“Rhythm” and “violence” are two words that had probably never been put side-by-side until Thumper was released in late 2016. But to play Thumper is to understand the combination of those seemingly unrelated words. The game is aggressive and oppressing, anxiety-inducing and transfixing, but it’s also one of the best rhythm games in the last decade, and it finds a perfect home on the Nintendo Switch.
Thumper is best thought of as a chaotic symphony of flashing lights, thunderous bass, shiny metal, and pure speed that, against all odds, melds into a seamless experience. Players take control of a chrome-plated scarab that automatically surges forward on a track littered with obstacles. These obstacles include hairpin turns, rings, glowing bramble, and Guitar-Hero-like notes on the floor. Each of these track hazards requires a special button press (or a combination of buttons) to clear, and failing to punch the correct button will strip away the scarab’s armor. Miss two timed button presses in a row and the level resets.
The timing of each obstacle matches certain parts of the pulsing score. The matching isn’t always 1:1. but it’s close enough that I began associating certain hazards with specific sounds, anticipating loops and positioning my scarab accordingly. It’s at this point that Thumper wormed its way into my skull and took control. I became one with the shining beetle, driven purely by instinct and guided by the pounding industrial soundtrack. The undulating, writhing, unfolding geometry around the track faded into my periphery and I was one with the game. These “trances” are what make Thumper such an engaging experience.
Each of the nine stages is broken up into a few dozen levels, with a mid-level boss and an end-level boss thrown in. Both bosses require a series of small, perfect runs to defeat, with the last note propelling an energy blast into the enemy’s weak spot. Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of diversity in the boss battles, with the mid-stage enemies being simple geometric shapes, and the final-stage boss a freaky head with fiery orange eyes. Though the obstacles leading up to each do change, I would have enjoyed seeing more bosses created in Thumper's unique art style.
The game runs in a crisp 720p, 60 frames per second in handheld mode, and 1080p, 60 frames per second in docked mode. Most importantly, I suffered no frame rate drops, dips, or chugging. Even during the most intense stages, with flashing lights and particle effects, the game never wavered. I’d go so far as to say it ranks as one of thebest-performing, consistent games on the console.
Thumper, at its core, is all about sensory overload, and I’ve found a large television to be the best way to experience that. Though I appreciate having Thumper on the go in handheld mode, something does get lost in in the transition. A 6.2-inch screen simply cannot offer the immersion of a large TV (or a VR headset on the PS4 and PC) andI found myself far less invested in the experience. If you plan on playing Thumper on the move, just know that you’ll be missing out on some of the best aspects of the game.
If you’re a Switch owner, plug in some bass-heavy headphones, crank up the volume, turn off the lights, and let Thumper wash over you. Not only is it the best rhythm game in years, it immediately cements itself as one of the best games on the Switch. At a mere $20, it's one of the best values on the console. Thumper deserves aplace in every Switch library.