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PAX East 2016 Preview: Thumper VR

May 2, 2016 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook PAX East 2016 Preview: Thumper VRon Twitter

Thumper Title

During last year’s PAX East I got to preview an action rhythm game from indie studio Drool called Thumper. Since then the game has made the rounds at many other expos, conventions, and festivals. Along the way it’s earned numerous awards and praise for the two man development team of Brian Gibson and Marc Flury. This year the game was back at PAX East with the new feature of VR added to the experience. Since I enjoyed the previous demos of the game, I was excited to test it this latest virtual reality build. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Thumper, the game is a sci-fi themed rhythm game that has you racing down a futuristic track filled with obstacles that you must get through with a series of musically-timed button presses. The game is incredibly fast-paced and requires quick reflexes and an excellent sense of timing.

I was actually a little skeptical about how this game would play on the Playstation VR. Most virtual reality experiences are built with first-person perspective in mind and Thumper remains in third-person even in this version. However, after trying out the game in virtual reality I have to admit that the 3D effect from the headset really made the game much more intense. There’s a greater sense of the game’s breakneck speed and the dark void that makes up the game world feels deeper and more ominous than when played on a standard screen. It’s a sublte set of changes, but in a game this intense it really adds to the experience. I should point out that this year’s PAX East demo had nothing quite as fast paced as what is shown in the above trailer.

In terms of the game mechanics, there wasn’t much that I hadn’t seen in previous demos. Each obstacle on the track requires a specific timed response. Square light points need a press of the “X” button, tight turns require turning with the control stick while holding down “X”, and light lines need the player to hold “X” while going through them. It’s a simple set of rules, but the speed and timing required make it a challenging game.

I managed to clear every level of the Thumper demo that was playable on the PAX East show floor. I soon discovered that the music actually cues you in on what the next pattern is going to be. Each sharp turn, light point, and light line set has a unique percussion motif and sound. As you approach the next set of obstacles the pattern plays to warn you of what’s coming down the track. At first, this is just a cool call and response touch for the music in the game, but as the patterns get more complex it becomes an element that you need to pay attention to in order to survive the later levels that have more complex patterns.

Like the previous iterations of Thumper that I’ve played the music is a major part of the experience. A dark ambient set of synth sounds and eerie orchestral tones make up a wall of sound that is persistent in the game’s soundscape. The call and response nature of the obstacles and their associated percussive motifs result in a soundtrack that gets more intense as the hazards of each stage get steadily more complex. The music also builds and intensifies as you approach and complete sets of hazards, making for some climactic moments. With the addition of the virtual reality technology, the resulting game is a more intense and immersive action-music experience.

Thumper is set to launch sometime in 2016 and it will be available on Steam, Playstation VR, and the Playstation 4. If this demo is just a sample of what’s to come, I will be looking forward to playing the finished product. It’s an intense and entertaining game that is providing some interesting twists on the rhythm music genre. You can check out more at the Thumper main page.

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