Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Game 270: Tapper

Add "bartender" to the long list of jobs that I'm definitely not qualified for.

Midway's Tapper, originally intended for bars and featuring authentic Budweiser tap handles on the control panel, tasks you to serve up mugs of mediocre beer-flavored carbonated beverage to throngs of testy patrons while scrambling to catch the empty ones that they slide right back to you. Most re-releases and retrospective compilations substitute no-name root beer in place of Bud.

With four different bars to tend, and no room for errors, Tapper becomes a chaotic juggling act. The main threat is failing to catch the empty mugs - even one dropped glass (whether an empty one you failed to catch or a full one that you overzealously slid down the bar when nobody could catch it) will cost you a life, but at the same time, failing to sling suds at the customers faster than they come in means they'll overrun your bar and slide you down it, out the window.

My best attempt got me 50,000 points, but I couldn't pass the rave, or get to the alien space tavern that awaits afterward.


My general strategy was this - when at a bar, count the number of patrons waiting for a drink, and serve exactly that many before moving to the next one. Should one bar look like an impending disaster, rush down the current one to collect whatever empty mugs I can before zipping to the new one to deal with it. One technical challenge is that you have to pull the tap for a fraction of a second to fill the mug - release too soon and the mug won't be full enough to serve. At least you can't overfill it.

A thing that makes Tapper so challenging is evident toward the end of the video - the customers are endless. You finish a round not by serving all of the customers, but by serving them all before any more can come! If more come in before you're done, which has happened just as the last customer on the screen was chugging down a glass, then it becomes a losing battle as even more will come in just as you're serving the last of them. Repeat ad nauseum.

One tool meant to help you out is tips, which customers sometimes leave behind. Whenever you collect a tip, a show starts, distracting some of the patrons for a few seconds. In practice, I found this rarely helped. It takes precious time to run down the bar and collect tips, and during the show, distracted patrons can't be served, but new ones can enter. The tips might delay them long enough for you to collect some empty mugs before they crash on the floor, but I seldom found that the situation after the show was improved from the situation before it.

ACAM does feature a real Tapper machine, located in the barroom, naturally, and the main difference in gameplay experience is the use of the tap handle controller to pour. It's a bit more demanding than using a gamepad or keyboard, but does lend the experience a bit of verisimilitude.

GAB rating: Average. Tapper's just another arcade game that I'd spend half an hour on at most, hit a wall, and then move onto something else. There's nothing wrong with it, and the premise is creative, but I can't see myself playing Tapper again unless it's on a real machine, and then only for the novelty of playing on its bar-friendly cabinet.


  1. There's a really good longplay with commentary and multiple cameras where they discuss (about 3 and a half minutes in) how people used to skip doing tips and just try to serve as fast as possible but the world record was broken by adding them to the strategy.

    1. Neat! Kinda wish they'd explain how they make tips work for them in more detail. To me they just seem like a desperation tactic to delay the inevitable (and score some points in the meantime).

      They pointed out one thing that hadn't occurred to me but seems obvious in retrospect. Tapper is a time management game, anticipating and probably influencing Diner Dash, etc. Not my favorite genre, but I remember playing and enjoying a flash game called Death Row Diner. But my colorblindness brought a quick halt to my progress once you started serving three colors of slop.

      The video also made me curious if you could score unlimited points, slowly but easily, by staying on level one forever, milking the patron on the longest bar. The answer is, you can't. Eventually everyone starts moving faster and you just get overwhelmed, even on the first stage. Which I think lends credence to my theory that if you can't beat a level quickly, then you won't be able to beat it at all.


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