Sure, we’ve all been through it. Wedgies, book reports, football games. Maybe you were never the bully in high school (please, don’t hurt me), but most us probably have had fantasies of what it must feel like to pound the living daylights out of a bespectacled bookworm (please…don’t. I also wear contacts!). Many years ago, Rockstar fulfilled every child’s fantasy of joining a street gang with the controversial game Bully. Now, if you missed your chance on PS2, your inner nerd can finally become a bully on the Xbox 360 — and with visual upgrades, eight new missions and four more classes to boot.
The premise of Bully: Scholarship Edition is simple. Jimmy Hopkins is dropped off at Bullsworth Academy by his parents, who are a little happy to be rid of him. Jimmy gets a first-class tour of the school from a friend who professes his love for Western Civilization (a hint of Alexander the Great). During this tour, Jimmy sees the different “factions” ranging from Nerds and Jocks to Preps. At first, Jimmy can only explore the campus of Bullsworth, but soon a whole New England-esque town and Carnival will open up to him — the latter of which being one of the most enjoyable parts of Bully: Scholarship Edition.
Bully originally released as a PlayStation 2 game two years ago. This year, Rockstar added motion controls and ported the game over to the Nintendo Wii, and brushed up the graphics to appear on the next-gen Xbox 360. Having played both versions, I can assure you that, while the motion controls are solid on the Wii version (and even fun), the visual upgrade on the 360 is more to my taste. The Wii version retains much of the PS2’s muddy and texture-less graphics, but the Xbox 360 version, while still not up to the level of Bioshock or Gears of War graphics (and showcasing some pretty lousy textures on key characters), looks crystal-clear in high-definition and has some nifty visual effects now and then.
If you’re familiar with the GTA series, you probably know what to expect from Bully: an open-world game that, after you complete about 10 percent of the missions, lets you explore to your heart’s content. Many missions will be available at a time, so if you don’t like one mission or get stuck on it, you can play another. Sadly, like the GTA games, some of the more complex mission structures will restart you at the beginning of the mission if you fail. This is a problem Rockstar needs to fix. Hopefully they will do so with GTA IV and/or Bully 2.
Don’t think that just because you’re a big, bad bully that you don’t have to go to class! Quite the contrary, my friend. There are two sessions throughout the day, and if you skip class, the Prefects (akin to the cops from GTA) will “arrest” you and take away your slingshot, among other fun items. But don’t sweat it; class is actually fun. Chemistry functions as a rhythm game of sorts in which you hit the corresponding button in time. English is of course a word game in which you construct as many words out of a jumble in the give amount of time. And in Art, you have to clear sections of your canvas while avoiding scissors. The best part of all this: no homework!
Actually, the best part of Bully is the audio. Not only will you hear some of the best voiceover work ever done in a video game, but you’ll find it hilarious. Everything in the game is tongue-in-cheek twice over, from the kooky Carnival to the cafeteria cooks. While I’m not a fan of cut-scenes in video games, I found these to be a joy to watch. The other side of audio is the musical score, and like many other critics, I think it is phenomenal. The music is mostly minimalist, sometimes just relying on a single bass note, to more complex and catchy beats.
Put all this together, and Bully: Scholarship Edition is a great game. For fans of GTA, Bully will be a must play, especially if you’re looking for something to get your mind ready for the April 29 release of GTA IV. However, even if you’re unfamiliar with the series, the Xbox 360 version of Bully is a great buy, even two years after its original PS2 release.
– Stephen Woodward