Friday, August 8, 2008

Root Beer Tapper: X-Box Live Edition

As most readers can see via our "Pathetic Gaming With Us" sidebar, the X-Box 360 is a harsh mistress to us Ice Anvil writers. It's a console that brings me great joy whenever I play a game like Crackdown or even Guitar Hero: Aerosmith. But it's also a bane on the existence of my wallet whenever I wake up one morning in a post-gaming stupor and realize I just spent X-Box points like they were monopoly money on Arcade titles like Root Beer Tapper.

Now, the rational me realizes what the half-asleep-with-a-console-that-has-my-credit-card-info-on-file bad idea me might have been going for. Yes, readers, I have a history with the game Tapper.

That last sentence might be a first for the English language but true it is nonetheless.

Back when I was a wee lad of 12 I came across a few cryptic websites talking about a video game program called MAME. I knew not what this could mean, of course, because I was 12 years old and actively collecting issues of X-Force at the time... so in most states, by all means I was clinically retarded. But clicked on I did as I found page after page extolling great gaming fortunes for all who partake in MAME-y goodness. Eventually, after realizing that text on websites isn't just there for decoration and should be read, I found an actual link to download the emulator and some random MAME roms.

These early roms weren't the cream of the crop that rose to the top, either. I have a feeling that most of these sites hosting early roms picked the ones that had the least choice of receiving cease and desist letters. Let's be candid here: if you actually worked on 3 Stooges arcade game, were sober enough to remember programming it, and still alive today, would you put yourself through the shame of confessing this prior sin to a lawyer? I think not. So many early MAME sites were full of games of this ilk, some of them having decent playability, most of them being novelties that many people never heard of. One such rom was Tapper, which is a title I still to this day confuse for another activity altogether.

Tapper is a product of its generation. At the time, a video game could be made about just about any subject, which is why we received games about a gorilla in a greenhouse, jousting on ostriches, kissing girls in study hall, and Tron. Eventually game developers started programming games based on their own real life interests, so naturally a game based entirely on drinking had to come up sooner or later. With Tapper, you played the part of a bartender on the go, forced to work in a dystopian future where watering holes have 5 bars and only one member of staff.

Let's dissect that last sentence for a moment, shall we? The game takes place in a reality where there are so many alcoholics that bars necessitate not one but 5 different bar situations. And it is to be assumed that Tapper himself is only bartender because he is not an alcoholic. So that would mean this once lighthearted game about getting people sauced is actually a cautionary tale of how horrible a life you might lead if you don't get drunk now. Would you want to be stuck the lone rider on the sober train, having to grease the wheels of an entire society of inebriated yokels with pocket change? I thought not, Mayor Moonshine, so get chugging.

With the outlook on our world's eventual drunken demise out of the way, let's talk about the fundamentals of the game as if it really merits it. The game is essentially a sideways shoot'em up, except what you are firing is frosty mugs of beer and what you are shooting at are drunks. The drunks happily grab their chalice of tard drink and chug like it's their job (which, as previously denoted, might very well be true). The sheer force of you feeding their addiction is enough to physically move them back a few feet, also... either that or you are slinging suds at the speed of sound. When they have consumed all that is to be consumed, a good 90% of them reasonably decide to leave your establishment and drive home, which could theoretically tie the actions of the game Bump 'N' Jump to Tapper, making it a spiritual successor. First you have to stupid the alcoholics up, then they think they can make their car jump on the drive home.

The ones that do not take notice tend to stick around, often not tipping, until you throw another frothy cup of nice-nice their way. Then, and only then, has their gripping addiction been sated and they can leave your game to star in their own version of City Connection. Side note: whichever city Tapper takes place in no longer has any cats.

There are two critical things to remember about Tapper before we go any further: Firstly, the game was made to be the lone arcade set-up in your neighborhood bar. The game was simple and short, easily beaten on a single quarter if you Jackie Chan drunk kung-fu it. Some versions of the game even bare the Budweiser logo to make no bones about who this game was targeted towards. And the topper to Tapper: the game included a handy drink holder to caress your bottle of fresh Budweiser or drink of choice while you show off to your equally shitfaced friends just how wicked awesome you are at the ol' Tap after a few tequila shots.

The second, and most crucial, part of Tapper lore lies in the developers wanting their cake and eating it, too. The 80s were a heady time, America. We had conflicted images of Phoebe Cates alone from Gremlins and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. We were a nation divide. Among that divide were arcades set up in bars (which numbers in the tens of... uh... tens) and the number of arcades set up in pizza joints, malls, and assorted places marketed towards children (essentially all of them). A night at Chuck E Cheese's is less fun if daddy has to explain why the people in the Tapper game are impersonating what he does every night as he cries after work to his children.

So the game suddenly become Root Beer Tapper, as we've hit the Prohibition Age of Gaming. Surely you remember the great rush of root beer joints in the 80s, right? Man, you could barely throw a dead cat (most likely killed by one of Tapper's customers) without hitting a root beer jerk just being torn to pieces with job offers to work in yet another hip young root beer upstart opening down town.

What was once a glorified drinking simulator suddenly became a questionable piece of early video game censorship. The once happy faces of Tapper players full of amusement were replaced with faces of bemusement at what Root Beer Tapper represented. This one stroke of parental advisory killed any chance of video games creeping into your local bar for good, leaving a market wide open for Golden Tee. Ironically, you look like slightly less of an idiot playing Root Beer Tapper than you do playing Golden Tee.

So of course we get a port of the game on X-Box Live Arcade, surely a big seller to the dozens of people who fondly remember the time they got so hammered and played all the way to the Sports Bar level on a single token.

Every story comes with an inconvenient truth: there are currently 177,012 people who own Root Beer Tapper on their X-Box Live. That's 177,012 people crying out for help.

And yes, that includes myself as well. Help me protect myself from drunk Arcade purchases.