Kyle Johnson
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‘Desert Bus’ Almost Makes the AVGN Retire With its Badness

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Desert BusIn the last episode of The Angry Video Game Nerd, the Nerd took a spin in what he eventually called “the worst game ever made,” Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing. Today, the Nerd returns with a new episode wherein he covers yet another driving game—Desert Bus.

How could this possibly top the awfulness of Big Rigs?

Desert Bus

“How bad could it be?” = famous last words

Easy. Create a game where their only objective is to drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas. In real time. At a non-negotiable speed of 45 miles per hour.

Desert Bus

Get used to seeing a lot of this

Seriously. That is all the player has to do. 360 uninterrupted miles on a lonely stretch of desert road. Just the player, a steering column, and a pine tree air freshener.

Desert Bus

It’s not strong enough to mask the distinct smell of crap

How long does it take to complete Desert Bus? At a traveling speed of 45 miles per hour over 360 miles, the player will arrive in Las Vegas after eight hours. Their reward for doing so? One point. One. Point.Desert Bus

Perhaps the worst part about this? The minds behind Desert Bus—magician/comedy duo Penn & Teller—knew what a lousy game it was. The idea, it turns out, was to create an ultra-realistic (read: boring) game as a response to early-90s criticisms of hyper-violent games like Mortal Kombat and Doom (read: fun games). How realistic is Desert Bus? The bus doesn’t even start the first time you turn the ignition.Desert Bus

But Penn & Teller weren’t total sadists. In fact, they had even intended to hold a contest where five grand prize winners would win an actual bus trip from Tucson to Las Vegas with Penn & Teller and four nights at Bally’s. All you had to do was score a single point, take a picture of the screen, and send it along with an entry form.

Desert Bus

They actually expected people to play this?

Scoring extra points could add up to more entries, and the maximum amount of points that could be scored in the game is 99. What does that add up to, timewise? 792 hours. That’s 33 days.Desert Bus

Oh, and there’s no pause option. Why? According to the instruction manual: “No, it’s not an oversight. Does your life have a pause control?”Desert Bus

Clever. Very meta, indeed.

Speaking of controls, there isn’t much to speak of with Desert Bus. A accelerates. The D-pad steers. And that’s about it, unless you count the start button sounding the horn and the B button opening the door to the bus and making a lovely little squeaking noise.

Desert Bus

Oh, but if all you need to do is accelerate, why not just put a clamp down on the button and let the game do the work for you?

Desert Bus

Because if you walk away for too long, the bus will veer off the road and get stuck on the shoulder. Then a tow truck comes and drags you back to the starting point. In real time. So, yeah, if you’ve driven 7 hours and get stranded, it takes 7 hours to get towed back. How’s that for ludonarrative dissonance?

But not everything tied to Desert Bus is bad: the annual Desert Bus for Hope marathon tests the limits of human patience while raising funds for the Child’s Play charity. Last year’s event was a big friggin’ deal, featuring guests such as Matt Fraction, Bill Corbett, Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, and Bonnie Burton and raising more than half a million dollars.

Desert Bus

Also, this badass poster

In the end, the Nerd is so confounded by Desert Bus that he states that he’s hit the bottom of the barrel, has failed in his goal of warning the world off of the worst video games ever made, and should retire immediately.

Desert Bus

Saving throw! Saving throw!

Until he is swayed back into action by a playthrough of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Redaction, a greatly-improved version of the first video game he ever reviewed. And we should be thankful for that (and the fact that the Nerd has led us to something as badass as a hacked version of Simon’s Quest that actually explains the game’s convoluted puzzles), because the Nerd is a much-needed commodity.

  • Kyle JohnsonEditor

    Kyle S. Johnson lives in Cincinnati, a city known by many as "the Cincinnati of Southwest Ohio." He enjoys professional wrestling, Halloween, and also other things. He has been writing for a while, and he plans to continue to write well into the future. See more articles by Kyle.