Another week, another gaming classic hits the Xbox Live Arcade. Classic? Yeah, Tapper was definitely one of those when it hit the arcades back in 1984. Completely original, charming, and a typical example of a game that you could just pick up and play with no explanation, it still holds an indefinable addictive appeal even this far down the line.
Many of you will perhaps be more familiar with the game from the various ports (called, simply, Tapper - the Root Beer moniker was added in later arcade versions to remove the association with Budweiser) that appeared a year or so later, most notably on the C64, but also later on the Spectrum, Amstrad and several other 8-bit systems of the time. But as faithful as those ports were in terms of the simple slide-the-beer glass-down-the-bar gameplay, no home system at the time had the ability to match the pin-sharp "cartoon" (a favourite expression of the time) graphics that the arcade version boasted.
Set over four increasingly tough areas, the idea is mindlessly engaging in a whack-a-mole kind of sense. You're a moustachioed bartender, you have four bars to service and must quickly pour a drink to meet the needs of the thirsty customers emerging into the 'saloon'. At the end of each bar is a tap that enables you to instantaneously pour the drink and slide the glass towards the customer in one fluid motion, and keeping up with orders is a case of flicking between bars by moving up and down and 'firing' the drinks towards them.
Give me a drink and make it quick...
Some customers, though, are thirstier than others, which requires you to not only pour them another drink, but collect their glass that's been thrown back in your direction before it smashes on the floor. If you either fail to collect a glass in time, or fail to service a customer before they reach the end of the bar you lose a life and have to start the stage again. But if you're quick and persistent enough to ensure all the customers have been sent back through the door on all four bars you clear the stage and move on to the next.
Sometimes customers are nice enough to leave a tip, allowing you run and collect it in order to distract a portion of your clientele with a few dancing girls on the stage in front of them. A few stragglers, though, will still be thirsty enough to carry on marching towards you - but it helps give you vital breathing space when things get really hectic - like on the game's latter stages with the punks and the aliens.
After a couple of stages on the same area, you'll be treated to a little interlude where a masked man shakes all the cans on a bar - except one. He then switches them all around and asks you pick the one that's not been shaken for a bonus. After that you move on to a different bar, play that for a few rounds, rinse, repeat and so on until you either run out of lives or cycle through all four areas of the game.
...or else I'm gonna be sick a-ho-ho-ho-llover...
It's beautifully simple, but ultimately a very short-lived game thanks to the ferocious difficulty level that ramps up almost vertically after the third stage. It's not helped, either, by the general lack of responsiveness of the buttons on the 360 pad - which tends to suggest the actual emulation is quite sluggish, as opposed to any inherent problem with the pad itself. What you tend to find time after time is that you'll swear blind that you pressed the button to pour a drink, but it doesn't seem to respond as it should. Naturally, when things are really hectic, you need the buttons to respond instantaneously to keep up with the relentless customer demand, but, sadly, they just... don't. Cue much frustration and high volume cries of "I bloody pressed it!"
Inevitably, the developer behind the port, Digital Eclipse, has included a few interesting extras to add a smidgen of value to the proceedings, neither of which are especially compelling in practice. The first is a basic versus score mode, where you have to compete with someone, somewhere in a game of "who can get the highest score", which isn't especially interesting - especially as the game ends as soon as one person runs out of lives. The other is a co-op mode, which has more appeal, but quickly loses its appeal just like the single player mode does - you don't actually have another bartender on the screen (which would have been pretty handy), but your scores tally up together to give you a bigger total. A bit pointless, to be honest. As usual, you can mine the game for some easy achievements, but unlike, say, the Namco games on XBLA, you'll have to be genuinely good at the game to get even half of them. The leaderboards add a little bit of extra interest value, but only if you have buddies interested in a bit of retro competition.
What's perhaps the most pertinent thing about Tapper is whether you can justify shelling out for a game you'll arguably only play again for a small amount of time, really enjoy it, before realising that, actually, it stops being fun alarmingly quickly. As usual, download the trial, enjoy the nostalgia of hearing that ditty for ten minutes and move on. Alternatively, fire up this free flash version and play a version that's almost as good without leaving your PC. Realistically, games like Tapper need to be a bit cheaper than 400 points to warrant a purchase, however much you loved them in the mid '80s.