Let's talk Thumper

It’s just popped up on the Switch eShop. I remember Alex at GB heaping a lot of praise on the game. So, intrigued, I watched the trailer.

“This looks pretty” I am thinking. “I might get this, it seems like fun, maybe even relaxing”. And then the trailer puts up the words “existential dread”, followed by “terrifying” ending with some weird demon/snake thing with scary eyes looking at me.

What the hell is this thing?

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A rhythm game that was one of the best games that came out last year, by far.

You hurtle down a track responding to obstacles in time with very cool music by a guy from Lightning Bolt.

It’s very economical in its controls, but it has a very in depth set of mechanics which translate into its scoring system.

It’s hard to write about as it’s quite an affective experience, but I made a video about it which I think is pretty good.

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I haven’t been able to get it yet, but have watched some streams and videos of it and–it looks like quite the rhythm game, whew. Folks talk about how sweaty and overwhelmed it makes them to play, but the process of listening to someone play it is such a gorgeous audio experience–it does something with its really sonorous-yet-crunchy adrenaline-based sound that feels like ASMR to me, I swear.

It is a very very good rhythm game. A slowly progressing dive into an increasing complex album of beat-heavy music while the visuals and echoes (things you’re expected to react to ping in before you have to hit the beat so the audio leads you through the game) ensure you know how to progress.

By the end it becomes a very hard game but the way it loops back round means you’ve got some good checkpointing to keep you engaged. So sometimes you’ll have to jump back to an earlier point after you fail but if you’re playing defensively then you can often miss something in a safe way, leading the path you’re on to loop back and just continue playing the track - replaying the last phrase so you can get it right without ever dropping from the continuous experience. Basically those gates are really good at making sure you know how to do them without even needing to use the rapid checkpoint reload system.

It’s also one of the best reasons to get VR right now. A heavy music experience in 2D, when those album covers are wrapped all around you and you’re chasing the track line at a high refresh rate with a guaranteed low latency (the thing that VR ensures because it’s a closed experience engineered to avoid simulator sickness from latency) then you’re in a prime spot for synesthesia while that oppressive heavy atmosphere really descends upon you.

With the exception of it the music just isn’t your thing. this is easily one of the best games released last year.

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Wow, ok, universally positive so far then. I have a slight issue as in theory I will be playing this between 9 and 11pm, as the wife will be asleep BUT I need to keep one ear out in case the newborn starts crying. Given the audio seems vital to this, I wonder how that would work. I am very intrigued now though.

My experiences of this are basically through watching yer man @DynamicCalories play it, however now it’s on the old eshop I will be on it. The “rhythm violence” concept is still one of the best pairings of words ever.

It does some smart stuff with its music I am told (I am a bit useless when it comes to music theory) as each level supposedly tweaks its time signature to the level number, so level 1 is 1/4, 3 is 3/4 5 is 5/4 etc

This means that the game frequently recycles patterns you are familiar with, but then distorts them to fit the new rhythm. It not only gets slightly faster as it progresses, but the complexity is organic. You aren’t just learning how to play that level, you’re gaining a deeper understanding of the underlying concept of the music in the game as it rattles you through hyperspeed chicanes that originally went 1,2,1,2,1,2 and now go 1,2,1,2,1,2,3,1,2.

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Ok, if that is true I pretty much have to buy it, if only to support the endeavour here

I find the best way to grok Thumper is to see it in action for a while, with no voiceover or person describing it:

I’ve only played it in VR once and I haven’t pumped myself up enough to get back into for a while. Take a journey with me.

When I was a kid, I had night terrors. Two parts, always exactly the same, they would loop like a Möbius strip of fear and dread until I woke up or my parents woke me up because they heard me screaming/crying in my sleep. Visually they’re impossible to describe. Just weird geometry, visual nonsense. The real business is in the emotions. If you’re not familiar with night terrors, in my case, imagine every synapse, every transmitter and receiver, every gland that produces or senses a chemical, all going 200% pumping raw fear, terror, and dread. Pure, unadulterated horror. Like if all those things had all the switches turned to 11.

Thumper is the only thing I’ve experienced that evokes my childhood night terrors to any degree whatsoever. Nothing in my everyday life has ever reminded me of them. It’s something about the motion and scale. The geometry nonsense of Thumper is visually completely different from my terrors, but the scale and motion are similar, and the color pallet (reds in particular) is pretty spot on.

I would not at all be surprised if someone on the dev team has night terror experience, because dang.

With all that in mind, yo, Thumper is rad. Your mileage may vary, but dang.


Hopefully someone with a better understanding of music can translate my fumbling into actual hard proof, but there are segments from the first level of the game that turn up right until the end, they’re just denser by the logical increase in complexity, it feels really natural.

Also when you’ve mastered it, the real challenge is learning the Jump/Thump mechanic that it never explicitly states is possible, but lets you amp up the points reward of certain sequences of interactions, with the risk of it being more difficult to achieve than just taking the safe option.

Again, hard to explain without you actually playing with it. It might be a bit intense for such a late night game though, especially if you’re distracted. It’s very absorbing.

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Ok, I have purchased simply for the effort that seems to have gone into this. We will see how far I actually get with the game.

Seems to be at odds with my Be Calm thread, thinking about it!

Played for about 45 minutes last night. I am terrible at this game, untold attempts at the final boss of Stage 1. But it looks terrific on the Switch screen. And yeah, that soundtrack is disturbing.

Happy with the purchase. It’s different and despite blowing up repeatedly I really wanted to beat that boss, which bodes well for continued play.

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Thumper was one of my favorite games last year! Here’s some advice:

  • You don’t have to destroy your hands/controller! My PS4 controller now has a big hole in the left analog stick because I instinctively gripped the controller super tight when playing. Breaking this habit is good, and doing so will prevent you from developing blisters on the pads of your thumbs (this seriously happened to me).

  • You’ll need to get used to the timing. It’s pretty accurate overall, but requires you developing a decent sense of rhythm.

  • Speaking of: each level’s soundtrack has a time signature respective to its level number (e.g. Level 1 = 1/1 time; Level 6 = 6/8 time). What this means is that one of the best things you can do is sub-divide the beat as you play. If you don’t have much experience with music, this means breaking down how you count the beats in the song’s measures. For instance, in 1/1 time you can count out each beat as “1…1…1…”, and you can also subdivide with an implied beat between each hard count (i.e. “1 and 1 and 1 and”). This is kinda hard to describe by typing it out, but this is what got me through the extremely difficult later levels. If nothing else, remember to keep the beat in mind as you play, and you should notice an improvement over time.

  • Finally, you’re going to die a lot. A lot. That’s ok! A big part of Thumper is learning sections and developing pattern recognition. If you run at that brick wall enough times, you’ll eventually break it down!


I’ve been playing since Friday and…am only on stage 4 - but! It’s been a great time. I tried a little in portable mode but have found the most effective playing (for me) is on the TV at night with the lights off and sound turned up. I’ve also found I prefer using the directional buttons on the left joycon preferable to using the analog stick. The tip of my thumb gets a little sore, but I can more quickly and accurately change directions with the buttons.

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I was thinking about switching to the buttons rather than stick. I am enjoying this a lot. Never before have I been so unfussed about dying (unless it’s a minute into a boss run. in which case, rage).

I love Thumper. I also don’t think I’ll ever be able to beat Thumper. I wholeheartedly recommend it though.

There’s really not much like it? It’s a rhythm game that feels anxious and terrifying and the horror of it is something I think no other games have really been able to match. It doesn’t feel personally horrifying like your Amnesias or whatever, it feels really otherworldly horrifying, like the fabric of space and time is loose. It’s really incredible, but it also means I feel like I have to psych myself up every time I decide to play it.

I really want this for the Switch but I also have a PS4. Does it run well on Switch? In both modes?

plays great on the Switch in both modes!

@videodante love that deep existential dread that builds and builds as you tear deeper along the track.

Awesome. Thanks. I just watched the digital foundry video and looks like a really solid port. :)))