Racing Down the Dark Track of Thumper

Somewhere out there a heavy metal album cover is missing its bug.  The beetle in Thumper looks like it’s been torn from a record jacket that’s all strange geometry, dark symbolism and just enough in the way of badass spiky bits to make it look cool rather than oppressive.  Thumper is a game about a silver beetle racing down a twisting track timing its actions to the beat of a dark electronica soundtrack, and it feels weird and wrong in all the right ways.

The PAX East demo is simple enough on the surface.  You’ve got an analog stick and the A button, and that’s all you need to make the bug perform all its actions.  Hit A to jump over the white squares, hold A to hover when there’s a long sequence of them, and use A and the analog stick to drift left or right through the track’s bends.  Initially the track is as wide as the bug, so no steering beyond the corner drifting is necessary, but the teaser video released last month shows the track opening up later in the game even if the PAX demo didn’t display that particular feature.  It’s all pretty straightforward on the surface, but that doesn’t take into account the incredible, awesome momentum in the rhythm gameplay.

Thumper describes itself as a “rhythm violence game”, but the violence is in tone rather than action.  It feels brutal despite there being no punches or kicks, or whatever it is beetles do to their enemies to make them less alive.  The dark music and heavy impact that’s the result of each jump and slide has a punch behind it that you can almost feel in your bones.  Despite the internal-organ-shaking beat and ominous tones, though, it felt like I was grinning the entire time I played, aside from the bit where I screwed up the rhythm, missed a turn, and exploded into silvery bug shrapnel.

There’s more to know about Thumper than was on display at PAX, as evidenced by the promo video’s widening track, but at the moment Drool are keeping things quiet.  An older video (that shows just how far the game has come since its announcement) even shows the bug flying for a short period, although it’s hard to say if that’s been retained in the last year and a half of development.  Thumper has been under construction for about five years now and many things have changed, and while it’s nearing its final form there’s still about a year left on the clock for further updates.  The dark style and lovely ominous kick to Thumper’s music and acid-trip art are locked into place, however, and jumping and sliding to the beat past the track’s challenges feels great.  Thumper (official site, if you’d like to see a bit more) has elicited several different kinds of response due to its heavy tone, but I loved it and can’t wait to get my hands on the final game.