Eight-Bit Junkyard

Rediscovering video games of the past

“Tapper” (Bally Midway, 1983)
Hello, my name is Zach. And I’m a “Tapper”-holic. I’ve been awash in a sea of digital suds for 32 years. I can stop whenever I want.

It started in 1981. “Galaga” is released. Namco’s sequel to 1979’s “Galaxian” is the star of arcades and smoky lounges across the land. It isn’t just kids fixated on piloting those jagged little ships. Sit-down versions of arcade games, called cocktail cabinets, are fixtures in local bars. A cold Michelob makes your death-by-alien-insect-tractor-beam easier to fathom. My father and I team up — he tackles the Michelob, I steer us clear of the tractor beam. I’m 3 years old.

Then 1982 arrives. “Ms. Pac-Man” ushers me into pre-K. What red-blooded 4-year-old can deny her rouge-plastered cheeks, electric blue eye shadow, and pink bow? Every quarter and token found behind my ear is fed directly to “Ms. Pac Man.” How better for her to understand how much she means to me? It also keeps me from repeatedly pulling all the knobs on the cigarette machine next to the bathroom — a win-win for me, my father, and the bar manager.

Anheuser-Busch notices what’s happening in bars across America. Pints are coming off pool tables and leaving rings on “Zaxxon.” The King of Beers wants a taste. They team with Bally Midway, and the result is “Tapper.” Do you like drinking beer? Do you like playing video games about drinking beer? You will once you drop in that first quarter.

In “Tapper,” you’re an olde-tyme bartender — waxed mustache included — on a quest to successfully serve all your patrons pitcher after pitcher of cold, refreshing Budweiser while picking up tips, avoiding broken glassware, and trying not to get distracted by dancing girls in a series of bars across space and time.

This is not a game for children, but 5-year-old me is hooked.The stand-up arcade units come outfitted with brass foot rails to better simulate a saloon. For me, it’s the boost needed to reach the actual Budweiser tap handle that controls the on-screen tap lines. My Shirley Temple rests comfortably in the decorative drink holder intended for something stronger.

I get lost in “Tapper.” I’m in the Wild West first. The Stephen Foster soundtrack taunts me. Women dance to “Buffalo Gals.” My customers love me. They tip me well. I pour myself a few drinks between rounds. It keeps me loose. My tips get bigger. I win the bonus round. I’m told “This Bud’s For You!” That’s right, me. Not you. I’m picked to serve the sports elite at the big game. There’s a blimp emblazoned with Bud logos, because Budweiser is the king. We are his subjects. Now I’m controlling the flow of booze at a VIP new wave bar. I can feel my sleeve garters tightening around my biceps as Debbie Harry orders another round. I sample the round. Quality control. I’m working. A lot. Not sleeping enough. Which explains the hallucinations. Now I’m in an outer space bar full of alien customers. Watch for the tractor beam! No, wrong game. I’m the best. They’re here for me. I’m the man. I’m 5. I’m 36. Hello, my name is Zach. I am “Tapper.” I can stop whenever I want.

Hidden Gem or Total Junk:
Addictive Gem