Thumper touts itself as a "rhythm violence" game, but I'm not seeing much in the way of violence in the same vein as something like KickBeat. What I am seeing is a bevy of similarities to Rez, one of the best short games (opens in new tab) in existence. This is the kind of game that locks you into a trance, pulling you in so intensely that you feel like the turbulent, 60fps visuals are starting to envelop your senses. Ok, maybe I was just sitting way too close to the TV - but between Thumper and the enhanced port of Rez Infinite (opens in new tab), the PS4 is the place to be for trippy, musically driven voyages in 2016.
For now, there doesn't appear to be any loose narrative tying all this rhythmic chaos together, a la Rez's allegory about computer hacking. You must simply accept that you are a Space Beetle (coated silver, just like Rez's protagonist) screaming down a confined lane, your only inputs being the direction you want to lean and the spread of your metallic wings with a press of the X button. As with Rez, the sound design is just as crucial as the mesmerizing visuals - but in terms of the actual gameplay, Thumper is more akin to the call-and-response rhythm timing of PaRappa the Rapper, where you must quickly mimic the beats and tones that play out mere moments before you can react.
You can't let yourself get too distracted by the psychedelic tunnel you're zooming through, which has all the strobing rainbow lights and vaguely threatening shapes of the finale from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or the tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (minus the overlays of chickens getting their heads chopped off). This game is hard, requiring split-second timings while you're traveling at speeds that make Audiosurf look like a music game for grandmas. All it takes is one or two flubs to turn your Space Beetle into a charred hunk of dead bug, kicking you back to the start of the short levels.
Instead of poppy techno, Thumper's soundtrack is driven by heavy-hitting drum beats and Inception-esque bass drops. Make it far enough, and you'll eventually encounter the bizarrely named Crakhed, a colossal orange skull that seems to be undecided on whether it wants to eat you or thrash you with its spiked tentacles. Like Rez, there's no chance that Thumper delivers 10 hours of rich character development and emotional strife. This is a shot of pure, rhythm-fueled adrenaline, pulling into a thrill ride full of outlandish set pieces until your mind needs to tap out, either from difficulty or overstimulation.