Video Game / The Magic School Bus
When The Magic School Bus
was adapted into an animated TV series, the publishers of the books, Scholastic Press, collaborated with Microsoft and a software company called Music Pen to adapt the books as a series of point-and-click edutainment games
starting in September of 1994. The games featured all of the characters from the show and covered topics visited by the show somewhat more broadly. Most of the games involved searching for objects that had been lost or misplaced by one of the students. The first game was an adaptation of The Magic School Bus Gets Lost In The Solar System
and was released within two weeks of the first episode of the shownote
, which adapted the same book to television. Several more games were released, ending with The Magic School Bus Explores Bugs
in 2000. In most of these games, the objective was to find objects such as rocks or animals that had either been misplaced or lost by one of the students. These primary objectives were accompanied by mini-games and reports voiced by the characters intended to promote interest in the subjects presented.
There was also a series of five "activity centers" covering a somewhat different range of topics that were released from 2000 to 2003 and did not have any objective, instead focusing on information and mini-games. In an inversion of the Video Game 3D Leap
, these were fully animated while the main series used a mix of animated gameplay and CGI cutscenes.
The Magic School Bus video games provide examples of:
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The earliest games had short segments with the producers informing the player about what was fudged to make the story work much like they did in the show, though you had to look to find them.
- Adapted Out: As with the show, several of the students from the books do not appear.
- All Deserts Have Cacti: Averted in Inside the Earth, where the canyon is in a desert and has no cacti. Justified in Animals due to the Sonoran Desert being used for the desert biome.
- Artistic License – Ornithology: Explores the Rainforest portrays toucans as having three toes pointing forward and one pointing back, when they should have two in forward and two in back. Also, a keel-billed toucan was identified as a chestnut-mandibled toucan, which also appears in the game.
- Bottomless Pit: All of the platformers in Explores the Solar System have these except for Earth's moon, Mars, Uranus and Pluto. Neptune and Saturn consist primarily of bottomless pits with a few platforms hovering above them.
- Chekhov's Volcano: You can cause one in Inside the Earth by clicking on the background in the volcano area. This adds a short trip inside the magma chamber and moves several of the characters and objects that were present prior to the eruption to other parts of the screen to avoid the lava flow while changing the view from the front of the bus to include the glowing crater and some lava flows. The area resets if you go to a different formation and come back. This can also happen in Dinosaurs as part of a transition to a different area within the same time period.
- Convection Schmonvection: The characters can stand right next to the lava flow in Inside the Earth with no ill effects, and a tree that was knocked over by the eruption is notably not burning. Liz is able to burn a twig, but she has to touch the lava with it in order for that to happen.
- Don't Try This at Home: In Explores the Solar System, the producer emphasizes that attaching rockets to a bus will not get it into orbit and is generally a bad idea.
- Endless Game: Found all of the rocks/bio-clones/photos/whatever? The game will just reset with new things to find and maybe give you a printable award.
- Exposition Fairy: Some concepts and bits of trivia in Explores the Ocean and Explores the Rainforest are given by a clam and a frog respectively with some jokes through in.
- "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: Explores the Human Body, which is more or less a direct adaptation of one of the books.
- Feathered Fiend: Generally when birds appear in the mini-games in Explores the Rainforest, they are these. The sea gulls in the beach and tide pool minigames in Ocean also count. Justified in that this is only from the perspective of whatever hapless creature that you happen to be playing as.
- Fetch Quest: Finding three or four of something is the driving objective in most of the games.
- Green Aesop: Not the main focus of any of the games, though pollution is brought up briefly in some of the games such as in the kelp forest in Explores the Ocean.
- Hell Is That Noise: The buzzing noise that plays when you place an animal incorrectly in the nocturnal animals mini-game in Explores the Rainforest and lose some time as a result. The sound that plays in the bug maze mini-game when the bird approaches doubles as a Scare Chord.
- Hub Level: The bus gets you to wherever you need to go. Explores the Human Body has the nervous system which can be accesses by turning all the way on either side while on the bus.
- Jerkass: Janet. While she isn't obsessive and hotheaded like in the show, she's still as arrogant and insufferable as ever.
- Jet Pack: A power-up in some of the platformers in Explores the Solar System. They're essential for Uranus and Neptune and very highly recommended for Saturn. It's also useful for finding more bonuses on Mars. The downside is it drains your Oxygen Meter fast, though the effect is reduced without affecting distance covered by tapping the button repeatedly rather than holding it down.
- Jump Physics: You can move from side to side while jumping in the platformers in Explores the Solar System. How high you jump is affected by the gravity of the planet or moon in question and is boosted by the jumping boots and reduced by lead weights.
- Jungle Japes: Explores the Rainforest takes place in the tropical rainforest of Costa Rica.
- Lethal Lava Land: The Venus and Io platformers in Explores the Solar System both have volcanic activity and lava puddles as hazards. Lava fountains and puddles as well as Venus's clouds drain your Oxygen Meter/timer. Areas with lava fountains also tend to be bottomless pits. The snowman power-up counters the lava, but not the clouds.
- Mini-Game: All over the place.
- Misplaced Wildlife: The goal of Animals is to find four misplaced animals and send them back to the correct habitats. Also pops up in a Frogger-style mini-game.
- Mix-and-Match Critters: One mini-game in Animals lets you select combinations of features to get an animal. While some do correspond to real-life animals, most just give you some bizarre creature with the specified features.
- Mouse World: The geode from Inside the Earth, the diatom bloom and coral polyps from Explores the Ocean, a few areas in Explores the Rainforest and anywhere else that the bus has to shrink to go to.
- Non-Lethal K.O.: The kids always remain alive and well if they lose at the platforming segments of Explores the Solar System. Even if Dorothy Ann falls into a Lava Pit on Io, she's perfectly fine as Liz rescues her.
- Ocean Awe: Invoked as much as possible in Explores the Ocean.
- Oddball in the Series: Human Body is very much this. The whole game has a certain What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs? quality. The Pop Up Video Games trope is pushed in the direction of outright surrealism. Plus, there's that constant droning of eerie music. And then there's that "magic view" thing.
- Oxygen Meter: The timer in the platformers in Explores the Solar System is a stand-in for how much air the character has left.
- Platform Game: The tokens needed for the Frizzle detector in Solar System are obtained in these. It can be hard to time jumps due to how long the movement animations are.
- Plot Coupon: The tokens in Explores the Solar System.
- Polar Bears and Penguins: A Frogger-style mini-game in Animals involves getting a penguin from the north pole to the south pole complete with polar bears in the first stage.
- Pop Up Video Games: Ubiquitous. If it's not in the classroom or on the bus, it's sometimes accompanied by commentary on the real-world counterpart of the object in question.
- Shout-Out: Amusingly, it's actually possible to recreate Beavis And Butthead almost perfectly in the driver's license screen in Explores the Rainforest. The same one also includes a tall blue hair-do that looks suspiciously like that of Marge Simpson's.
- Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The Saturn and Pluto platformers in Explores the Solar System. Used to brutal effect with Saturn as the entire level is one big Bottomless Pit with ice chunks as platforms due to taking place within Saturn's rings. The sliding is countered by the traction boots.
- Suddenly Voiced: Liz is a lot more vocal than she usually is in many of the games.
- Surreal Humor: The stuff seen in the magic view in Human Body is pretty strange.
- Talking Animal: Liz in the first few games, though only Ms. Frizzle seems to notice.
- Timed Mission: Many of the mini-games in the series have these in one form or another.
- Temporary Platform: The balloons on the Neptune level in Explores the Solar System are a variation of crumbling platforms that float up when you jump off of them. They also don't respawn.
- Threatening Shark: Averted in Ocean, where sharks are treated with the same level of awe and wonder as everything else.
- Transformation Sequence: The bus gets at least one in each game, always in CGI. Dinosaurs and Animals used it the most.
- Uranus Is Showing: Pointedly averted. The comedian stars that appear with the reports in Explores the Solar System will make puns on anything but how Uranus's name is pronounced.
- Video Game 3D Leap: The activity centers are an inversion of the presentation upgrade as while they were created later, they are fully animated. The earlier series used CGI for cutscenes involving the bus, but not for regular gameplay.
- Virtual Paper Doll: Inside the Earth and Explores the Ocean both have this as a feature. It allows the player to mix and match parts of several different outfits by using arrows on either side of the screen.
- Wacky Homeroom: Just click around the classroom and see what happens.