First Impressions: It's back to school time!
Thanks to the ubiquitous controversy surrounding their outstanding Grand Theft Auto franchise, anything made by Rockstar Games is virtually guaranteed to garner bad press. Heck, they could release an E-rated game about cute bunnies collecting flowers in a field full of butterflies and some anti-gaming zealot would condemn it for its violent portrayal of ecosystem destruction (although Rockstar was able to bring the E-rated Table Tennis to the Xbox 360 and Wii last year without incident).
So it wasn't surprising when the media and antigaming Nazis automatically condemned Bully (originally released on the PS2 in October 2006) as ?Grand Theft Auto Goes to High School? ? or even more abhorrently as a video game recreation of the Columbine tragedy ? even before it hit store shelves.
On the surface, it seemed as if the criticisms might have had some validity. After all, Bully placed you in an open sandbox where you beat people up and make out with girls (and even other boys ? horrors!) in your attempt to become the local top dog. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? But once people actually played the game, it was clear the criticisms were nothing but typically ignorant hot air. In fact, if anyone bothered to look at the cover they could see it was only rated T for Teen, clearly indicating a lack of GTA-level violence.
In fact, Bully only resembled GTA in look and feel, thanks to its use of the GTA engine. Yes, you could beat people up and make out with girls, but it turned out there was more graphic violence and sex on prime time TV than in this game. This shouldn't be surprising since Bully is essentially a school simulator where your teenage character is just trying to survive the social rigors of high school, and is not trying to emulate a violent Hollywood action flick.
It's also not surprising that Bully received great reviews from game critics and players alike; heck, it's a Rockstar game, after all. The only downside was that it exclusive to the PS2. However, that will change as Wii players will soon get the chance to go back to school with the updated Bully: Scholarship Edition.
The game is pretty much a straight port from the PS2 version with updated graphics and a few new additions; this is a good thing since the original was an absolute blast. You will still play as Jimmy Hopkins, a mischievous 15-year old who gets dumped off at the dilapidated Bullworth Academy boarding school while your parents take off on a year-long cruise around the world. Thanks, mom. As the new kid, you will have to survive being picked on by bullies, dealing with crazy school administrators, teachers and townfolk, kiss girls (or boys, if that's your fancy) and attend classes.
Yup, you have to actually go to class or you'll be busted for truancy. While being forced to attend classes in a video game sounds like some sort of cruel joke, they will actually give you handy bonuses when you pass the lessons, which are played out as minigames. For example, Shop class lets you build cool BMX bicycles; English gives you improved verbal skills to talk your way out of trouble; Gym class improves your fighting skills; and passing Chemistry gives you the ability to make stink bombs and firecrackers.
You will need these skills as you make your way up the school's social ladder. Along the way you'll have to deal with the school's cliques: Bullies, Greasers, Jocks, Nerds, Preppies and Townies, each with their own unique combat attributes. Combat includes good old hand-to-hand but you will also be able to smack enemies with cricket bats, fire extinguishers and ranged weapons like eggs and a slingshot. Heck, you can even use your own handcrafted firecrackers too. And no, you won't find any guns, blood, gory dismemberment or killing here so you can stop writing that angry protest letter.
The game isn't all about fighting, however. You can also take on a wide variety of sidequests like running errands, flipping burgers, delivering papers, mowing lawns or just cruise around town on your skateboard or bike. And yes, you can even play video games within this video game.
The school and the surrounding town are quite large, featuring various neighborhoods, commercial districts and plenty of secret areas, all populated with more than 100 unique NPCs. As you might expect in a Rockstar game, Bully doesn't take itself seriously and will have you rolling in laughter with its over-the-top characters (who engage in over 39,000 lines of conversation) and silly bathroom humor. Gameplay is also quite extensive, consuming upwards of 40+ hours.
Beyond graphical enhancements, the Scholarship Edition adds four new classes (biology, math, music and geography, for a grand total of ten), eight new missions and new unlockable goodies, clothes and awards. A brand new multiplayer mode lets two people compete in up to 10 class minigames, but sadly this is offline only.