Bully: Scholarship Edition

March 21, 2008

Return to Rockstar’s Bullworth Academy in this update to their 2006 open-world schoolyard adventure. Bully is the story of 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, a troublemaker with a penchant for fighting, throwing stink bombs, tripping kids with marbles, stuffing nerds into lockers, and kissing as many schoolmates as possible. His story perfectly embodies what many of us with high school could have been: fun regardless of what class you’re in, who you’re talking to, or what’s going on in the surrounding town.

Bully, like Grand Theft Auto II and its sequels, is a third-person sandbox adventure game. Unlike GTA, however, Jimmy has more to do than run missions for rival gangs. He’s also got to deal with nigh on invincible authority figures like teachers, prefects, and police officers and attending classes. Jimmy’s schedule is pretty full, too. Morning classes run from 9:00 to 11:30 while afternoon classes run from 1:00 to 3:30. By game’s end Jimmy will have attended five session each of Chemistry, English, Gym, Math, Biology, Shop, Geography, Photography, Art, and Music. As each class session is passed Jimmy is rewarded. Passing chemistry nets Jimmy the ability to make firecrackers and stink bombs in his room while performing well in gym results in new fighting moves. Each class is played out as a minigame. Art class is a quick game of Qix, English is a word jumble, and biology is comprised of arcade dissections. The variety is appreciated, and each class ramps up in difficulty enough that you’ll have a genuine sense of accomplishment (and some free time in your day) for completing all five English classes.

While he’s not attending classes Jimmy can take on various missions to advance the story. These missions affect the school’s various cliques’ respect for Jimmy. This affects just how safe it is to walk around certain areas of campus. Lose too much respect with the Greasers and the auto shop area will be full of punches and kicks instead of wrenches and gasoline. On the other hand, if you’re in good with the bullies then they’ll have your back when you get in a fight near the boys’ dorm. Missions are varied in scope and difficulty, but if the mini map marker is a gold star then it serves to advance the narrative. You’ll find RPG character sheets for nerds, recover a stolen diary, clear out a line at the movies, run errands for the lunch lady, and get into plenty of fights along the way.

Jimmy is fairly adept at combat. Even still it’s nice to learn new and more powerful moves. Passing gym classes and making deliveries to the school hobo (ex-Army) will result in Jimmy learning new fighting techniques. When the adventure begins Jimmy is fairly restricted – just punches and grapples. Within a few hours though, he’ll be grappling, hitting twice, driving an opponent to the ground, punching twice more, kneeing the groin, pulling his opponent up, and then delivering a wedgie. Nobody dies, but the loser sure is embarrassed at the end of a fight.

When you’re not in the mood to either advance the story or go to class there are various errands and side jobs to run. These range from breaking into lockers to hide chocolates from a secret admirer to mowing lawns for the residents of Bullworth town. Every errand has a reward, and every side job results in a cash payment. There’s plenty to do in Bully and it’s all worth doing. And if you don’t want to make extra cash you can always hang out at the carnival or find one of the town’s arcade games to whittle away the time until curfew.

Bully: Scholarship Edition is an easy recommendation for fans of sandbox and action games. The writing is good, the mechanics are sound, and regardless of what your task is it’s always fun. Those that played the PS2/Xbox original will find new content and souped up graphics, but this title really shines for those of us that missed out on Jimmy’s adventure the first time.

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.