‘Thumper’ Offers More Proof That PlayStation VR Will Be A Contender

Get our thoughts on Thumper after half an hour playing Drool's new "rhythm violence" game in PlayStation VR on the show floor at PAX East 2016. Photo: Drool

PlayStation VR made major waves at PAX East this year, thanks to a wide variety of games being shown in the Sony booth and around the show floor. But it might be Thumper, a relatively unknown project that wasn’t even announced as part of the platform’s launch line-up, that could be the best justification for adopting Sony’s upcoming VR headset.

Thumper is a new “rhythm violence” game from Drool; a two-man studio comprised of former Harmonix employees Brian Gibson and Marc Flury. Both worked on the Rock Band franchise, so rhythm games aren’t exactly new territory. But Drool is managing to carve out an interesting new space for itself with a rhythm game that feels visceral and punishing while simultaneously overwhelming the player’s vision with a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors meant to distract you from the task at hand. Mechanically, the game bears some resemblance to the Bit.trip Runner series, swapping the 2D-platformer aesthetic for something more akin to Audiosurf. There are even boss fights to overcome at the end of each level.

Best of all, Thumper is one of more than a dozen games currently being prepped for PlayStation VR, which makes its retail debut in October. Drool hasn’t announced a launch date for the game yet, so it’s not clear if Thumper will be part of the PSVR launch line-up. But the company did bring a VR-ready build of the game to PAX East 2016, that we got to play for about half an hour, and (unsurprisingly) Thumper is even more eye-catching when its colorful tracks fill your vision.

Thankfully, the action starts pretty slow. The first few stages of Thumper are pretty simple, giving players a chance to learn the basics of the game. The weird EDM beetle being piloted(?) by the player moves down the track pretty slowly and your only task is remembering to press X when glowing beacons are about to make contact with your shell. But each new stage adds another obstacle to the mix. Thumper will include 10 levels at launch, each broken into 15-20 stages that gradually increase in difficulty, giving players more responses to memorize and more chances to watch their neon icon shatter in a glorious display of particle effects.

By the time we reached the later stages of the demo, which is actually the first level of the game, it took multiple lives to overcome some stretches of the track. The game’s first boss, Crakhed, was especially brutal. We did manage to beat the first level. But it took every minute of our half hour appointment at the Thumper booth and we actually lost count of how many times we died in the home stretch of the fight against Crakhed. Thumper might not look difficult at a glance but the game proved to be quite the challenge.

Fortunately, it's the sort of challenge that successfully tip-toes the line between cheap and rewarding. No matter how many times we watched our digital insectoid explode we were ready to dive back in and take another shot at whatever stage was kicking our ass. And that seemed to be the case for pretty much everyone crowded around the Thumper booth. It’s not entirely uncommon to see players walk away from independent game demos they don’t immediately feel a connection with. But everyone we saw at the Thumper booth either completed the demo or continued playing until they were asked to cede their seat to the next person in line.

During its most intense moments, playing Thumper with PlayStation VR feels like the gaming equivalent of the moment the LSD kicks in. No, the game won’t actually make you hallucinate. But it's visually intense in a way that lacks any sort of media comparison. Virtual reality games must be played to get the full experience. But this is one game that will be at the top of our PSVR wishlist until launch day.

For a closer look at Thumper , take a couple of minutes to check out the “Rhythm Hell” trailer that debuted last month. Then head down to the comments and let us know what you think of Drool’s upcoming rhythm violence game.

Thumper is in development for PC, PS4 and PlayStation VR. The game is expected to debut sometime later this year.

Be sure to check back with iDigitalTimes.com and follow Scott on Twitter for additional Thumper coverage throughout 2016 and however long Drool supports Thumper after launch.

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