Original version: Tapper, released in 1983 for arcade
Looking back, it’s amazing to think of just how many games had a downright wacky premise compared to the somber and “safe” franchises you’ll see nowadays. Outside of the odd, or in some cases, very odd indie game, you’ll usually end up stepping into the shoes of a tortured, yet endlessly bland, blank slate and go on a series of sidequests.
Oh, look how varied and interesting these protagonists all are.
Back in the days of 1983, everyone was so willing to experiment that you could even make a game based around beer, and Bally Midway did just that. Resulting from a partnership with Budweiser, Tapper follows a bartender trying to serve impatient customers. There are four different bars to tend to with up to four customers at each bar at any given time. Every time you give a customer a beer, it pushes him/her back and the customer is removed from play when pushed off screen. With its bright, colorful graphics and solid gameplay, Tapper became an instant classic.
The gameplay of Tapper is quick and frenetic, and requires you to keep one eye on the customers while keeping the other eye on their beer mugs.. and another eye on the cash tips that they sometimes leave, and four more eyes on each of the bars. You also need to time your beer dispensing strategically, because if customers at two different bars slide their tankards back toward you simultaneously, you might not be able to catch both. And when a mug drops to the floor, it shatters and you lose a life. The other way to lose a life is to allow a customer to reach the end of the bar. If that happens, the customer will lay hands on you and summarily eject you from the premises. That’ll teach you to be slow with tending bar!
The one flaw with Tapper is that it gets exhausting after a while. There comes a point where you just wish to stop serving beer, and yearn for the release of death. Fortunately, collecting enough tips can cause dancers to come out. Their dancing will distract the customers momentarily, giving you a chance to catch up or take a breather. Also, there is a minigame between each level to give you a change of pace. The minigame awards extra points if you win, but doesn’t kill you if you lose. If you wished to truly take a breather you could just put no effort into the minigame.
This is the original version of the game, but Midway also made a child-friendly version called Root Beer Tapper to assuage fears that they were marketing alcohol to children (because, as we know, all video games are just meant for children). This version replaced the bartender with a soda jerk and removed all references to alcohol, which makes the high number of violently impatient customers really scary. I would not want to live in that world….
Anyway, both versions of the game proved to be a smashing success and enabled the follow-up Timber, where you play as a lumberjack. Although not as big a success as its predecessor, Timber was a worthy addition to arcades, with its similarly bright and colorful graphics, and non-combative gameplay. I don’t know about you, but I start to get sick of violent games after a while. I’m tired of shooting people and getting shot at, EA!
If you own a Tapper arcade cabinet, you can download a rom backup here and play it with MAME.