Tokyo Bus Guide (東京バス案内(ガイド))

Ask most people their top five favourite Dreamcast games of all time and I am sure that not many would list a bus driving simulation in which you drive (slowly) around a virtual city, observing the rules of road, and were the slightest bump can result in an instant game over. Yes, while Tokyo basu guide ("bus" in Japanese is an ugly woman) may not sound like the most enthralling of titles, it is actually one of most intense and addictive experiences I have ever had with a video game.


Released around the turn of the millennium on the Dreamcast, the premise of the game is simple; as a bus driver for the Toei Bus Company, drive around central Tokyo picking up passengers while observing the rules of the road (watching your mirrors, indicate when pulling in, changing lanes, etc). Also, as this is Japan, the land of punctuality, it's vital that you stick to the timetable and make your pick ups and drop offs on time, but you need to watch your speed as you're doing so. It's a perpetual catch 22 situation.






There are 3 courses to choose from; all of which have different times of day (afternoon, evening, and night) to be unlocked. The first course that is available is the Tokyo Bay Area; a relatively new area of the metropolis that was built on reclaimed land from the sea so there are plenty of long, wide roads to ease you into the game. Infringements such as speeding, failing to indicate and even accelerating or stopping abruptly will cost you a chunk of your life bar; however, it is healed every time you drop off at, or pass a bus stop, of which are plentiful in the first stage. Take care though, as crashing into another vehicle or hitting innocent pedestrian will still result in an instant gameover.

It's important to get in the right line, especially at busy Tokyo crossings

Tokyo Bus Guide is a world away from games like GTA and LA Noir were you are encouraged to drive like a bull in a china shop- it's more patience than power in this game.The courses themselves, are pretty long with one course taking around twenty minutes or so to complete, so you want to avoid those sudden endings. This brings an intensity to the game that you just don't get in other driving games. Tokyo Bus Guide requires you to enter a zen-like state, observing the course and understanding the intentions of the other drivers on the road as you balance the many asks a that bus driver is required to complete during the average journey. All of this in the knowledge that any sudden mistake, even one which is not of your making such as a driver pulling out in front of you, may result in you getting fired and withdrawn from the game. Controlling the buses take a little bit of getting use to simply because I dare say, most people have never driven a huge bus around the narrow streets of Tokyo but it feels like a lot of thought has gone into the handling and physics of the bus; there are no cutting corners in Tokyo Bus Guide with turning demanding large spaces, and a cool and considered approach.

Turning corners in a bus is no easy task
 
Luckily, the controls for the game are perfect suited to the Dreamcast’s analogue triggers controlling your accelerator and brake pedals, and the four face buttons are used to operate things like the door, mirrors, and the announcements (in Japan they announce the name of the oncoming stop to inform passengers of where they are, handy eh!). One thing that takes a bit to get used to is that, whereas other games demand that you slam hard on the accelerator, Tokyo Bus Guide requires gradual acceleration and breaking. Hitting the accelerator causes the bus to jilt forward and will end up scaring the passengers, and subsequently, with you losing some of you life bar. A slight touch on the accelerator at first developing gradually into a firmer push is the way to go and the same idea goes for breaking.

TBS was such a success that the game was ported to the arcades!
A minor gripe would be that when accelerating that sometimes it can be hard to keep your finger in place at a certain speed. If you are aiming to keep under say, the 50 km/h mark, you end up pressing the accelerator to 52 or 53 km/h and then releasing the trigger till it goes back to around 46km/h. Overall though, the controls feel great and the Dreamcast's triggers do a fine job. Add in a rumble pack and you really feel the subtleties of the driving mechanics. I had the displeasure of playing the PS2 conversion recently and I have to say that it wasn't the same experience due to the lack of analogue triggers on the dual shock.

While not the most attractive girl in the bar, presentation-wise Tokyo Bus Guide is certainly no dog. The game is presented in a pseudo cell-shading style, which although not to the standard of Jet Set Radio, certainly gives the game a certain charm. Courses are varied and landmarks such as the Tokyo Tower and the Bay Area are represented in such accurate fashion that it you really notice the changes in the areas now that it is 2012. The game really captures the feel of a living, breathing metropolis with the huge numbers of people on the streets below the towering skyscrapers and flashing Tokyo neon.The music in the game is nothing spectacular, just a few slow melodies and guitar tracks that compliment the gameplay. All the types of sounds you'd expect from a bus journey is present, from the chatting of the passengers to the noise of the traffic and you also have a honking great horn to warn other road users of your presence.

The game introduces some interesting trivia about the Tokyo area
In between journeys you are treated to a short sequence in which passengers are chatting about where they are heading. This provides a bit of general trivia about the location of that particular course you will be driving through and is a nice touch although it is completely supplementary and those who don't speak Japanese shouldn't really worry that they are missing out.

To celebrate the one year anniversary of Tokyo Bus Guide,  developer FourtyFive released a special edition of the game, Beautiful Bus Guide version. This special edition comes in a cardboard sleeve and complete with a special disc featuring the aforementioned guide lady. The disc is basically a walkthrough in which the guide introduces you to the game and the trickier parts of each stage. It doesn't add a lot but fans of the game may want to search for this version for completist's sake, if nothing at least the guide is fairly cute.

The Beautiful Bus Guide pack

It can take a little while to get used to the driving mechanics but once you do everything feels just right. Everything is so considered. In fact, it’s a simulation were there is very much to learn. If you are penalized then you always know why, rarely feeling cheated you really feel a great satisfaction when you finally complete a run perfectly. I honestly can't recommend it enough, if you want a nice, relaxing but challenging Sunday afternoon with a video game then Tokyo Bus Guide is the one. In an age in which games are all wars, killings and alien invasions, it's a nice change of pace to just pick up a controller, and drive a bus.