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TVG takes on Prope's first title and discovers cardboard boxes are the peripheral of the future...
For the eagle-eyed fans of his work there are many elements of Yuji Naka's previous work to be found in Let's Tap, whether it's the excruciating frustration of watching a Tap Runner slowly gain momentum after landing poorly like Sonic the Hedgehog or the closer similarities between Rhythm Tap and Samba De Amigo. But, ultimately Let's Tap demonstrates once again Yuji Naka's gift of identifying what makes things fun, at an intrinsically pure and simple level.
The first title to emerge from Prope following Naka-san's departure from Sonic Team is as you'd expect a distinct and highly stylised offering. For the uninitiated, Let's Tap takes advantage of the Wii Remote in a thoroughly unique way that makes us wish that all developers expressed such creativity and imagination when designing Wii titles. The premise is delightfully simple: put the Wii Remote on a surface - the game comes with two suitable cardboard boxes - and tap away to the five mini-games featured in the game. It's a concept that virtually everybody should be able to grasp and enjoy.
Split into five different mini-games the appeal of Let's Tap, like a lot of Naka-san's previous work, relies on beating times and high scores. This isn't a game that will immediately convince hardcore gamers to switch over to Wii, yet like Nights: Into Dreams, Samba de Amigo, and Chu Chu Rocket, you're definitely going to be missing out if you snub this game because of its lightweight structure and quirky visual style.
The five different mini-games are of variable quality, some of which are suited to multiplayer, some are better as single-player offerings, whilst the star of the show, Tap Runner, taps into the very essence of what is fun and addictive whether you're playing by yourself or with a room full of friends. We'd honestly pay full whack for Tap Runner on its own; it's an absolute classic gaming experience that leaves you craving for more, replaying a certain stage (3-3) over and over again until you've finally achieved the gold medal.
It's not entirely unlike Track & Field. The challenge is to reach the finish line before the three other opponents (human or AI); only this time around you can expect courses with all manner of obstacles to overcome in the shape of hurdles, swings, electrifying blobs, tightropes and jump boards. The technique and design of the tracks is where the qualities shine through. A delicate touch is an absolute requirement to maintain a steady rhythm; mashing away ala Track & Field will get you nowhere, neither will hitting the box hard. Instead a softly, softly approach is required to run and a firmer tap to make your contestant jump over the various obstacles. It's a concept that virtually anybody could have envisioned, yet you're left to believe that only the likes of Naka-san could have implemented it in this fashion. Closer inspection reveals the hidden depth behind the initially simplistic concept; there's a considerable spectrum of success to master, whether it's gaining the most distance from a swing with the correct timing or hitting the box at precisely the right time to leap from the edge of a slope. It's this range that makes Tap Runner an absolute Naka-san classic, with depth that underlies the joyful simplicity.
Elsewhere the links to classics from a time gone by continue with Bubble Voyager. In the single-player mode, Bubble Voyager is reminiscent of Nintendo's 1984 Balloon Fight, only you tap to provide an upwards boost of momentum and apply a firmer tap to shoot whatever weapon you're currently wielding. The simplicity once again carries through as the underlying theme. The fact the single-player is titled 'Endless Voyage', should give an indication of where the appeal comes from; extended sessions will leave you weeping like a baby when one poorly timed move unceremoniously dumps you back to the start with a Game Over screen. The inspiration for the multiplayer component of this particularly mini-game stems from another classic, Asteroids. Using the same control setup, players have to avoid or destroy asteroids while fighting against each other. It's, unfortunately, nowhere near as addictive as the single-player mode and largely fails to match the multiplayer antics to be found in the rest of the game.
Rhythm Tap is unquestionably the weakest offering, if only because rhythm/action titles are ten-a-penny and it's difficult to see what's recommendable beyond the awesome selection of J-Pop tracks to beat along to. The distinction between light, medium, and hard taps isn't made very clear, which leaves it as little more than tapping whenever a beat appears. Admittedly there's some fun to be had with four players tapping along to the beat of the music, but we found ourselves quickly jumping to other games.
Silent Blocks is an unmistakable take on the classic Jenga, only with its own twist on the formula. Selecting blocks to tap away and maintain the tittering tower, the slant comes from the fact that combining three or more of the same coloured block will upgrade the blocks into different kinds of Jewel Blocks. There's a healthy selection of different modes associated with this mini-game, covering single and multiplayer action that should make it an ideal pastime for some party fun.
Rounding off the selection is Visualizer, which isn't strictly a mini-game but manages to provide a strangely, hypnotic allure nonetheless. Presented with a range of different styles, you've simply got to tap away - and that's it. Each stage has different things to collect by hitting certain combinations, however it's the combination of a tranquil soundtrack and attractive visual style that transforms what should just be a few minutes of mild curiosity into significantly lengthier sessions. Undoubtedly Let's Tap would work without it, but we're still happy to see it on the disc.
Let's Tap's biggest success is the fact that Prope has succeeded in developing what could have easily been a gimmicky control setup into something that works supremely throughout the entire game. It's so good that you're left to look at other Wii titles with their lumbering gestures and cheap controls with utter disdain. There's a fine line of skill, timing, and control with the Wii Remote that's posed by the various games, something that can't be said about the vast majority of Wii titles that fail to differentiate between wild swings and small flicks.
Ultimately Let's Tap success is based around the longevity and value of the title. It's possible to run through all 16 events of Tap Runner and gain gold in an afternoon, so the appeal like much of Naka-san's work relies on whether you find beating times and scores appealing in the long-term or trying to discover just how incessant Endless Voyage actually is. It also succeeds as a multiplayer game and one that dares to bridge the gap between core and casual gamers; both of whom should find something to love about Let's Tap. Thankfully SEGA Europe has realised that the structure of the game and its value for money is important and priced the game at the unmissable price of £24.99 - like we said before, we'd honestly pay this for Tap Runner alone.
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