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Video Game / The Magic School Bus

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The interior of the bus tends to theme with the day's topic
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 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 show, which adapted the same book to television. Seven more games followed, ending with The Magic School Bus Explores Bugs in 2000.

The games featured all of the characters from the show and covered topics visited by the show somewhat more broadly. The same basic format held throughout the series. Every game had an overall objective, usually some kind of Fetch Quest, but this was secondary to the Wide-Open Sandbox you were afforded. The bus served as your Hub Level. Controlling it, you could travel to various locations associated with the game's topic, each location having at least one Mini-Game. There were also reports, supposedly written by the kids in Ms. Frizzle's class, and a number of virtual science experiments.

There was also a series of five "activity centers" covering a somewhat different range of topics that were released from 2000 to 2001 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: Solar System and Human Body had short segments with the producer informing the player about what was fudged to make the story work, which could be accessed from the classroom. Much of it was lifted directly from the original books' closing pages, which served the same purpose.
  • Achievement System: Animals has a small one, with a few different awards being unlocked by finding different things.
  • Adapted Out: The students from the books who didn't make the cut to the show don't appear here either.
  • Adaptation Expansion: In contrast to the Compressed Adaptations of the TV show, in which the books were condensed into half-hour episodes. For example, the Dinosaurs book featured the class visiting every period of the Mesozoic whereas they visit only the Cretaceous in the TV version. But in the game version, you not only visit every Mesozoic period, but visit them in different locations around the world.
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  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Downplayed with Janet. While she isn't obsessive and hotheaded like in the show, she's still as arrogant and insufferable as ever.
  • 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.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The baird's tapir in Explores the Rainforest is oddly dark blue.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Explores the Age of Dinosaurs has a snake in Jurassic Colorado. Snakes evolved in the Cretaceous. Although more likely it could be a caecilian.
    • The Cretaceous Alberta scene is mostly based on the Two Medicine Formation but features Triceratops and Ornithomimus from the slightly younger Hell Creek Formation.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The rabbit in Explores the Age of Dinosaurs has a hairless, pink nose like a cat. Real rabbits have "V"-shaped noses. This mistake is fixed in Explores the World of Animals.
    • 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. The same mistake also occurred with the parrot in Explores in the Age of Dinosaurs.
    • A keel-billed toucan in Explores the Rainforest was identified as a chestnut-mandibled toucan, which also appears in the game.
    • In Explores the Rainforest, frogs are shown turning their heads, something they can't do in real life.
    • Explores the World of Animals has a springhare that is portrayed as a rabbit, despite being correctly described as resembling a cross between a mouse and a kangaroo.
    • Explores the World of Animals also states jaguars do not roar, when they do in real life (and are shown doing so both in this game and previously in Explores the Rainforest). It also states jaguars are preyed on by anacondas, but good evidence for this has never been presented and jaguars known to prey on smaller anacondas in real life. Finally, Ralph states that jaguars only eat young crocodilians when attacks on adults are well-documented.
    • In Explores the World of Animals, DA states alligators are larger than crocodiles. While alligators are generally more robust than similar-sized crocodiles, the latter achieve a larger maximum size.
    • Explores the World of Animals shows a toucan eating an avocado (which is lethally toxic to birds).
    • Frizzle says in Explores the World of Animals that domestic dog breeds are the only canids adapted for swimming, but the South American bush dog is also amphibious.
    • The hunting minigame in Explores Bugs implies that ladybugs are herbivores, although they’re correctly identified as carnivores elsewhere 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: The cover of Explores the Age of Dinosaurs shows the bus in the form of the alarm clock time machine it became in the book and TV episode. In the actual game, it transforms into Animal Mecha instead.
  • The Cretaceous Is Always Doomed: In Dinosaurs, there's a Random Event in which the bus malfunctions and sends you to the end of the Cretaceous by accident. You can stay there a while or click an "X" to skip the whole sequence, but either way the bus manages to leave just before the asteroid strikes.
  • 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.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: "Solar System" is the only game with no "Driver's License". And it has no real minigames - aside from the platforming game. Janet also is not present.
  • 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.
  • End of an Age: Explores the Rainforest was the last game developed by Music Pen, the last game released while the TV show was still in production, and the last game to feature the original voice actors as the kids. Explores Bugs, released in 2000, was the last game before the series switched to the activity centers. The series as a whole ended the next year with Volcano Adventure.
  • Enforced Plug: Parodied in Dinosaurs. The Mini-Game "Dino Madness" is styled after a Game Show and is (fictionally) sponsored by T-Rex Burgers. The host, Barry Onyx, plugs them every so often.
  • Excuse Plot: Some games are pretty much this - the class is learning about something, so they explore it. Or they are given a goal. Others, for example, have more of a plot like "Inside the Earth" being about replacing lost items from Arnold's collection.
  • 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 accessed by turning all the way on either side while on the bus.

  • 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. Animals has a Brazilian rainforest, this time as one of several environments you can visit. Much of Dinosaurs also takes place in a jungle setting. Bugs has a jungle locale as well.
  • 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.
  • Lost in Imitation: Averted, actually. Although the games use the TV show cast, they also include elements from the original books that didn't make it into their TV adaptations. Most notably, Inside the Earth is adapted from a Magic School Bus book that was never adapted as a TV episode at all.
  • Mini-Game: All over the place. In Rainforest, they can all be accessed from a locker in the classroom.
  • 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 are used to unlock clues to Ms. Frizzle's location or unlock the detector if the player uses it in the wrong place.
  • 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.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: Solar System took some slight liberties with Classical Mythology in order to identify Phoebe as the Greek goddess of the moon. Phoebe was a Titan associated with the moon, but the Titan goddess of the moon was Selene, and the Olympian goddess of the moon was Artemis. Furthermore, the game claims that Phoebe was a hunter, so they're clearly conflating her with Artemis. But in fairness, the Greeks themselves were known to do the same thing. (Naturally, this information is shared by, well, Phoebe.)
  • 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.
    • In the geode in Inside the Earth, Dorothy Ann will say, "According to my research, diamonds are a girl's best friend. But I don't know. My best friend is my book bag."
    • In Dinosaurs, when you click the arrow to go from Triassic Arizona to Triassic Argentina, Ms. Frizzle says, "Don't cry for us Argentina, here we come."
  • 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.
  • Stock Footage: The kids' reports usually feature videos composed of this.
    • In Explores the Solar System, Phoebe's report includes a video of astronauts goofing around on the moon, singing "I was strolling on the moon one day." The footage is of Jack Schmitt and Gene Cernan during Apollo 17, which was the last manned lunar mission.
    • Also in Explores the Solar System, the approach and landing Cutscenes are generally composed of either actual footage or at least NASA simulations. In cases where neither were available at the time, the game just uses a CGI video of what was then science's best guess.
    • The PBS documentary series The Dinosaurs! provides much of the report footage for Explores the Age of Dinosaurs. The Dinosaurs! footage was also used in Microsoft Dinosaurs.
  • 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.
  • Surreal Horror: It's also fairly unsettling.
  • 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 except for a select few of them when they're off screen.
  • 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.
  • Under the Sea: Explores the Ocean, of course. Also, the next two games have a token underwater locale, the mid-ocean ridge in Earth and the Tethys Sea in Dinosaurs.
  • 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. That said, Carlos is the playable character for the Uranus platformer, so that was probably a sneaky reference to the trope.
  • 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.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Some of the science experiments in "Human Body" let you do some pretty weird things to Arnold - the lungs minigame in particular lets the player make Arnold breathe a bunch of Carbon Dioxide and Nitrogen. Outside of the science experiments, you can control Arnold and make him fall down.
  • 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.