With Budweiser’s decision to rename itself “America” in, well, America later this year as part of the run up to the presidential election in November, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at an old but great classic from Bally Midway — 1983’s Tapper.
Bally Midway contracted a toy firm called Marvin Glass and Associates to create a new coin-op game. If you’ve never heard of MGA, you might have heard of some of the games they were responsible for such as Operation, Mouse Trap, or the ever popular Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. Founded in 1941, the company’s prolific history for game design seemed to be a good fit for a unique coin-op.
And Tapper was pretty unique. The cabinet itself was designed to mimic an old-style bar complete with a brass bar near the floor and fountain levers for ‘pouring’ the beer in the game. A joystick was used to move our heroic bartender from counter to counter, or even run down the counter to pick up empty glasses or tips for points.
Game-play was really simple. All you had to do was keep your patrons happy as they emerged from the side of the room and began to creep their way towards your end of the bar counter. The room had several counters, each with varying numbers of bar hoppers, and you needed to zip between each one to keep everyone happy.
To do that, you needed to fill up a mug of beer which was then tossed across the bar counter to the waiting hands of one of your patrons. That would “push” them back, hopefully back through the door they came through, buying you more time to shunt over to the next counter top and throw a few beers down that way to push more people back. Once you had managed to clear the screen of patrons, the round was cleared and it was on to the next.
A few things also spiced things up to raise the challenge. Empty mugs would also slowly make their way back down to your end of the bar counter, tossed by patrons who may be hanging around for more. Tips can also be left for points which you can run down and collect at the risk of using up valuable time that could be spent running to another row of patrons instead. And the number of patrons per row also increased the further you got into the game from one to four or so, all clamoring for a drink.
“Lives” were lost whenever an empty mug fell off the end of the counter if you failed to catch it, a patron made it to the end of the bar showing you the door instead, or accidentally filling one too many mugs of beer with the extra one falling off the far end of the counter. Balancing which rows to help first, glasses to collect, and how many mugs you need to send down right before hitting the next row all becomes part of the challenge especially when the game begins to pile on the patrons.
There were four “bars” in the game — a Wild West style saloon, a sports field with athletes, a punk rock bar, and an alien bar with aliens thirsty for Budweiser. Each bar was split into a number of rounds before ultimately transitioning to the next. In between each bar was a small cut scene featuring a bandit shaking a number of beer cans except for one finally slamming their fist on the table causing the cans to move around. When all of the cans stop, it’s up to the player to pick which one is safe to open for a bonus.
The game also came with a number of neat touches from the sound effects and music to the art that created a bit of personality for our bartender who celebrated at the end of every successful round. He’d perform a special trick whether it was throwing up an empty mug and smashing it with their foot as it came down unless it did something else like landing on their head.
The first game was actually sponsored by Anheuser-Busch explaining the giant Budweiser logo in the backdrop. There was also a family friendly “Root Beer Tapper” version that came out in 1984 to avoid the impression that the game was advertising beer to minors. Even the bartender’s costume was changed to that of a “soda jerk” with striped jacket and hat. Japan’s Suntory was also worked into a version of Tapper.
The game proved to be pretty popular and ended up ported to a wide variety of machines ranging from the still-popular Atari VCS/2600, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, and even making its way onto mobiles and Xbox Live Arcade. It was also remade as a “modern reinterpretation” with Tapper World Tour on iOS in 2011. You can even play a fan-made “mini’ version of the game in Java featuring the first level (in a “survival” mode setting).
It was a fun slice of the 80s arcade scene and a memorable game filled with plenty of personality. While it might not be as mega popular as Pac-Man or as cutting edge as Dragon’s Lair, Tapper falls squarely in being one of those uniquely fun games that gave the arcades so much variety.