Tap-Fu is a game about beating up ninjas and taking their candy, because Sensei has a sweet tooth, and because the ninjas took it first. Dirty ninjas! But let us not dwell upon the story, because if the story isn’t trite, pointless or the polar opposite — eternally convoluted — then you’re probably not playing an iPhone game. After all, the candy is just a motivator for punching ninjas in their faces, and the level of enjoyment you’re likely to find in Tap-Fu has nothing to do with candy, and all to do with whether you like punching ninjas in their faces.
As you might have guessed by now, Tap-Fu plays like the beat’em ups of yester-years; like Bad Dudes or Double Dragon, games that were also about punching ninjas in their faces. The 1980s being done and over with, however, Tap-Fu does away with the macho posturing of those classics in favor of a lighter presentation. Your hero is not a buff dude with a greasy coiffure; he’s a scrappy kung-fu kid. We’re not going to rescue Billy’s girlfriend this time around; it’s the candy that’s in peril now, and Sensei needs his sugar fix. I’ll save you, Sensei! screams the scrappy kung-fu kid.
Oddly enough, the iPhone games Tap-Fu shares most in common with are the side-scrolling blast’em ups Inkvaders and Zombieville USA. Instead of collecting ammunition, though, you’re collecting candy; and instead of shooting aliens and zombies, you’re punching ninjas in their faces. But the basic premise — running left and right, pummeling increasing numbers of bad things — remains the same. In the blast’em ups, you purchase bigger, better guns; in Tap-Fu, you learn new moves. Potato, potahto.
Presentation: Tap-Fu looks great. Stages feature parallax scrolling, with nicely illustrated set pieces. The bushes, trees and rocks look almost like cardboard cutouts adhered to the ground, and the sky a painted backdrop in the distance. Sounds weird, I know, but it feels almost like the game plays on a theatrical stage, and it works. The game’s interface is well-designed and attractive, with good buttons, windows and text. The only eyesore in the game is the Pause button, which seems oddly out of place. The game’s music is of high quality, and the sound effects are good (except for the character mumbling; see Dislikes). The characters are nicely drawn and animated, and I think Tap-Fu has some of the best looking ninjas on the iPhone. You’re going to see (and punch) a lot of ninjas, so it’s nice that they’re so well-designed. With so much candy in the game, it’s nice to see that Neptune Interactive didn’t skimp on the eye or ear candy.
Controls: Two control types are on tap (har-har). Gesture-based controls are the default, and they’re surprisingly functional. I’ve played quite a few games with gesture-based controls, and few of them nail it as well as Tap-Fu. The only problem I every had with the gestures are that I would sometimes execute a back kick (half-circle swipe) when I was trying to throw a fireball (full-circle swipe). For those unable to come to grips with the gestures, joystick and button controls are also available, though they’re a greater eyesore than the Pause button. Still, it’s nice having the choice.
Repetitive: I hope you like punching ninjas in their faces, because in Level 1, you’re going to punch ninjas in their faces. In Level 2, you’re going to punch more ninjas in their faces, and sometimes kick them. In Level 3, you will punch even more ninjas in their faces, sometimes kick them and also roll. Look, it’s like this: In Chapter 1 of Tap-Fu, you’re going to punch a lot of ninjas in their faces. Neptune Interactive is working on an update adding a second chapter, though, in which they promise we’ll get to punch pirates in their faces too. I can’t wait!
Dialogue: Tap-Fu’s dialogue comes in three different shades of lame. Whenever characters start talking between levels, my lids start getting heavy. “Blah blah blah, get more candy, blah blah blah,” is basically what’s being said, and whatever jokes they try to include fall flat somewhere between the “Blah” and the “blah blah”. When characters talk, there are also some mumbling, gibberish sound-effects. Unlike other games, such as Little Big Planet, that use this technique effectively, the mumbling in Tap-Fu is neither humorous nor endearing; it’s irritating.
Can Jump, But Why?: By swiping up, you can jump. But it’s never clear why the game allows you to jump. There are no jump attacks, and there are no obstacles that require being jumped. Beginning in level four, you are attacked by hawks, but they mostly fly into your fists while punching ninjas in their faces, so there’s no need to pick them out of the sky. Honestly, there is never any reason to leave the ground in Tap-Fu, which makes me wonder why they didn’t simply map the up-swipe to another form of attack, like maybe a headbutt, a jump kick or a roundhouse kick. You know, something useful.
Short: Presently consisting of only a single chapter, Tap-Fu’s Story mode clocks in at six short levels, and can easily be completed in under an hour. Achievements and two additional modes, 100 Rounds and Survival, add more value but little diversity to the package, being more of the same: punching ninjas in their faces. Cross-reference with Repetitive above.
In the end, Tap-Fu boils down to a shallow, but entertaining casual brawler for your iPhone. In the app description, the developer compares the game to Karateka and Double Dragon, which I think are fair comparisons. But they also compare the game’s combo system to Devil May Cry, which is laughable. Devil May Cry is a hardcore gamers’ game, and Tap-Fu is anything but. The gesture-based combat is simple, but effective. If the game had a single attack button, it would get old quickly, but the gestures and combos provide just enough oomph to prevent it getting stale too quickly.
Tap-Fu is a game likely to appeal to fans of the blast’em ups Inkvaders and Zombieville USA, but without the gore in those games. It may also appeal to those who enjoyed the combat in Hybrid Eternal Whisper; the combat isn’t nearly as deep, but for some gamers that may not be a bad thing. The gesture-based combat in Tap-Fu is much more accessible for its simplicity. The game is also a great choice for younger gamers, given its lightheartedness and relatively cute presentation.
Tap-Fu comes from Neptune Interactive, the developer also responsible for the well-regarded and relatively deep tower defense game 7 Cities. While Tap-Fu definitely is not a bad game, good odds the company will be more fondly remembered for 7 Cities.