Weighing in at just over 9 megabytes large, ZiggyGames’ Android-exclusive Bus Jumper takes mere seconds to download. Pressing the game’s icon brings the player to a simply quaint loading screen with a simple, one-line instruction: “Tap the screen to jump the bus.” Yet, in spite of that one trivial typo, Bus Jumper offers a truly unexpected bang for your Google Play buck (both figuratively and literally).
Every game starts from the beginning, at the wondrous level 0. Bus Jumper greets players with a slowly moving, but steadily accelerating yellow commuter bus situated at the lower-left corner of the screen. A rendition of Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer begins in the background, quickly increasing in volume. The backdrop shifts to one of a few silhouette-and-sky environments: a jungle in the sunset, a castle at dusk, a skyline at night, etc. As the bus rolls toward the first of countless floating bridges, the vibrant gradient of the speed bar inches closer to the red zone. The bridge in the distance, higher than the current bridge, subconsciously prompts the player to “tap the screen to jump the bus.” The bus takes a giant leap, landing on the bridge. Soon, the bus approaches another higher bridge in the distance. Alas, the bus jumps too early and fails to land on the higher bridge, zooming off the current bridge and down to another.
If you couldn’t tell by now, Bus Jumper is but one of many titles in the newly-founded endless runner genre. Essentially founded in 2009 by Adam ‘Atomic’ Saltsman’s game, Canabalt, the endless runner genre of gaming has since become one of the most profitable markets for recent mobile gaming developments. Imangi Studios’ Temple Run series (particularly by 2013’s Temple Run 2) resulted in the biggest breakthrough for the genre, prompting mobile gaming’s creative community to create many clones of the game in an effort to buzz in on the skyrocketing market. However, Bus Jumper readily manages to differentiate itself from the more commercialized, more marketable games of its kind.
Canabalt, Temple Run, and many similar endless runners follow a strictly linear, hardcore progression. In Canabalt, the player jump off buildings of a certain height and lands on other buildings of a different height in the effort to achieve a high score. Temple Run utilizes a significant expansion of the model: players perform varied actions not limited to turning, jumping, using a zipline, and switching lanes while in a minecart all while collecting emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and coins in an effort to both cash in on in-game prizes and achieve a local/global high score. Both games usually end when the player falls beneath the playing surface (Temple Run offers the prospect of revival through in-game currency).
How Bus Jumper Differs from Other Endless Runners
The progression of Bus Jumper revolves around a severely minimalistic level system. If the player lands the bus on a higher bridge than the bridge it jumped off of, the level increases. If the player falls down onto a lower bridge, the level decreases. The catch: each time the bus falls down onto a lower bridge, the level decreases by 2. This makes it significantly more difficult (and significantly more gratifying) to ascend levels at a consistent rate. Bus Jumper also has no upper or lower bounds in regard to the level, allowing the player to descend past level -999 with 500 consecutive falls.
Other Game Mechanics
Many intriguing finds will be made through ascending (or descending) through the endless levels of Bus Jumper. The game provides three special aspects of gameplay: a unique interpretation of physics and damage, various themed balls scattered across the bridges, and powerups located above particular bridges.
At first glance, Bus Jumper appears to employ normal physics rules... Right up until the bus flips over. The constantly increasing speed of the bus encourages very unrealistic, wacky airtime sequences. Successive frontflips and backflips are to be expected almost every time Bus Jumper is played. The bus can, and will, land on its top and its nose at times. A jump can be executed in mid-air, provided that the bus drove off a bridge first. There’s an infinite possibility to the amount of crazy stunts that can be pulled off by the bus with the right reflexes.
On some bridges lay oversized “balls” that can impede (or aid) your ascending progress. These “balls” are resized clipart images of mushrooms, telephones, ladybugs, basketballs, baseballs, dogs, awesomefaces, pumpkins, and other assorted everyday objects attached to invisible hitboxes. Colliding with these severely decreases speed and prompts a coarse, filtered collision sound (one of two sounds in the entire game, including the background music). However, these “balls” can prove to be surprisingly advantageous by decreasing the bus’ speed before a tricky ascent or boosting the player up into the air.
Other bridges contain certain powerups above them. Like the “balls”, these powerups can prove to be both a blessing and a curse. The first powerup (Cow Catcher) causes balls to be deflected off the bus. The second powerup (Ghost) makes the bus ignore collisions with the balls. The third powerup (Turbo), according to the official app description, “makes the bus go 10x faster” . In reality, Turbo doesn’t even double the bus’ maximum speed, but it does give the bus a noticeable boost in speed. Out of the three powerups, Turbo usually results in the most descended levels because of the short distance between bridges and the uncontrollability caused by a jolt in maximum speed.
No Victory, No Defeat
The somewhat unsurprising coup-de-grace of Bus Jumper is that there is no victory or defeat mechanic. There will always be a higher or lower bridge for the bus to land on, and such bridges are spaced so that the bus can’t possibly fall beneath the playing surface. Even with travelling below any specified negative level, the player isn’t technically losing or winning. The same principle applies for travelling above any specified positive level, or even oscillating around level 0. Bus Jumper also lacks a damage mechanic, which means that no matter how many massive flips or bumpy rides the bus has, it will still be as intact as at the beginning of the game. Not to mention, saved games do not exist (at least in the free version), so every journey is completely brand-new. Thus, this game – while deeply rooted in the endless runner genre – also comes across as a massive confidence booster, as well as a very kid-/sore loser-friendly game.
Bus Jumper is comfortably priced at free for the regular version and $0.99 for OpenFeint integration. The OpenFeint version, while garnering an infinitesimal portion of downloads and ratings compared to the free version, provides extra competition in the form of reaching certain achievements and a local ranking.
The True Allure of Bus Jumper
At this point, you might be asking yourself: What makes this game one of the best games I’ve never heard about? For one, Bus Jumper doesn’t take itself seriously. Not at all. From the music to the graphics to the concept, Bus Jumper reeks of the same ingenuity that brought audiences Soda Drinker Pro and The Fantastic Game. They all follow the same formula: a game of obviously low quality and budget that showcases what the developer can do with his imagination and his skills. Bus Jumper also exhibits a very unique experience to its players, in that most accepted game mechanics are tossed aside for those that are more enjoyable, quirky, or stress-relieving. It’s small, it’s free, it’s funny, and it’s fun.
Have a go at Bus Jumper! You’re bound to love it as much as I do.
You can find both the free and paid version of Bus Jumper readily available at the Google Play Store.