour. The goal of the game is to follow the beat and press your breaks to smash through obstacles, slam through tight turns, and fire bursts of energy at monstrous plant-like creatures in your path. Taking just two hits kills you, though checkpoints are plentiful, so all you have to do is complete the sequence of notes and you’ll move forward. It all sounds simple enough, and it is. It’s racing Rock Band with just one note.

What sets the game apart is the presentation. Thumper is available on traditional screens, but playing the game in VR — which is what I tried at PAX —  is a much more immersive experience. This is enhanced by the sound design; With headphones on you can feel the concussion of your beetle car slamming into the walls in your teeth. Visually the game requires a whole new vocabulary to properly explain the experience. Great care has been put into creating a sense of unbelievably fast motion as your space beetle moves down a neon wormhole of stunning colorful geometry. In VR, Thumper grabs your mind and intoxicates you with its (mind the pun) thumping beats and intense imagery.

Thumper-Game
Your space beetle zooms down a track, surrounded by intense visuals.

Does this mean VR is required to enjoy Thumper? Ultimately, it is not much of a simulation since the game is shown from a third-person perspective. None of the controls require VR for the game to work. You do get the option to move your head around to move the camera left and right, but everything you need to see is set straight ahead at your default position. However, it is definitely worth experiencing the added benefits of a VR presentation. In fact, since Thumper is so easily controlled and requires so little head movement it might be a great gateway drug to more complex VR experiments. This writer felt a little queasy about five minutes into the title, but after some adjustments the game was smooth and pure awesome. Yes, nothing in Thumper

This writer felt a little queasy about five minutes into the title, but after some adjustments the game was smooth and pure awesome. Yes, nothing in Thumper has to be in VR, but this might be the very game that you want to play in VR. You will want to jam out to the rhythm and successfully continue down the dark warping path of bizarre colors and weird patterns. Like truly great music you just want to tear yourself away from the world and feel the notes.

Thumper was a title that was very hard to actually put down. It is pure video gaming joy, pure fun in the abstract. The demo had 15 stages which lasted about 20 minutes total, probably less if you successfully hit every beat. Even though the demo only included the first level of the game there was plenty of variety in the game’s visuals and challenges, which included a boss character known as Crakhed that is a hideous witch face floating in the neon space ahead of you, with your track running into its mouth.

Thumper Level Boss Crakhed
The boss at the end of the demo level.

This brilliant little game does not yet have a specific release date but it should be released sometime in 2016. Expect this game to see a lot of promotion from Sony when it comes to the PlayStation VR, because Thumper could be the game that gives them the edge and sets their VR platform apart from the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.


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