"Don't think for a minute that Bully is just about picking fights, either. The game actually has an engaging story, with voice actors and character models that bring it delightfully to life. It's easy to find yourself swept up in the cinematic experience."
Jimmy Hopkins isn't pleased. His mother has remarried and the man is old enough to be his grandfather. They're jetting off to a romantic honeymoon and while they're off fondling one another in a bungalow, they expect Jimmy to settle into life at one of the most miserable boarding schools around: Bullworth Academy. There, the principal plans to make a man of him, to prepare him to be a productive member of society. In essence, Bully: Scholarship Edition is about the stuff nightmares are made of.
Originally released on the PlayStation 2, Bully has been tweaked and occasionally enhanced for its debut on Wii and Xbox. Graphics have been retouched, mini-games have been added and there are 8 new missions. Not only that, but players can unlock more rewards than ever before as they progress through the academy experience. Even the people you pass in the streets have more clever things to say. In short, expect more, more, more!
Gameplay in Bully: Scholarship Edition is relatively straight-forward. If you've ever experienced a Grand Theft Auto title, that's a useful frame of reference. As in those games, you'll spend much of your time running around a large, sparsely-populated world. There are optional forms of amusement all around, plus stars and such on your map that point out places where you can engage in a little bit of scripted mayhem. So the choice is really up to you. Do you pester people with your slingshot, skateboard through the court in the early morning or sneak a kiss in the hallway while skipping class?
Missions start out pretty simple and mostly serve to acquaint you with your various options, but from there they get difficult quickly. Bully: Scholarship Edition certainly has moments that will appeal to the casual gamer in all of you, but it's clearly built with experienced players in mind. Beginning gamers--or those who are used to safe gaming like in the typical RPG--will definitely have to adjust.
One scene early in the game highlights this dynamic perfectly. After watching a skippable sequence where a cheerleader type snags an incriminating bit of text from her less fortunate classmate, you'll then receive your assignment: get it back. Outside, a less skippable scene tells you that it might be worth investing in some stink bombs to leave in the locker. This is code for “you have to do this to pass the mission.” So you then must wander over to the area where a fat kid is lamenting his lot in life, then pay a fee for a stink bomb (never mind that you can perhaps manufacture them yourself by this point in the game). With that done, you then cross a large chunk of campus again in your quest to reach the locker. The area is deserted, but you'll have to break into it in order to do your deed. This will alert prefects, so you have to act quickly. By the time you get inside to leave the stink bomb, you'll almost certainly have been spotted. Then you have to run away before anyone can grab you, only there may be a few people to avoid and sometimes it's hard to tell which way is the exit and which is a little dead end cranny that will lead inevitably to your capture.
Missions like the one outlined above are more frustrating than they are fun, particularly if you have to make repeated attempts to conceive successful strategies (and sit through load times and story sequences all over again). Depending on how you play--whether you worry about completing the game or are just goofing around to have fun--they can make up the bulk of your time spent with Bully. The rest of the time is devoted to exploring the area hub, raising general hell or attending class.
Class assignments are where more casual gameplay makes its appearance. In the biology lab, you'll play a scaled down version of Trauma Center, where you must dissect frogs, rats and other beasties and extract their organs. In art class, you play a Qix-like game where you have to draw squares that gradually reveal a sketch in the background as you avoid various hazards. Then there are things like gym class--where you play positively vicious dodgeball matches--and English class, where you have to form words out of a scramble of letters. The mini-games add some pleasing variety to the Bully experience and the Wii Remote adds to their effectiveness. It's fun extracting bits of animals, just as it was a delight suturing wounds in Trauma Center. Not every option succeeds, but you might very well find yourself looking forward to class work. Besides that, there are neat rewards you can unlock that have a very practical effect on your tomfoolery elsewhere at Bullworth.
The Wii Remote isn't limited to just mini-games, either. When you find yourself engaged in a round of fisticuffs, for example, you'll have to swipe it and the Nunchuck attachment forward as if playing a boxing game. When you lock into Jimmy's first-person perspective (while peering out of a locker where you've found temporary solace, for example), you tilt the controller this way and that to get a full view of the situation. The slingshot is aimed in much the same way, so that the whole process feels less gimmicky and more like it would if you were engaged in those activities yourself.
Don't think for a minute that Bully is just about picking fights, either. The game actually has an engaging story, with voice actors and character models that bring it delightfully to life. It's easy to find yourself swept up in the cinematic experience. Rockstar has proven here that it can venture outside of Liberty City, Vice City and San Andreas without leaving behind the sandbox nature and production values that made those environments so addictive in the Grand Theft Auto games. Bullworth Academy is irresistibly awful. Jimmy Hopkins might not be pleased with the wretched place, but gamers certainly will be!
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 01, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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