Review by Meho Krljic
Released June 16, 2009
Available for Wii
Time Played It’s not about length, it’s about love
Verdict: 4/5 Thumbs Up
“If imagining a scene where four people tap on pizza boxes furiously, sweating, cursing, breaking into tears (and, well, yes, breaking stuff with thrown Wiimotes too) and dancing embarrassing victory dances every minute or so doesn’t make you think “I would like some of that too!!” then I wonder if you were introduced to the world of videogames by ‘playing’ with your dad’s pocket calculator and having fun with all those divisions, square roots and sinuses.“
Like Japanese Jesus
SEGA seems to be on a bit of a roll with Wii this year, no? They have published the bloodiest, most stylish fighting game on the system and while MadWorld is certainly not the deepest action game in the world and it sold like a bag of crispy cockroaches stuffed with rabies it was still one in the win column for the veteran publisher because it demonstrated genuine passion and effort. But that’s not all. SEGA also published the latest title in its long-running The House of the Dead series and Overkill is easily the best home console lightgun game in the current hardware generation if not ever. Fact. You read it here, folks. In addition it made its way into the Guinness Book of World Records for being the… er… profane-est game out there. Seriously, it starts with Isaac Washington promising to rip your balls off and it works upwards from there. It’s mad fun.
Now, SEGA also has Let’s Tap this year and although unlike Overkill, it doesn’t feature any swear words it’s also mad fun. This. This is SEGA that we know and love. SEGA, able to publish two of the bloodiest, cockiest games on the system and follow them up with a game rated for the age of three and above and yet to ensure all of the games are crafted with love and polished with attention to detail in a sharp contrast to mountainous heaps of shovelware threatening to crush your Wii every single day.
Nintendo’s motion-control-enabled console is often criticised by gamers who like to call themselves hardcore for allegedly being a system for non-gamers, full of atrocious pieces of software that discerning veterans of the artform (or entertainment medium) wouldn’t touch with a flamethrower. Which is not completely untrue but does inspire a reality check. Is the glass half-empty or half-full, my dear friends and neighbours, in this age of bloated game budgets, ridiculous ratings and unscrupulous yet attentive media? Do all the shit games aimed at snatching a quick buck from the unwashed masses really taint the name of the console that gave us Lostwinds, Super Paper Mario and The House of the Dead: Overkill? Does having a game with ludicrous amounts of entertainment value that could not be made on any other system make a difference in anyone’s world at all? Because now you have Let’s Tap.
Made by Yuji Naka’s SEGA-supported studio Prope, Let’s Tap has been out in Japan for half a year already and is an example of quirky, funny, cute, yet unabashedly addictive party games that we typically associate with Japan and sometimes melancholically wish someone would publish here, in the west so we too can have fun once in a while. We have forgotten how to have fun, we will say with a typically painful, self-aware sigh, somewhere along the way, on all those grey and brown planets with space Nazis played by man-eating bugs, we have forgotten the simple art of having fun in playing games with our friends and family. Well, SEGA decided to take the plunge for once, assuming its best Jesus Christ pose and as of several days ago, Let’s Tap is available in all the usual retail outlets near you. Let’s now see what you do next.
We came here to party and smoke crack and we’re all out of crack, dammit
Yes, Let’s Tap is a party game, a funny and fun local multiplayer experience with easy to grasp concepts and seductive presentation meant to be played with friends, spouses, descendants and perhaps even ancestors because of all the party games made for the Wii, this one features the simplest and most intuitive control scheme.
Yes, Let’s Tap is a party game but hold on a second, partner. ‘Party game’ has become a bit of a dirty expression among us, killjoys of modern gaming who have witnessed Nintendo’s consoles of the current generation showered with quick cash-ins in the form of uninventive, unimaginative, ugly, clumsy, unfun party games. Party gaming has become a synonym for cheap, dirty collections of minigames unable to hold the attention of anyone with taste and real interest in gaming. So this is SEGA jumping the bandwagon like MadWorld and Overkill never happened, right?
No. This is SEGA showing you how it’s done. This is SEGA creating a piece of love out of transparent graphics and tiny pieces of silicone and copper and making you pay for it. And hopefully smile while paying, smile while playing. And if you choose to ignore it because you are just too jaded to have fun, then they needn’t have bothered.
Let’s Tap… Repeatedly.*
*Bad puns delivered at no extra cost
So, what’s in the package? For starters, there are only four games in this collection. And a collapsible (er… make it assemblible) cardboard box that you are supposed to use to control the game. Seriously. No, seriously, come back this instant and listen!!! You used to think that motion-control was a gimmick too and then you spent endless hours playing Excitebots, so let’s stop pretending you’re too good to have fun with ‘gimmicks’ and give this game a benefit of the doubt, will you?
So, a cardboard box and four minigames. It doesn’t sound that enticing, does it? Well, there is a fifth game as well, only it’s not a game but a visualiser, a set of animated backdrops and some music that you can (pretend to) control and have lovely effects appear on your television screen. Not exactly something that makes you reach for the wallet, is it?
But there is a reason why there are only four minigames here. Unlike most party games collections out there, Let’s Tap actually remembered to pack something else with its visuals and music. And I don’t mean the cardboard box. These games have depth. And as such, they are endurable. They last. They seduce and keep you in front of the telly long after you’ve stopped being drunk, you and your friends, giggling, screaming at each other, cursing, throwing stuff across the room, hi-fiving, possibly looking for something else to drink. Because, you see, where even Wii Sports’ Tennis and Bowling effectively limited one’s time with the game by actually being physically exhausting, Let’s Tap manages to pull a smart one and give you a proper tactile experience without reminding you how shamefully out of shape you allowed yourself to fall.
The science of Pizza
This is the part where the cardboard boxes come into play and you absolutely do not have to use the ones supplied with the game. Experimenting a bit I found out that there is finally a proper use for the stack of empty pizza boxes that my wife has been screaming at me to take to the trash for the last four months. Pizza boxes are almost perfect because they are hard enough and elastic enough for the nefarious purposes of controlling this game and beating your friends at it and laughing in their crying, wrinkled faces for the rest of the evening. Those bastards… Those ugly, miserable bastards… They laughed at me all those years ago, while stacking all those frags in their Unreal Tournament deathmatches… Well, who is laughing now? Who is laughing now, motherf… Er… I also tried a tissue box (actually suggested by the game) as well as a cereal box (I took the cereal out first) but found out that they are just too soft and don’t give you enough precision. However, using a box of the Playstation 3 copy of Lego Batman worked perfectly. So, if you have both consoles and the said game, you are in luck!!!! Alternately, any gamebox just might work.
Anyway… Remember the theory that non-gamers don’t play games because they are intimidated by the controllers and that this is why Nintendo’s Wiimote managed to pull so many of them in? A simple looking device that translates one’s gestures into game-specific motions managed to pull many a granny into the fray, or so the myth goes. But Prope managed to upend this theory and actually let you control the game without even touching the controller. Yes, Microsoft’s Project Natal famously promises to turn you into Philip K. Dick-infested Tom Cruise and control games with your erection but let’s see how that works in the actual field. Meanwhile, you get to control the game here and now by tapping on a pizza box with your fingers.
Here’s how it works: you put the Wiimote face-down on the box and then you tap on the box with your fingers. Simple as that. The software discerns between three different intensities of tapping and can also tell if you’re doing a double-tap or just steady rapid tapping. It actually works very well with a proper box. I see people experimenting with boxes a while before settling for the one they like the most and then… well let’s just say that there’ll be a lot of ‘Marta, where did you put my lucky pizza box, dammit? I need to kick Greg’s ass in Tap Runner! The sucker’s been asking for it for weeks!!!’
Prope is a serious studio. It was founded by Yuji Naka, for Allah’s sake, the man who programmed goddam Sonic to do what Nintendidn’t all those years ago. Prope was founded three years ago, mostly by former SEGA staff and enjoys a very nice relationship with the publisher. In return for the financial and other support, Prope offer SEGA an option to be the exclusive first witness of their game concepts. If SEGA likes what it sees, they are the publisher. If not, Prope is free to shop around. Let’s Tap is Prope’s first published game and their second game, WiiWare title Let’s Catch was also published by SEGA. The relationship seems to be working so far.
Now, I am underlining this healthy relationship between two companies with great track records because it obviously accounts for several things related to Let’s Tap. The first of which is its lovely, catchy yet tasteful presentation. The second of which is the fact that tap-on-the-box controls actually work.
Yes, I was rather sceptical too, knowing how imprecise in general Wiimote can be but apparently when you throw some serious brain-muscle at the problem, results can be great. Just make sure you have the right box – I can not stress how important it is that you feel comfortable with the box you are using – and your control of the game will be excellent. There is a simple test to ensure your taps are being read properly: use the tap controls to navigate through menus. If the game reacts adequately to your single and double taps, you are in business. If not, change the box and make sure you have taken your stress medicine this morning.
I’d tap that, perhaps even multiple times
So… this is actually a game that gives you a tutorial on how to navigate the menus which sounds like something that doesn’t really work in favour of all those borderline moronic and ADD-ridden non-gamers it is supposed to enchant into playing. But seriously, this is not a problem. Not only that the console owner or some other experienced gamer will always be there to deal with the complex task of navigating the idiotically simple menus, but the game actually equally supports ‘traditional’ Wiimote point and click menu navigation. Each time you enter a new minigame, the game will check whether the Wiimote is positioned properly face-down on a hard surface and give you thumbs up to proceed or ask you to place it better. This is important when four people are playing the game simultaneously and is done in a comfortable, convenient way.
This attention to detail is present throughout the game and the sense that you are perusing the product of decades of interface testing is reassuring. This is what games aimed at broad population are supposed to look like: simple, intuitive, yet never irritating in their wish to assist the moronic and mythical non-gamer who is supposed to be paying cold hard cash for an opportunity to play them. So when you see that the minigames on offer emanate the same simple-yet-deep feel, you will understand why party gaming was and in some ways still is one of the best forms in which to enjoy videogames as an entertainment medium or even an artform.
Make no mistake, I enjoy being away from people when I deliver my headshots or dragon punches across the great anonymous divide that is Internet. I can always leave, I can always come back for more and when I lose no one is there to see me cry. So online gaming, yes, I understand its appeal and I normally prefer being able to control my experience this way to having a house full of semi-drunk people who will start tripping across my furniture and kicking Wiimotes under my sofa any second now. But Let’s Tap is a timely reminder of the magic of proper social gaming, of being in the same room and having FUN regardless of anyone’s previous experience with the game, proficiency, regardless of mad skillz and Gamerscore, regardless of the penis size or, really, the absence or presence of a penis. This is one of the things Nintendo has been promising with Wii and this is what Let’s Tap delivers.
Of course, to experience the full social gaming mayhem of this game you will need four Wiimotes and four pizza boxes (or you can just be sneaky and use a pizza box yourself and let others use the inferior cereal or tissue boxes) but the game works very well even when two people are playing and I can go as far as to say that I am having fun playing it alone as well.
Home tapping is good for business and it’s fun: do it!
My least favourite game of those on offer is called Bubble Voyager. Do you remember those games of the eighties where you were controlling a small flying ship through treacherous caverns full of floating obstacles and sharp walls and you had to deal with inertia, mass, thrust (one of those games was actually called Thrust) and all other things that should not be in videogames in the first place because we have more than our share of them in real life? Well, Bubble Voyager is a little bit like those games, but you control the little fellow on screen by tapping the box. Tap faster and he’ll have more thrust. Give him too much thrust and he will helplessly float towards an obstacle and then, well, you know what happens, you’ve all played at least one game in your life. To make things more difficult (and fun?), while many obstacles can be manoeuvred around by tapping at proper times (your little fellow will move into the direction he is facing and will be spinning madly quite a lot), there are floating obstacles that simply can not be outmanoeuvred and need to be destroyed by tapping hard once for the destructive laser blast.
As a solitary experience, Bubble Voyager is mildly entertaining because it’s about controlling realistic physical properties of a vessel in an increasingly complex environment and trying to beat the clock, but the real deal is the multiplayer. Here, up to four players get to not only bounce around the deadly environment but also to shoot each other and the fact that a lot of it depends on chance and blind luck and not a lot of it on skill ensures that everyone will have fun. There is seldom a way to be ‘pwned’ by skilled players here because the game is simply too physics-heavy to allow for precision and proper tactics, which, while it does take away some of the depth, actually contributes to the sense of sheer mayhem and inevitably leads to widespread laughter among the adversaries.
For something that relies on skills a little bit more, there is Tap Runner, the first game on offer and certainly the one that will be played the most during drunken Friday evenings across the world.
Do you remember those sports games from the eighties where getting your character to run on the screen meant either jerking the joystick left and right like mad or bashing two keys on the keyboard twenty times per second? I remember those games and I used to hate them. They were lethal to hardware and they were about strength more than they were about skills because anyway it was impossible to press the button to jump at the right moment because you were bashing the joystick like it owned you drug money. And those were all serious games that made all my friends fantasise about really being athletes and were getting them all competitive and determined to be the best at jerking the joystick left to right. And they were not really fun.
Now, Tap Runner is a little like those games in the sense that it’s the complete opposite. It’s not serious, so it can actually allow itself to be fun by having some imaginatively designed race courses. It’s about skills rather than strength and yet it allows for the chaos factor to be an important element of the proceedings.
Basically, it’s about four little stick-figures racing across minimalistic courses, all controlled by tapping the boxes. The courses are, as we said, imaginative, full of alternate routes and treacherous traps and they get more complex as you go on. What is at first just a matter of tapping the box faster than your wife, soon becomes an exercise in planning and careful (albeit split-second) consideration which way to go next and when to wait for half a second so you can take the lead.
The controls are really simple – tap repeatedly to run, tap really quickly to dash and tap once hard to jump. Yes, as you can imagine, sometimes you will just be overcome by enthusiasm and tap harder than you intended to and your stick-figure will leap into the air rather than run with increased speed and you will lose your leading position and your wife will take over and there will be cursing and… Well this is what social gaming was always about: an element of chance, of chaos, a built-in imperfection in the control system that ensures that beginners and veterans alike are prone to making mistakes in the heat of the moment and that races can be won or lost in the blink of an eye. This is why the courses themselves are short enough for everyone to know that in mere half a minute they will have a chance to start anew but long enough so that surprising takeovers are possible until the very last second. It’s biggest fault being the fact that players who know the courses will have an advantage over the newcomers, Tap Runner is slick, fun and well designed. It looks like a videogame that we imagined we would be playing some twenty years ago because it oozes a sort of retro charm while being one of the most imaginative games on the market right now.
Also, if imagining a scene where four people tap on pizza boxes furiously, sweating, cursing, breaking into tears (and, well, yes, breaking stuff with thrown Wiimotes too) and dancing embarrassing victory dances every minute or so doesn’t make you think “I would like some of that too!!” then I wonder if you were introduced to the world of videogames by ‘playing’ with your dad’s pocket calculator and having fun with all those divisions, square roots and sinuses…
And then there is a much more cerebral experience in the form of Silent Blocks, a puzzle game of sorts that will see you tapping lightly on your trusty pizza box in an effort to pull blocks out of a column made of stacked blocks, without having the column collapse. It’s all awfully subdued and physical, but this game also is much more fun when played with friends. Actually, there are two modes to this game and the second one, usefully linked to alchemy (because it’s all about transforming things into… other things) is a smart match-three affair where you and your friends can spend tense hours pulling blocks out of the column and watching same-coloured ones disappear and create new colours. It gets more complex as you go on as colours multiply and the remaining moves at your disposal suddenly become rather limited but it’s deeply rewarding not just because of the rewarding sight of disappearance and creation of the new blocks but also because you are constantly fearing that the whole structure might collapse. And as the column falls, so does your ego.
I saved the best for last. Rhythm Tap is a simple rhythm action game that is just so entrancing that even playing alone I forget to eat, drink and even go to the toilet. I love rhythm games, which sounds strange coming from someone who usually doesn’t have time for Guitar Hero or Rock Band. Maybe it’s because I am a drummer by trade, so all those games making you fantasise about being a guitar player or that give you drumming that is nothing like real drumming are not my bag of beans. I prefer when games are more abstract and actually force you to be one with the rhythm, without casting you in the role of a ‘proper’ musician. In other words, I’ve spent stupid amounts of time playing Parappa the Rapper, Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan!, Elite Beat Agents, DJ Max and Rhythm Tengoku and Rhythm Tap’s minimalistic approach works very well for me.
In essence, this game just gives you a constant stream of dots that are passing a marker and you’re supposed to tap the box at the proper moment, but unlike more complex DJ Max or Parappa games where you were asked to deal with several different buttons, Rhythm Tap is just about tapping the rhythm with your fingers on a cardboard box.
But, no, it doesn’t suffer for being one of the simpler rhythm games out there, because it is designed very well and because it, like other games here, shines in multiplayer.
First off, it’s incredibly addictive. Getting high combos is satisfying, but getting a perfect score is tremendously satisfying and even when you manage to hit all the beats at proper times, there’s still the question of getting them with the appropriate intensity. There are three levels of intensity and getting every single beat with the appropriate intensity of tapping is a task for very anal types among us but also a challenge that is both achievable and fun.
It’s because the music is generally fantastic and the design of stages is smart and while never coming anywhere near games like DJ Max in terms of difficulty, it’s still gratifying to get both the rhythm and the volume. And, when playing together with friends, the game gives each player a different beat to tap, which means that more than other minigames in this collection, Rhythm Tap is a spectator sport of sorts. There is something sublime about four people formally competing for the best score but really working together on achieving perfect musical synergy.
Easy on the eyes
Let’s Tap is a bit of a looker too. As hinted above, this is a game that simply looks like it was made by people who know what they are doing. Its graphical style is simple, yet it looks expensive. It’s functional, but there are always lovely aesthetic touches going on that remind you that all of it is about having fun. Bubble Voyager is by far the most ‘graphically designed’ game in there, but I love how Tap Runner manages to do a lot with such a small number of colours and how its little stick-figures just ooze character. Rhythm Tap is the one with the most of the ‘lifestyle’ vibe in its graphics, but it’s the careful combination of simple and effective data that has to be communicated to the player and the outrageously rich background effects that make this one a winner. It’s like Lumines on acid. Which is like taking more acid while already on acid, they tell me… Also, musically, Rhythm Tap is the easiest winner with its disco, house and j-pop selections that will make even the hardest of metalheads (like, er… me) tap their foot along with their fingers and even… eh… sing along. For real, yo. Other games also have appropriate soundtracks and sound effects ensuring your sense of fun is enhanced rather than suggested. Like the crowd cheers after each round of Tap Runner for instance, that just make you immediately want to have another go even if you managed to win the last round.
But this is what Let’s Tap is really good at: making people have fun and not wanting this fun to stop. It’s beautiful, it’s cheerful, it’s smart but never too complex or deep to create a divide between those who are here just for shits and giggles and those who actually practice this shit on their own. Yes, it’s about skills, but no, it won’t let you dominate because it’s precise enough to let you try but imprecise enough to let you down once in a while. And just like that – for once you won’t mind.