Originally released by Bally/Midway in 1983 as simply Tapper, this arcade classic put you in the role of a mustachioed, suds-slingin' barkeep who must tend to four, count 'em, four bars as wave after wave of thirsty and belligerent patrons attempt to bum-rush you. It was rereleased the following year as Root Beer Tapper, making it more kid friendly by removing the giant Budweiser sign from the back of the bar, and now Root Beer Tapper has made its way to Xbox Live Arcade. The emulation wizards at Digital Eclipse have done well with the XBLA version of Root Beer Tapper, which retains the same, unique gameplay as the arcade original and tosses in a little Xbox Live action on top.
It starts off easy enough, with just a few, slow-moving patrons. You move up and down between the four different bars, filling mugs of root beer and sliding them down the counter as patrons enter. You'll occasionally run down the bars to pick up tips or to grab empty mugs being slid back your way, since a mug that's allowed to slide off the end of the bar and break will cost you a life. Unattended patrons will slowly make their way down the bar, and if they're able to get all the way to the end without being served, they'll grab you by your freshly starched collar and slide you along the bar, right out the door.
The game quickly becomes a real juggling act as you try and keep tabs on which patrons are closest to the end of the bar and if any empty mugs are sliding your way. You also have to stay aware of the high-kicking dancing girls who will appear at random to distract patrons, which prevents them from grabbing any mugs you slide their way. There are four different themed bars that you'll tend to as you make your way through Root Beer Tapper, and there's a little shell game-style minigame in between bars to break up the action.
The controls feel good, and in a nice, authentic touch, you have the option to use the right analog stick to tap the root beer, making it feel a bit more like the dual-joystick controls found in the arcade version. All said, it's a pretty faithful port of the arcade version, and though the screen appears to have been stretched just a little bit, Root Beer Tapper looks as sharp and colorful as ever. The sound is also arcade accurate, though some of the looping background music can become grating over time.
Root Beer Tapper is primarily a single-player game, but you can also alternate turns with another player on a single system or take the game online. There are online co-op and versus modes available, though in practice they're nearly identical. Two players go at it in their own game simultaneously, with a running score in the corner of the screen being the only indication of what the other player is up to. In the versus mode, the goal is to outscore your opponent before you run out of lives, while in the co-op mode both players just want to go for as long as they can.
The online multiplayer isn't great, though the inclusion of online-based achievements encourages you to spend some time with it either way. The overall balance of the achievements is good, if a little predictable, with several that you'll get from just playing through the game, as well as a few really challenging ones. Root Beer Tapper is an often overlooked gem, and this is a solid version of it. The game has rarely gotten the respect it deserves, and it makes a great addition to the Xbox Live Arcade lineup.