Feature: Memorable Games of 2017 – Thumper

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In this series of features Nintendo Life contributors will share thoughts on their most memorable games of 2017. This entry by editor Tom Whitehead focuses on an eShop game that may be responsible for his left Joy-Con’s early demise. 

I first played Thumper in 2014 or 2015 at EGX (I honestly can’t remember which year), a gaming expo in the UK. At the time I asked the developer if they were considering Wii U (they politely said they were ‘considering’ it), and had a go of the PC demo. At this point it was a normal game, whereas when it arrived on PC and PS4 some time later it forged a positive reputation as a fantastic VR experience. I was just playing it in plain old 2D on a monitor, but once the headphones were on and I figured out what was happening it became an eye-opening experience. In fact I annoyed everyone I met at the expo by telling them they just had to play it.

The concept is rather unique – you play a metallic beetle/thing that’s propelled along tracks, and you have to turn into corners, ‘hit’ beats and eventually swap lanes, hop, ground pound and do anything to survive. You’re blitzing through a hellish landscape and can only sustain two hits at the most, assuming you have the protective shell – if you lose it you need to earn another one. The soundtrack, meanwhile, is unlike any other game I’ve played – it’s described as ‘rhythm violence’ by the devs, with a soundtrack that hammers you with concussive beats and aggressive synth.

I happened to review the game, but then something relatively rare happened – after publishing the review I kept playing it, again and again and again. Whenever I had a spare 15 minutes I booted it up and played a level; it kept drawing me back.

It appeals to me in two different ways. There’s the challenge of trying to actually clear it, which is brutal; the final couple of levels are some of the toughest I’ve faced in any game in recent times, and I consider myself to be decent at rhythm games. Then there’s the option to tackle levels as one-off challenges. In the campaign dying puts you back to a checkpoint, but I like tackling levels 2, 3 and 4 in ‘Play +’, where you have one chance to clear the whole thing with no continues. I love chasing my own scores and uploading them online, then scratching my head at how the top scores in the global leaderboard are even possible.

It’s Play + that I still go back to regularly, and the way I enjoy the game has evolved. In the early days it was the tension and the challenge that drew me in, and I would become aware that I was gripping the Switch that bit too tightly as the struggle intensified. In fact, my original left Joy-Con died a couple of months ago, which may be from me pushing the stick too hard in games like Thumper. In truth the Joy-Con do have shoddy analogue sticks, nowhere near the build quality of a Pro Controller – perhaps I had an unlucky set.

As time has passed I’ve started to enjoy the game as a nice way to unwind, firing up those favoured levels and spending 10-15 minutes on a run. I know the stages well, now, but still compete with my high score each time around.

I always play on the portable, too, because it has no input lag. I have a TV with a good ‘Game Mode’, and in 99% of games I sense no real input lag – with Thumper, though, it becomes noticeable, especially in tough sections where every millisecond counts. I hear that another way to get zero input lag is to play in VR, and that it’s a fantastic experience with the technology; if ever I get a VR headset Thumper will be the first game I buy.

And so it’s my left-field ‘Indie’ submission for memorable games of the year. The split-second reactions, the thumping soundtrack that occasionally gives way to brief respite and gorgeous sweeping notes, and visuals that are both hellish and beautiful. It’s a wonderful video game, and there’s nothing else like it (or even close) on the Switch eShop.

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