By Peter Torres
That’s one super long bus! Stage Clear Studio’s Snakeybus is an arcade style game that is essentially a take on Snake, but in three dimensional environments. Here, you drive around various locations while picking up and delivering passengers in, say, Seattle, Miami and even the interior of a museum. With four different modes (Classic, Time Race, Endless and Aerial), 11 stages you can play on, and 5 unlockable bus skins, there’s some wild fun to be had.
In Classic mode your aim is to increase score by extending the length of your bus as far as possible. You do so by picking up passengers along different stations in whatever stage you play on. Then you bring them to a destination, which I find to be reminiscent of the iconic Crazy Taxi game. When you transport 100 people, bus length goes up by 16 and so does as your passenger capacity, boosting it from 100 to 116. So you definitely want to try and transport as many people at once as you can. However, this game is called Snakeybus for a reason. The longer your bus gets, the more difficult traversing each stage becomes because you have to snake through carefully. The way you lose in this game, aside from falling into a bottomless pit, is by driving into a wall or even into one of your own long carts. If you lose all of your momentum and halt, your bus will actually combust, which I found quite humorous actually. So you want to know the stages well – and the controls really well.
On Nintendo Switch, the controls of the game are simple; you steer with the left stick, accelerate with the right trigger and brake with the left. You can also jump/boost with the left bumper, which you have a gauge for, and drift with the B button. It’s important to note that you recover about 10 percent of your jump/boost gauge for every station you pass and pick up passengers from. Additionally, your vehicle does recharge slowly over time. The game by default is played from a third person view but you can switch it to first person as well.
As the driver, you have good control over the bus and movement doesn’t feel slippery or stiff. The physics in the game also seem fluid too, as I found that there is in fact momentum in the game, such as going faster while zipping down slopes or slowing to a crawl when going up them. However, I found some difficulty with controlling my bus in the air. (But maybe that makes some sense right? You can’t fly a bus after all.) While playing the Aerial mode I admit I struggled and couldn’t really achieve a good score. If you’re in the mood to be acrobatic, the right stick lets you air roll. However, try as might, I just ended going down rather than spinning and going back up.
The Endless stage, an unlockable bonus, is a big snowy mountain under a dark, mysterious, spherical object. Here, you just traverse the stage in seeming infinity, your bus length increasing over time without you having to pick up any passengers. You also don’t crash when you go under the water. In fact, you float on the surface as if it were the ground. It’s fun to try the Endless mode, picking up speed and seeing how long the bus can get. Keep in mind you have to unlock the Endless stage by accumulating 12,000 total score first. If you go through each map alternating between modes, you should reach that score fairly easily.
Cave is exclusive to the Aerial mode. It’s similar Classic mode except you have to fly. The cave is small and there’s three chunks of land separated by a body of water that will cause you to lose if you fall in. You have to try and pick up passengers in the air and on the ground, but instead of a destination on land, you have to pass through a ring in the air to deliver them. On one of my attempts I saw the water level go down a bit after transporting some passengers, though how far down it goes I’m not sure.
The Museum stage actually looks more like a painting you would find in say, the Museum of Modern Art. The shape is like that of a figure eight, the middle being where the sole dropoff location is. It also has pits on both ends where you can fall in but also roads to the side, some that elevate you. The entirety of the Museum also uses a nice combination of what seems to be a various hues of orange, beige or brown. You can also see shadows cast from a sort of wire frame above where sky light shines down. Intersect looks like a cross between a room or a sort of cavern. It’s circular and while the center has a pit in it, it has intersecting paths that cross over it. The other stages are like towns and cities, oh and a dorm room too, which I actually found to be difficult because it felt like a tighter space to move around.
Seattle, Suburb, Paris, Miami and Coriolis all transport me from my room in this time of quarantine. Paris and Miami are some of the more scenic stages and have great aesthetics (though I wonder why a night time variant for Paris isn’t available, as I believe I saw it as one of the loading screens). That aside, the Paris stage itself is like a city with different sections. One section has buildings and roads on one side and a gated area that has a sort of structure, that may or may not be based on something famous or real. On the other side, there’s a river and a bridge and off to the side of the bridge you can see the gleaming Eiffel Tower.
Miami looks like a metropolitan city with skyscrapers and a railway system above, it also has causeways over the ocean. The entirety of Miami is all very well-designed and, with its arsty, 80s vibe, was created with the most ambition of all the stages. I found Suburb to be really enjoyable, too. It has a soccer field with a big ball you can interact and play with.
Coriolis itself is super cool as you drive around inside a cylindrical world. I was told to look up what the Coriolis force was, and after playing on the stage again and reading the definition, I think it’s about weather patterns and the physics of circular movements. Maybe I’m mistaken but, because of the ability to move vertically via being able to boost jump, I am able to cross the axis to the other side without having to go around on the ground like normal. The stage itself reminds me of something country-esque since it seems to have crop fields and some houses, maybe farm houses.
My favorite stage, however, is Seattle. It doesn’t have any special gimmick or theory behind it; I just really enjoyed the aesthetic. It’s a waterside town at night and even has a pier. There is also a bridge that connects the pier area to the more urban area. It’s dark and stormy and is perpetually raining. The stage also has levels of elevation to it, stairs in between you can use as shortcuts. The Ring stage made me think of Saturn as it’s a sphere in the middle and rings around it that break into different paths.
The art of the game is great too. Aside from all the great environments, I really enjoyed the colors and design choices made. I don’t know if it’s just me but in the Museum stage using the Transit bus skin, the world almost looked like something out of a comic book. Also if you operate the Dragon bus in first person you have a view that is as if you were in its mouth and you could see the teeth too, an excellent touch.
The excellent music itself complements the experience nicely with the melodic vibes it gives off. While there are a total of eight tracks from four talented artists, I want to highlight three of my favorites: Petal Falon, Cold Cocoa and Skydream. These are tracks that I can see myself listening to even outside the game. Cold Cocoa and Petal Falon are enjoyable because of their Lo-Fi vibes and I love Skydream for what I can only is its whimsical nature.
I find playing Snakeybus to be a very fun experience. It’s easy to pick up, but harder to master. I think that makes this game highly replayable, something crucial for most games without a deep narrative. But there are other things that I noticed as well. After your bus gets long enough, it is possible to traverse each segment and see the back of the bus if you loop around. The additional bus segments appear out of thin air. This caused me to lose a lot of momentum once. I also saw some funny collision things happen when I jump-boosted in a tight corner near the toilet in the Dorm area. My bus spazzed. But I found this glitch to be funnier than anything, not a hindrance.
All in all, I believe the makers behind this game did an amazing job, especially considering the small team. Snakeybus was made in Unity, so it’s cool to see what can be made when people work together with things anyone can use. That’s inspiring, especially for those who seek to make games of their own. All told, Snakeybus is a superior arcade style game that functions as a unique time killer in which you compete against yourself. I had tons of fun playing it and will definitely be indulging more going forth.
Finally, score requirements for the unlockables are here below.
School Bus: 2k score
Clustertruck: 6k score
Party Bus: 10k score
Dragon: 14k score
Double Decker: 18k score
Ring: 4k score
Paris: 4k score
Intersect: 8k score
Miami: 8k score
Endless: 12k score
Coriolis: 12k score
Peter Torres is a writer who lives in the Bronx and recently attended our journalism course in partnership with the DreamYard Project. This is his first article for the New York Videogame Critics Circle.