If you entered a video arcade on July 1, 1983, you’d probably wonder what all the fuss was about. You’d be met by a huge crowd of people gathered around a new game. There’d be such a large crowd that the arcade owner would have installed a monitor on top of this game so everyone could watch it being played. If you checked out what was on the monitor, you’d see a video game like none other before it.
You’d be seeing Dragon’s Lair, released 30 years ago today. With rich, vibrant animation by Don Bluth, driven by laser disc technology from Rick Dyer and his RDI Video Systems company, it truly seemed like the waning days of the arcade had just gotten a huge shot in the arm. No matter that, due to the extravagant cost of the game to arcade operators (averaging $4,300), it was the first game to cost 50 cents to play. No matter that, despite the lush visuals, gameplay locked players on a rail that was minimally interactive. It was new, it was cool, and it was wonderful.
Even though Dragon’s Lair and the laser disc game phenomena that followed in its wake were conceptual dead-ends that were quickly left behind by gamers, their memories remain. I don’t think there is another game that so typifies the 80’s video game arcade to me as much as Dragon’s Lair.
To go for a spin through the development and aftermath of Dragon’s Lair, please check out our article on the Laser Game Craze.
Tapper is a game any denizen of early 1980’s arcades will remember fondly. It was a very successful arcade game released by Bally/Midway in 1983, featuring a bartender slinging the game’s sponsor’s suds, Budweiser, to thirsty patrons in various bar settings, from old-west saloons, to far-out space-stations. The official cabinet even featured Bud labelled pull handles as controllers. Via the obligatory outrage over a videogame peddling alcohol to the poor innocents of the local arcade, Bally/Midway pulled the game and re-tooled it as Root Beer Tapper the following year.
A remake called Tapper World Tour has just been released on the Apple app store, a version for the iPad at 1.99 CDN, and one for the iPhone at .99, although these are introductory prices so you better belly up to the bar fast. The game was developed by Square One Studios, founded by animation great Don Bluth and his long-time business partner Gary Goldman. Bluth, most famously known to video game aficionados as the man behind the artwork for the classic Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace laserdisc arcade games, also provides the artwork here.
You can always recognize the work of the great Don Bluth
The iOS version plays a bit different than the game you might remember from the arcades. Here, you get multiple lives, instead of it being a sudden-death game-ender if you screw up throwing drinks or picking up empties. Instead of using any kind of virtual joystick to move your bartender between kegs, you tap on the screen to move and then tap again to serve drinks, so this extra tapping (kind of gives a new meaning to the title, eh? Heh heh heh) to position yourself takes some getting used to. There are also power-ups you are granted for playing the campaign mode, and these can be used in-game to, for instance, make a patron automatically give a tip, which if picked up will grant you another life. Another change is that you control when the entertainment starts, used to distract the customers and give you some breathing space. Also, while distracted, these customers will grab drinks thrown them, making things a bit easier than the arcade version, where you had to be careful not to whiff one right by someone watching the floor show.
There are lots of different locations and varied characters in the campaign mode, which has you travelling the world slinging drinks to all manner of barflys. What might be even more fun though is the endless mode, where you can choose one bar from among those you’ve beaten in the campaign, and just keep serving it up to a constant, never-ending crowd that moves increasingly faster up the bar as you play. It gets wonderfully chaotic after awhile.
Bluth’s artwork and animation gives Tapper World Tour a lot of character, both literally and figuratively. It’s great to see him back in action, lending his inimitable style to a great update of a classic game. For more information on Bluth and his most famous contributions to video game history, consult your local TDE article on the laser game craze of the 1980’s here. As well, here is a video clip of the ColecoVision version of the original Root Beer Tapper, just another in a long line of great coin-op conversions done for that console. Cheers!