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Ah, the wonderful years of childhood. Television was better, the music was better and snack cakes were delicious, calories be damned. It was also a bad time in anyone’s life due to the forced socialization of school. Sure, you tend to find likeminded people who appreciate the things you do, but the majority will mock and shun you for those differences. In the worst case scenarios, bullying becomes a common occurance. For those of you who were subject to this, it’s time to take back control, even if just in a virtual environment, until you get that degree and those sad folks who used to mock you start begging you for a job.
It feels weird calling this a review, considering Bully came out in 2006 on the PS2, and this 360 version came out just two years later, but because it is still on a current-gen system, it will be reviewed as such.
Student v. Teacher: Round One
More than six years ago, we were introduced to Bully, a game brought to us by the acclaimed creators of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Rated T for Teen by the ESRB, there were two schools of thought on this one; some believed this game was underevalutated and would corrupt even younger minds than GTA was allowed to. Ex-lawyer Jack Thompson, a man well known to video game lovers, tried unsuccessfully to get the game banned, even so far as to get a court order to get an early copy reviewed by the judge.
The other camp, myself included knew the quality of Rockstar Games, and looked forward to seeing how they would handle a more restricting set of development guidelines. On release we were not upset. Taking the role of Jimmy Hopkins, recently dumped off at Bullworth Academy by his “phony” mom and her new husband. After having the worst first day of school you could imagine, Jimmy is resolved to succeed at this school, but circumstances of the Academy and the irritations of his rival Gary take Jimmy through a journey to take over the school and make things better for everybody… in the most mischievous ways possible.
Sophomore Art and Music
Oh dear, do these guys need your help…
If you’ve seen one port of an earlier game, you know most of what to expect with this one. Add on the years to date, and this one is nowhere near as pretty as new games. One saving grace, however, is the stylized nature of the game. Character models are almost caricatures of the personalities they represent. This adds a fun timelessness to the graphics, even though they may not look as good as we would like.
Rockstar Games has a long-running reputation for quality, and the sound department doesn’t escape that compliment. Although original, it does have the feeling of inspiration from Danny Elfman’s projects with Tim Burton (not counting the Batman films). Upbeat and varied in its instruments, it beautifully captures the feeling of youth and mischief, while being subtle and not overbearing in its presentation.
You almost don’t want to help these rich kids… almost
Story is one of those things Stay-At-Home Gaming sees as high importance, and Bully delivers this. As Jimmy finds himself making the school a better place, he gets involved with the cliques of the school and town. The first chapter has you helping the Nerds, then the Preps, and eventually the entirety of the school has reasons to go to you for help. But there’s more to Bully than the Academy. Bullworth is a big town, filled with groups of its own and the story takes you there in ways that make sense.
It is worthy to note in this review, the references and homages made in this game. Like Grand Theft Auto, the story of this game adds nods to the influences that helped make the game. Literature like Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders made a major impact on the main character and the Greaser clique respectively, but other media like other Rockstar Games and popular culture (Gremlins and Grottos played by the Nerds here, a Karate Kid-inspired halloween costume there) show the work that was put into the writing end of the game.
There’s more than mayhem to be had in Bully
There’s more than swirlies and stuffing bullies into lockers to do in this game. Each classroom lesson has an in-game effect, whether it’s learning how to make itching powder, making your apologies to prefects more effective, or even just an interesting new costume. There are more than fifteen side missions as well, with races, collectables and an in-town carnival to explore. In addition, pickups like Kick Me signs and giant firecrackers make for interesting situations if used unwisely.
Studying for Finals
Homemade stink bombs, here we come
Concept: Make the acclaimed Grand Theft Auto system accessible for younger players in a toned down environment.
Story: Great homages carry this game through a wonderful world of private schooling and give a fresh look on the conflicts of youth.
Gameplay: All the fun of GTA with a smaller, more detailed world and funny, creative weapons.
Graphics: As a Playstation 2 port from 2008, not bad. Standalone, not very impressive. But anything stylized gains the advantage of being somewhat contemporary.
Sound: A bit like Danny Elfman’s work, but the soundtrack is delightfully fitting in the story. The voice acting on par with Rockstar’s other titles, which means really, really good.
Fun Factor: There’s a satisfaction in making your school a better place, and the smaller map in comparison to GTA games makes exploration more fun and less of a chore.
Replay: Multiplayer mode is interesting, but not a reason to replay it. There is plenty to do, however, even after the main story is over.
Nothing like an old fashioned bike race in the summer
This game has been reviewed three different ways: the original PS2 release, the Scholarship Edition’s release on 360 and Wii, and now this semi-retrospective in 2013. All three times, Bully was acknowledged as another example of why Rockstar Games is still an industry powerhouse, why Take Two purchased them in the first place, and that this game deserves a place on your shelf among the CoD’s, the Assassin’s Creeds and, yes, even with the GTA games. This game refined the formula and proved that open-world games don’t need to be epic in scope to be great, or stray from the core of the story to be important. If you haven’t played before, pick it up off the bargain shelf and enjoy its greatness. If you have, it is certainly worth another playthrough, if only to prevent you from insanity waiting for GTA V.
Bully Scholarship Edition was Rated T for Teen for Animated Blood, Crude Humor, Language, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, and Violence. It was released for the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii game consoles. It was also considered the starting point of Jack Thompson’s disbarment from the Florida Bar. But we’ll tackle that in another article…
Anyone have a favorite mission in Bully? Drop a comment below and tell us about it!