Rockstar Games is most famous for making the Grand Theft Auto series, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make other games. With Bully, Rockstar leaves the world of GTA behind in favor of one with wedgies, swirlies, and “kick me” signs. In addition to overhauling the graphics engine, the Scholarship Edition of Bully adds several extra missions, a few extra classes, and some other minor tweaks to the original PS2 game.
Bullworth Academy is home to snobby rich kids, oppressive teachers, and more bullies than you can shake a stick at. Enter Jimmy Hopkins, a rebellious teen who has been kicked out of several different schools in the past. He is dropped off at Bullworth by his mother and his brand new stepfather on the way to their honeymoon cruise (that just happens to last an entire year). Jimmy is soon working towards taking over the school in between going to (or skipping) class and getting on the principal’s bad side.
There are two classes every day at Bullworth, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Classes cycle through every few days, so you won’t be slogging through the same English class every single day. Of course, you can decide to skip classes entirely, but it will have several consequences. First, the school prefects will try to bust Jimmy if they find him being truant. Get caught, and you’ll be sent straight to the class you were supposed to be attending. This isn’t as big of a deal once the gates of the school open up, allowing you access to town. The cops there will also bust you, but there are a lot more places to hide outside Bullworth Academy’s walls.
The second consequence to skipping out is missing out on key skills that are learned during class. Gym class will teach you additional fighting moves, and Shop class unlocks better bicycles for you to ride around town. Each type of class is passed by completing different types of mini-games. English consists of a word scramble game, Chemistry has you pressing buttons to mix chemicals together, and Gym class will either be a wrestling match or dodgeball. Most of the things earned by completing classes have tangible benefits during the rest of the game.
When Jimmy isn’t attending class, he’ll probably be completing some sort of task for somebody else. It seems like he is a magnet for people that want something. New tasks are always popping up, some of which progress the story, and some of which are optional missions that net you some cash. There is a nice mix of things that Jimmy ends up doing, like sneaking into the girl’s dorm, escorting nerds across campus, collecting miscellaneous items, and pulling various pranks, among other things. Every mission is fairly short, so the game rarely gets frustrating due to failed tasks.
Bullworth feels like a living place due in large part to the interesting and humorous characters that populate the school. In fact, each character is so memorable that you will quickly begin to recognize the different students roaming around the campus. Bullworth is far from a realistic place with everyone falling somewhere between caricature and satire. For example, you will meet a fat nerd named Algernon who’s pants are always unzipped, the ultra grungy lunch lady who chain smokes and spits in the food, and the perpetually drunk English teacher.
The school is divided into several cliques that each have their own hangouts. Depending on your actions, the respect that each group has for you will go up and down, causing them them to become more hostile towards you if their respect goes down. During your time at Bullworth, you will encounter the Bullies, Preppies, Jocks, Nerds, Greasers, and Townies. Teachers fall into their own group, but each one has tendencies for one group or another, such as the coach falling in with the jocks.
Another unofficial group at Bullworth are the girls. Pulling pranks on guys is frowned upon, but harassing girls will instantly get the prefects after you. So if you’re planning on throwing a stink bomb into the middle of a crowd, it might be a good idea to make sure there aren’t any girls in the group. Jimmy is quite the ladies man on campus, and there is a tangible benefit to kissing as many girls that you can. After completing some Art classes, kissing girls will give you a health bonus, something that is a major help if you get into any big fights against multiple opponents. The more art classes that you complete, the bigger your health bonus. Of course you must get the girls to like you before they will even think about kissing you. If you’re not careful, you might just get a kick in the crotch for your trouble.
You might expect to find fisticuffs in a game called Bully, and you’d be right. Jimmy has several different fighting moves to help him deal with the more antagonistic citizens of Bullworth. More moves are unlocked through gym class, but if you want to unlock the really good moves, you’ll have to talk to the homeless vet that lives near the school. In exchange for transistor radio parts, the hobo will teach you secret moves he claims to have learned in the military. In addition to his fists and feet, Jimmy will acquire many different weapons throughout the game including a trusty slingshot. Many are classics used for pranks such as eggs, stink bombs, marbles, itching powder, and firecrackers. You will also come across some more powerful projectile weapons later in the game that pack more of a punch than your slingshot, however they lack the infinite ammo that makes your slingshot a “go to” weapon. Jimmy can also temporarily pick up disposable weapons such as baseball bats, trash can lids, and wooden planks.
So what if you just want to tool around town instead of going to classes or doing things for people? There are plenty of options in town to keep you busy. Simply riding around on your skateboard or bicycle is fun in its own right. You can also visit the several different stores in town to procure new clothes, a new haircut, or even a new tattoo. The Preppies have a boxing club in town where you can spar against several opponents. You can also find your way into the local carnival to play several different games including a shooting range and a dunk tank. The carnival also has a go-kart track with several different races to beat.
If you want to do all these things, you’ll need copious amounts of spending money. Certain missions will net you some cash, but there are also a few different jobs in town that are also a good way to make money. You can start a paper route or mow the grass in the park. Eventually, several bike races show up around town that are a good way to earn money while having a bit of fun at the same time. Bullworth also has a ton of collectibles to track down including rubber bands, “Grottos & Gremlins” trading cards, and smashable garden gnomes.
Now with all these different things to do, you might think that the quality of each activity might not be up to snuff, but you’d be wrong. Each task, job, and mini-game is well-polished and fun to play. I tip my hat to Rockstar for making a ton of disparate parts come together into a cohesive whole where everything feels like it belongs with everything else.
As a kid, almost everything has the potential to feel like an adventure, and Bully does a great job of capturing this vibe. A large contributor to this feeling is the excellent use of music in the game. In particular, the music that plays when you are riding your bicycle around captures the spirit of running off on random escapades. Additionally, different “chase” music will play depending on what clique is trying to run you down. Bully’s score also helps to set the somewhat tongue-in-cheek tone of the game. The world containing Bullworth Academy isn’t to be taken very seriously, and the music definitely fits within the humorous atmosphere.
Bully overcomes some of the inherent problems with sandbox-style games by providing a more focused experience in a world that isn’t quite as sprawling as some open-world games. The world is big enough to feel pretty open, but it is also small enough that you won’t be getting lost and it doesn’t take forever to get to your next objective. The game gives you enough freedom to play it like you want to, and there is enough variety in the missions that you’ll never get stuck doing something you don’t like for very long. Pretty soon you’ll be back on your skateboard, causing mayhem, and having a ton of fun.
Overall Grade: B+