What the Bus?

by E. Joyce profile

Surreal/Humor
2020

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Weird public transport in real life: bad. In twine: good., November 16, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2020

In real life, we don't want our public transport to be exciting. We want it to be there and relatively on time. And in Chicago, it is. Just as in Boston, it's not perfect, but you can access arrival times and expected trip times on your phone. Train and bus routes intersect. You don't want to make too much contact with your fellow bus riders, except to ask if that book they're reading and you've heard about is any good. And so forth.

Yet what with COVID, I think I've had serious withdrawal. I never particularly enjoyed driving, especially in traffic. On the bus or train, there's time to sit and think of weird stuff or even look for something new on that route you've been down a hundred or even a thousand times before. Or there's that fear (or, if life's been particularly boring, hope) a three-transfer trip out to a suburb you can only locate on a map will get very, very weird indeed. There's that wonder, just where does bus route X go? I still enjoy seeing maps where buses with numbers over 300 sprawl to obscure suburbs. Though really, about the weirdest thing that ever happened to me was that a Pace bus out to Elk Grove had to pay a highway toll. This seemed like a violation of some economic principle or other.

What the Bus goes beyond that, in the safety of your own home--or maybe even if you are on the bus! It's about as adventurous and odd as public transport can be. It has good smattering of random text about what's going on around you, or where your GPS thinks you are (Las Vegas, Bhutan, and so forth.) And it doesn't start weird, but it gets that way once your original public transport is delayed. You start off with choices between the Yellow and Purple lines and wind up, if you're careful, on the Orange Vanilla, Chartreuse or Calico lines. The background changes to your train's color. Two choices have identical text but give radically different endings--of which there are only ten, but given how some game branches cycle, you need to make a few maps, even with that nice undo feature.

I suspect that a huge chunk of this game is natural to residents of Boston. And yet, it feels very weird to me. The Red, Yellow, Orange Blue and Purple lines all exist in Chicago, but not like that! The buses have different numbers. So it would be odd and mysterious even written straight-up. But it's a good weird. I've certainly had nightmares about public transport not going where it should, and this brought them back with a smile.

What the Bus offers nothing in the way of profound philosophy, but it doesn't have to. It's quite accessible, since it has UNDO commands, so you can knock off the ten endings pretty quickly. There is no grand reveal, just the satisfaction of seeing it all. I have to admit, 24 hours after playing it, I don't remember the endings--most of my time after playing was spent in memories of wrong buses taken, times I'd walked to a connecting bus to save time, or just barely managing to sneak in my second free transfer two hours after paying my first fare on a two-hour circular trip.

All this is fun for me, and I miss it, but it's probably not so exciting to make a game of. I was surprised What the Bus brought so much uncertainty and wonder back, especially of times before I got used to my now-favorite bus route as it went over a highway or past some once-mysterious business I finally Googled one day. I have to admit, I don't remember the endings all that well. But that just means the confusion will be fresh and wonderful if I ever pull it up again. It's the sort of game that fills a niche if not a huge need, and you're glad someone did it and did it well. I think anyone will enjoy the humor, but those who appreciate public transport despite all its faults will like it a bit more.


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EJ, November 16, 2021 - Reply
Boston doesn't have a Yellow or Purple line, actually - I was trying to make the setting ambiguous rather than basing it on any one city's system, although it does seem to read as recognizably Bostonian to people who are familiar with it, oops.

Thanks for the review!
Andrew Schultz, November 17, 2021 - Reply
Oops! I guess I paid too much attention to others' reviews. But in any case, yes, you did a good job of making it general without feeling over-general.
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