Full disclosure #1: I know one of the developers of Thumper, but he doesn’t think I’m that cool. Honestly, he’ll probably think I am much less cool after writing this piece. Also, I bought the game, fair and square, even Stephanie, so no bias here. Nosiree Glob.
Full disclosure #2: I’m currently down 3 fingers typing, so this may take a while to read. Explanations directly below.
The first victims of Thumper’s ‘rhythmic violence’ that I personally witnessed were my left index finger and both of my thumbs. Initially distracted by the beetle’s hypnotic celerity as it spread through a kaleidoscopic array of geometric delights, I didn’t much notice that my left index finger and both of my thumbs, blistered, red, and throbbing, were barely hanging on. That is until the end of level 2 where I seized up like an arthritic crustacean on it’s way to a Floridic retirement community sauna.
In short, It’s a good game. In very short, good.
The graphics are always visually stimulating. The music is driving, it encourages progress. The control is tight. But, as I continued to bash the every bloodying stumpy remains of my two thumbs and left index finger, I felt that something was a little off. A little strange. A little wrong.
I mean aside from having the audacity to put a Right immediately after an Up.
But serially, let’s dissect the game a little, and see if we can’t get to the bottom of this little conundrum. There’s this cool little shiny beetle dude, and for some reason it’s on an endless winding path, responding to an array of obstacles thrown in its way by a series of somewhat spherical bosses and a seriously engraged demon. I’ma call him Sed. In order to not get destroyed, the beetle has to respond in a specific way to each obstacle. In order to defeat the bosses, the beetle has to grab a hold of a certain type of obstacle, and use it to send a pulse back up the path and into the beasts’ gaping maws. The beetle and bosses exist both in a single closed one dimensional system, yet they are not symbiotic. It’s eat or be eaten, but everything the beetle needs to succeed is right in front of it. All it has to do is follow the rules and put the puzzle pieces together, and the path will open.
The path will provide.
Of course, if it doesn’t follow the rules…
The path will taketh away… well for like 3 seconds until it’s placed back at the last checkpoint at least.
This interaction, which is indeed the very core of Thumper, is what confounds me. Let’s put ourselves into the role of the shiny ashtray or our buddy Seddy. You got this beetle dogging you, getting your minions all riled up with the thought of potential destruction and shizz, and at the end of the day, all you’re trying to do is put three squares and a few lines on the table for Mrs. Sed and the Sedlings. If this is the case, why would you set the beetle up for a win? Why wouldn’t you just throw everything you had all the time? It doesn’t make sense. Unless of course, Sed wants to be beaten.
This is why I posit to you, dear reader, that Thumper is not a game of ‘rhythmic violence.’ Violence is just the surface representation of the root cause. Thumper is more accurately a game about ‘rhythmic insecurity’ and ‘rhythmic self-fulfilling prophecy.’
Sed’s dead inside.
I’m not victim blaming, nor am I mocking actual abusive relationships. The beetle has every right to exist, and every right to be upset with the treatment it’s receiving on the path. Rather, I’m showing that Thumper is more than violence, it’s an exploration into a darker element of the human condition. What happens to an entity when they’re day in day out stuck on the same path, the game grind. What if the path does not provide?
I mean, if it’s not about strong emotions and self-doubt, why does Sed look exactly like the flower mage from Adventure Time? That dude is always screaming about his daddy issues throughout his whole appearance on the show. And, he brings things to life only only harm him…. wait… until then end when they all become inanimate again. Hmm.
Maybe I need to look into this more.
Oh, and here’s a stream of the first two levels where I bemoan the loss of my thumbs.
Summary: Good game, good price, even if rhythm games aren’t normally your thing. Can produce feelings of self-doubt, but since I already had that I was good.