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Bully (PlayStation 2) artwork

Bully (PlayStation 2) review

"It's not odd for weaker individuals to be singled out by stronger individuals, made the butt of every joke, ostracized and degraded just because they're good in school or they know how to play chess or they know what ‘dilettante’ means. It's not odd for teachers to turn a blind eye on the torment, just because the tormenter happens to own a Varsity jacket. Money and lies, cliques and discrimination, scandals and extortion; school is a bitch and then you graduate. Jimmy Hopkins would agree."

School is supposed to be a joyous time, where adorable boy and girls become strong men and women. It’s supposed to build character. To nurture the mind. To develop the skills and relationships that will follow you throughout life and ease you into the rigorous demands of society.

Unfortunately, ‘supposed to be’ and ‘really is’ are worlds apart.

It's not odd for weaker individuals to be singled out by stronger individuals, made the butt of every joke, ostracized and degraded just because they're good in school or they know how to play chess or they know what ‘dilettante’ means. It's not odd for teachers to turn a blind eye on the torment, just because the tormenter happens to own a Varsity jacket. Money and lies, cliques and discrimination, scandals and extortion; school is a bitch and then you graduate. Jimmy Hopkins would agree.

Jimmy's not a nice kid, but he's not in a nice situation. Expelled from seven schools, suspended countless times, his mother leaves – some might say 'abandons' – him at Bullworth Academy while she goes on an extended vacation with her husband-of-the-month. Jimmy immediately makes friends with Pete, a downtrodden kid who’s the brunt of many a homosexual joke, and Gary…telling you that Gary dresses up like a Nazi for Halloween should give you a perfect idea what he’s like.

What follows is a struggle to dominate the school by controlling the four major cliques:

Nerds: Masters of math, captains of comics, lords of LARPing.

Preppies: Strong believers in the theory that a man's worth is determined by his wallet.

Jocks: The strength of gorillas and the intelligence to match.

Greasers: Fonz look-alikes. I don’t recall ever seeing a clique like this in school, but the Fonz is cool, so I’ll overlook it.

It's all about manipulation. Jimmy loves money, so Jimmy does jobs. These jobs piss off some cliques so much that they'll attack him on sight, and they make some cliques so happy with him that they'll come to his aid. They each have their turfs, their tendencies, their faults, their strengths, and a good deal of Bully's intrigue comes from pubescent politics. Like Mercenaries, really.

Actually, Bully is more like Mercenaries and other sandbox shooters than you'd think. Replace the scummy streets of Vice City with the suburban style of Bullworth town. Replace sniper rifles with slingshots. Replace rocket launchers with bottle rockets. Replace shotguns with potato cannons. You can steal bikes and motor scooters, learn the joys of vandalism, take on jobs for extra money; Bully is, essentially, Wonder Years meets Grand Theft Auto

Is that a bad thing? Not really. The good thing about Bully is that it doesn't just work with its subject material; it expands from it.

Like your first sniper mission, for instance. Nerdy Earnest has the ambition and the smarts to become class president…but he doesn't have the support. Yet. He's got a speech to make, but that speech won't get made if the jocks keep pelting him with rotten eggs. So what's to be done? Simple. Jimmy finds a seat on the auditorium's second floor and picks them off, reigning down slingshot justice from above.


Or when you team up with your favorite dropout, Zoe. She's getting a little revenge on her old, panty-sniffing PE teacher, and she's got the most ingenious idea: Get him in a port-a-potty and push him over. But not just any port-a-potty will do; no, he has to be pushed from a port-a-potty that just so happens to be sitting on the tip-top of a very high hill. Your mission? Destroy all the other port-a-potties, wait till he comes over to the right one while he does his morning run, ram a conveniently placed lawnmower into him and watch. And laugh. Repeatedly.

Very satisfying.

But what could be sweeter than beating the crap out of rich kids who constantly throw the fact that they're rich in your face? Very little says I, and Jimmy agrees. When Jimmy decides it's time to put the Preppies in their place, he heads to their gym, puts on some boxing globes, the camera shifts to a Punchout! viewpoint and he takes their champion head on. Then he takes on the champion's friend. Then another friend. And another. And another. A straight-out brawl erupts, and Jimmy finds himself taking them apart one by one, working his way up the stairs, throwing eggs and haymakers and baseball bats and whatever he can find, clawing his way to their leader and taking the mantle for himself.

"Who's the best? Me. Who's the strongest? Me. Who's the boss around here?"

"Y…you are."

"That's right!"

Oh, and what a fight it is. Jimmy's an amazing fighter, no doubt, but his skills are much less Jackie Chan and much more UFC. No wire-fu karate kicks, no Hadoukens or Dragon Punches here; Jimmy's just working with the essentials. Rapid punches, trips, cheap shots and low blows are all the norm; he fights like you'd expect a fifteen-year-old to fight. Small matter, yes, but it's a little refreshing to know they didn't take the road most silly and have him pull out some crazy ninja attacks he learned from the local sensei, like some sandbox games would. The closest Jimmy has to that is some old, drunken hobo who teaches him new moves.

Old hobo has some skills, though, and these skills come in handy. If there’s one thing Bullworth kids now how to do, it’s fight (especially the Preppies, oddly enough) They anticipate attacks. They counter. They dodge, gang up, pelt you with rotten eggs and use a variety of other fun, dirty tactics. Pressing the same button over and over again is just going to get you stomped all the faster, so you’ve got to mix it up; any blow can be charged for greater effect, and knowing when to hold and when to release is critical.

It makes for good fights, but school isn’t about fighting, even though it’s hard to tell sometimes. No, school is about going to class, and if you don’t go to class than the prefects will hunt you down and drag you there. But not to worry because, miracle of miracles, the school bits are actually entertaining minigames. English class has you solving some simple word scrambles, Shop and Chemistry are button-pressing affairs, and Gym alternates between an easy-to-win dodgeball session and an easier-to-win wrestling match. Going to class gives you new skills, like better kissing ability (more health), better chemistry sets (more weapons), and better taunts (more ability to make kids cry and give you money by talking to them) Quick diversions with worthwhile effects, and if you don’t feel like going, just…don’t. The prefects can’t make you go if they can’t catch you.

Real class attendance isn’t (supposed to be) a choice. In real school, Jimmy would be kicked out / beaten to a pulp after his third mission. Bully’s an exaggeration of school, not a representation. But an exaggerated portrayal is still a portrayal, and a realistic core isn’t too hard to spot under Bully’s cartoonish cover. Add a solid fighting system, solid minigames to link the fights together, solid humor to alleviate the serious undertones and a solid plot to reign it all in, and you’re left with a fresh addition to a stagnating genre. Bully lives up to its hype.

lasthero's avatar
Staff review by Zack Little (November 01, 2006)

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