Ah, the open road, the squeal of rubber on tarmac, the rush of hitting top speed, the perfect handbrake turnÖconsole driving at its adrenalin-fuelled best. And now for something completely different: slow turning, waiting patiently for the traffic light to turn green, always being ready for the old age pensioner with a death wish, mirror - signal - manoeuvreÖ.thatís Tokyo Bus Guide, the somewhat leftfield driving simulation bought to you by Japanese Developer and Publisher Fortyfive.
Taking its cue from the huge popularity of franchises such as Densha De Go! (Lets go by Train), TBG gives the player a chance to take the role of a Tokyo Bus Driver. The task is this: guide a public bus along specified routes and stick to a timetable like itís a matter of life and death. Simplicity itself? Not really. Getting behind the wheel of a bus is not like getting into the average turbo-charged super racer and blazing around a track as quickly as possible - you canít arrive late but you darenít be too early, either. Always remember to ring the bell ahead of time to alert the passengers a stop is coming, close the doors before leaving and pull away slowly. As any safety-conscious Tokyo bus driver knows, the job is all about signalling before moving, considering the other traffic, constantly checking mirrors and manoeuvring the bus around bustling Tokyo, all in a smooth, considered (and considerate) way.
The Bus control itself takes some getting used to, not because itís been poorly implemented - quite the opposite. The average Dreamcast owner may never have driven a bus, but will get the feeling that the physics have been carefully considered. For those that feel overawed, a series of short tutorials taking the driver through the gamut of moves and must-doís will help develop the player into Tokyoís finest. The standard DC controller is more than up to the job and utilizes both the analogue pad and analogue triggers. Steering feels well balanced, complete with the realistically huge turning circle.
Acceleration and braking have been well implemented too, forcing the driver to work hard to keep the bus from lurching and stuttering - smooth driving is always the order of the day. Drive carefully, never hit anything, accelerate and decelerate smoothly, signal well ahead of time and generally stick to the laws of the road and everything will be fine. Ignoring any of these rules will lead to penalties that are deducted from your "life gauge". Let this gauge hit zero and it's game over. The penalties vary depending on the seriousness of the misdemeanour: forgetting to signal or accelerating too hard will result in a small deduction; hitting a pedestrian brings the Game Over screen up with immediate effect. Sticking to all these rules is a challenge, largely because driving with the highway code in mind is a foreign concept to almost every driving game out there.
Graphically the game is adequate - it's not the most stunning DC game available, but the frame rate never falters. Several in-game views are offered including two internal cams (one with dashboard, one without), a close rear view, far external view and finally a top-down view. The ďin-busĒ view offers the most life-like experience, with the overhead views helping the driver in some of the stickier moments on those ever-winding mountain roads. The busy roads full of cars, vans and trucks always run smoothly and the sprite-based civilians lend the game a somewhat cartoony feel. The audio is functional and adequate, but offers nothing in the way of surprise. All the typical sounds you may have heard on a bus are present and correct, and help add to the immersion. During drives, many non-interactive events are triggered, played in Claymation style, where the passengers on the bus can be seen interacting. And, while all but a few Western gamers will be entirely in the dark as regards the story, the animations add to the overall charm of the game (and unlock new faces in the passenger gallery).
The whole game feels efficient with nothing much out of place; itís a simulation that takes very little effort to learn. Get penalized and you always know why, rarely feeling cheated. There are occasions when vehicles in front can suddenly turn or stop with no warning, but thatís life. The latter courses are long, taking up to 20 minutes to complete, and failing one with 15 minutes gone can be an irritation, but the overall feeling of the game is so relaxed you canít help shrugging your shoulders and trying again. That only three courses are offered is a weakness, although completing them unlocks afternoon and night-time variations with new traffic flows. The average (patient) gamer can be all done in a few hours, with the collectable passenger gallery adding life for the completists. This is not, however, a game that is about winning, but one that is about getting comfortable and taking part. A different state of mind is required here - it doesn't have the immediacy that so many games now offer, but it does reward the player with something quite different in return. In fact, it doesn't feel much like a game in the traditional sense at all, more an experience. The only real issue is not with the authenticity of the game itself, but whether or not the average gamer wants this kind of authenticity.
A review by Gareth C