Careening into a Brooklyn bar recently, I came across a lone, beaten arcade game tucked behind a booth. I normally wouldn’t pay the usual Big Buck Hunter or Golden Tee any mind, but this was different. The cabinet was adorned with old-timey bar scenes, a big-ass Budweiser bow-tie was emblazoned on the front, and a pair of beer tap handles jutted out invitingly. It was Tapper, the most awesome beer-themed arcade game ever made.
The title screen. Sudsy.
Released in 1983 by arcade mogul Bally Midway, Tapper is deceptively simple. You control a frighteningly-overworked bartender who must serve gallons of beer to surly patrons at four separate bars. A joystick lets you move up and down between the bars, while yanking back on the tap handle fills up mugs and slamming it forward slings them down the bar. Pour enough beers while catching the occasional returned glass and you’ll move on to the next level. Drop a beer and, just as in life, you lose.
The scoreboard. We see a gloriously strange cast of characters ranked by how well they tip.
The strangest thing about Tapper isn’t the punk-rock themed third stage nor the space alien filled fourth, but the simple fact that it has a legitimate beer tie-in. Sponsored video games have always been around, pushing everything from soda to raisins on impressionable little pipsqueaks. But getting to serve frosty Bud, the king of beers, to a bunch of crunk aliens? The only thing that could top that would be a Kool-sponsored smoking penguin-wrangling simulation.
This is the punk rock bar. If only it existed in real life.
Alas, Tapper in its original sudsy form didn’t last long. It seems that nobody was particularly happy about Budweiser making their way into arcades full of kids and teenagers, which is perfectly understandable. As early as 1984 Root Beer Tapper versions were being produced, with a lack of Budweiser branding and less emphasis on the bar atmosphere, although gameplay was the same. About 3300 of the upright cabinets were made, an unknown quantity of which had Budweiser branding. Various ports for home arcade systems were also made, and there’s a persistent rumor that Sega produced a few copies of the original arcade system’s motherboard with Suntory logos.
The space bar offers a glimpse into the future of alcoholism.
Rarity aside and despite short shelf life, Tapper is cool because it’s a game that’s easy to learn while still being impressively difficult, especially when you’ve got some libations racked up on the cabinet’s two drink shelves. And with a sort-of sequel, Tapper World Tour now out for mobile devices, maybe a reboot one day isn’t entirely out of the question. Until then, I’ll be yanking on the greasy old plastic taps, trying to keep my little pixelated friends refreshed.