Would it be hyperbole to say that Thumper is the most intense, most satisfying, and most draining test of reflexes since Super Hexagon? Much like Terry Cavanagh's infamously challenging arcade game, Thumper is equal parts simplicity and excess, easy-to-understand but challenging-to-master gameplay within a sensory overload of movement, color, and sound. If Super Hexagon was hypnotic in its shifting twisting geometric minimalism, then Thumper is 2001's mesmerizing mind@!%$ given metal life.
From the first section of its nine levels to its last hellish stage, Thumper hurls you into a kaleidoscopic tempest, your chrome beetle racing along twisting tracks and claustrophobic tunnels as eldritch beings of light and metal twist and unfurl within the void. It's a visual gut punch of an experience, that I can only imagine is enhanced to eye-bleeding levels in VR. But even with headphones and a regular screen, Thumper's intensity is peerless.
Imagine those classic inputs of a Guitar Hero or Rock Band - tap and hold to the beat at the right time - and you can grasp Thumper. Strip away the speed and visual chaos, and Thumper is as easy to understand as those games. Thump down on markers, turn and grind against the turns, hover over spikes and through rings. Even as more elements and nuances are introduced, the game remains a mechanically lean test of focus and reflex.
Success in Thumper is draining, exhausting, exhilarating. Like some cyberpunk birdcall, you answer the music's beat with every shockwave of your thumps and spraying sparks of grinds, until you're conditioned to react to each signal and tone with practiced skill. Success requires you to act on the fine line between focus and near-clairvoyant intuition, that zone and flow that the best in the genre let you enter.
Success in Thumper is tactile and physical in ways that few games can tout. You feel every thump, every slam into a turn, every missed beat. Your fingers hurt, you feel your heart thumping in your chest, your vision is locked on the road ahead, you twist and duck in sync with the serpentine track. Thumper is a chemical reaction in game form; every action has a reaction, that flares and explodes and flashes and shatters in response.
I've never been able to get into the music/rhythm genre. Even my favorite - Crypt of the Necrodancer - is enjoyed more for its clever roguelike design than its music game elements. But that's only a testament to Thumper's masterful design and audiovisual hellscape. It's one of those special games that can cross genre lines and even appeal to those who wouldn't normally be interested. Moving to the rhythm has never been this relentless and satisfying.
Title: Thoth Developer: Carlsen Games Platforms: PC, Mac Price: $9.99 ===
Your typical dual stick shooter is all about chaos. Victory comes from overwhelming non-stop firepower and evading waves and hordes like a madman. Erase your enemies from the screen as fast and fiercely as possible. From Geometry Wars and Assault Android Cactus to Binding of Isaac, relentless offense is the best defense. Not firing only gives your enemies time to surround and corner.
Thoth is nothing like that. Sure, you have an effective means of attack - a dual-stream of bullets - and can weave and dodge with ease, and there are fierce enemies that crowd the screen, but relentless firepower will only hasten your destruction.
Much like Carlsen's previous effort 140, Thoth is an exercise in minimalism. It's dual stick shooter distilled, from your single attack to the stark aesthetic and single-screen rectangular arenas. Your vessel is a mere circle, your enemies an array of other shapes. There are no upgrades or power-ups or loadouts or other complexities of the sort.
From this foundation, instead Thoth laser-focuses on the gameplay and exploring its mechanics. It's a game without a tutorial, where you learn through play rather than text. Your movement and shooting are the tools that teach you how enemies behave, and thus every new enemy and mechanic evokes a moment of tension, another unknown variable to master and overcome.
But once you do understand the varied actions of your geometric foes, you realize that Thoth is not exactly a shooter. It's a puzzler, and shooting and movement are how you solve these spatial conundrums. When to shoot, where you shoot from, which enemy you shoot at, in what order, all must be considered. Your circular ships moves faster when not firing, and each enemy requires sustained fire to drain them from existence, so positioning and timing are perhaps the most important aspects to assess while playing Thoth.
Positioning becomes much more critical when you realize that the arena itself is linked with the enemies you face. From changing the available space to swapping the barriers that divide the stage, killing an enemy can hinder rather than help if done at the wrong time and place. Mindlessly firing without considering your location will more than likely see your ship trapped and cornered. Across the game's 64 levels, you're constantly introduced to twists and elements, forcing you to adapt regularly and wringing surprising variety from a seemingly simple format.
Although...it may be a misnomer to say you kill enemies in this game. Enough bullets, and your colorful foes become structures of negative space, empty portholes into endless abyss beyond the arena, that pursue you even more aggressively. It's yet another puzzle piece to consider while dodging and weaving. Thoth's otherworldly droning soundtrack complements the imagery of that cold void wonderfully,
Much like the abyss hidden behind its minimal aesthetic, Thoth's distilled approach to the dual-stick genre hides a unique action puzzler behind the veneer of hectic shooter. You can purchase Thoth on Steam and Humble.
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