When I was a kid, I adored the The Magic School Bus. The television series based on the original children’s books aired from 1994 to 1997, and I was the perfect age to be enthralled by the educational adventures of Ms. Frizzle and her students. During that same time, multimedia home computers and the CD-ROM were becoming popular consumer technology, so it made sense that the series would make the leap to interactive media. And so it did, spawning over a half-dozen original games inspired by both the books and the show — games that were as close as kids like me could get to being in Ms. Frizzle’s class.
For those who don’t know, the premise of The Magic Schoolbus is pretty straightforward. Elementary school teacher Ms. Frizzle takes her class on field trips in the titular magic vehicle to locations that range from the far reaches of space to the inner workings of the human body. The Magic Schoolbus was fun, but it was genuinely educational, and Ms Frizzle’s approach to education (“Take chances! Get messy! Make mistakes!”) stood in stark contrast to the dour realities of actual school. The TV show even featured a brief segment at the end of each episode where a fictional viewer would call in to a “producer” (often played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner) about the impossibility of the more fantastical elements.
The Magic Schoolbus games were point-and-click affairs that allowed the player to interact with the various characters from the show and learn about the subject of the particular title. There were releases about astronomy, biology, the ocean, insects, and more. Typically, the games began in Ms. Frizzle’s classroom, with plenty of interesting things to click on. From there, they’d progress to the trademark field trips, which treated players to puzzles, video clips, and minigames. For example, The Magic Schoolbus Explores the Human Body allowed players to get out at various organs in order to play arcade games and carry out science experiments.
These titles, developed by Music Pen and published by Microsoft under the “Microsoft Home” brand, straddled the line between “games” as we knew them at the time and interactive educational software. As a result, they were available to borrow at our local library. My parents didn’t buy many games for our computer, with most of our meager library coming from occasional gifts and copied floppies from tech-savvy relatives. And so, getting to explore The Magic Schoolbus games via the library down the block from us was a delight for my sister and me.
Despite doing well in my early years of formal education, school quickly became a bummer for me for a variety of reasons. But The Magic Schoolbus games presented an alternative, idealized picture of the classroom, with a teacher unconstrained by budget cuts, a conspicuous absence of bullying students, and a cool lizard named Liz. If you enjoyed them too and would like to revisit them, there are playthroughs available to watch on YouTube, as well as some CD images on Archive.org.