Video Game Rentals Delivered

Bully: Scholarship Edition

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-03-20 22:52:27

Bully: Scholarship Edition - Rank C

Developer: Rockstar Vancouver, ported by Mad Doc Software
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Date: 3/4/08

Also available for Wii and PlayStation 2

Bully: Scholarship Edition is a port of the PlayStation 2 game that was originally released over a year and a half ago. Even then, it wasn't known for its graphical quality, and the minor increase in resolution certainly doesn't place it in the upper echelon of visually appealing games today. The Xbox 360 should therefore run this game with ease, but Bully: Scholarship Edition is marred with numerous technical problems, and the high definition output only serves to show them in stark detail. These issues spoil the genuine fun Bully originally provided.

The protagonist is Jimmy Hopkins, a new student to Bullworth Academy, which serves as a boarding school and breeding ground for social misanthropes. Starting as the reviled, new guy scrub, Jimmy juggles his school work, social life, and Machiavellian manipulation of Bullworth's archetypical cliques (jocks, nerds, preppies, etc.) in an effort to become the respected and adulated high muck-a-muck big man on campus. Every aspect of this secondary education experience is simplified and exaggerated to the point of silliness, but Bully manages to strike a primal chord with its ability to relate certain adolescent Lord of the Flies truisms. If you hated high school, you might find Bully to be cathartic.

Feel free to ignore the ignorant pundits and parent groups that have decried Bully as "a Columbine simulator". That Jack Thompson is a hoot. Yes, there is violence in the form of vicious schoolyard fistfights, but many high school students witness worse on their own campuses. Admittedly, bats and two by fours are accessible in the game, but these generally need to be liberated from the grasp of your tormentors. Your personal arsenal consists of silliness like itching powder, bags of marbles, and a trusty slingshot. A potato spewing spud-cannon is as close as you get to a firearm. Also, Bully plays out as a fairly traditional morality tale. Jimmy isn't so much a bully as he is a reluctant Robin Hood that rescues the downtrodden from bullies. Imagine Holden Caulfield, only as less of a pussy.

Bully's gameplay is directly adapted from Grand Theft Auto's design structure, only the hookers, thugs, and carjackings have been replaced with girls who don't go past first base, truants, and skateboards. The narrative is driven by a sequential mission structure that you can activate at whatever pace you please. In between story elements, you can explore the sprawling school and surrounding town, which are chock full of tons of stuff to do. Either way, you have access to a huge variety of gameplay. There's a "wanted meter", only instead of cops looking to bust you for major felonies, prefects chase you for skipping class, or being out and about after curfew. Even more so than Grand Theft Auto, the world of Bully is densely populated with distinct people with names and at least rudimentary personalities.

Rockstar excels at assembling compelling narratives. It's not that Bully's overall story is special or amazing (it's passable), it's that the individual plot points are so well delivered. Those of you who read my columns know that over-bloated cut scenes are a particular vexation of mine. Rockstar, however, understands the medium of videogames, and manages to convey a significant amount of characterization and crisis into succinct snippets -funny and snappy dialogue delivered by solid voice acting and direction- that don't interfere with actually playing the game. Bully is largely successful in creating sympathetic characters whose foibles drive the story in a satisfying fashion. The setting is also exemplary: Bullworth Academy is convincing, and in addition to day and night cycles, the changing seasons grant a strong sense of the passing (and increasingly tense) school year.

Should you want a break from the narrative, Bully will keep you busy with plenty of side distractions. Mini-games run the gamut from attending classes to tagging graffiti. You can engage in photography, hunting down the mug shots of each student for the yearbook. Money must be earned by mowing lawns or playing delivery boy. There are bike and go kart races to win, and arcade and carnival games to play. If you're pathologically drawn to scavenger hunt collectathons, you can find all of the hidden rubber bands, trading cards, and garden gnomes strewn throughout the town. You can woo and smooch the girls (or boys), although this is disappointingly shallow. There are no ramifications to pursuing a particular girl or another, and no actual relationships to be had, although it's amusing to watch jealousy-fueled catfights.

The Scholarship Edition features some new content, in the form of a few new classes and missions to partake of. Multiplayer has been added to some of the mini-games. Most notably, frame rate hiccups, graphical pop-in, audio glitches, and crashes have been implemented into the Xbox 360 version. The crashing is particularly egregious, as the archaic save system could result in a significant loss of game progress. A patch has been released to address this, but many people still seem to be having difficulties.

There's a good game underlying these issues, but they seriously detract from the enjoyment of Bully. Unless you simply must earn the achievement points, I recommend picking up either the Wii or PlayStation 2 version of the game.

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