Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bully: Scholarship Edition (Wii, 360) Review

Can you believe it's already almost halfway into August? Time is just flying, is it not? No better review for this time of year than Bully: Scholarship Edition, and you'll see why.

Rule the School.

It's back-to-school time. Children, teens, and that 30 year old guy still in your algebra class are getting geared to head back to class. For the students at Bullworth Academy in Bully: Scholarship Edition, a remake of the Playstation 2 and Xbox game, school is once again in session, and you have a visitor's pass to play it all. Originally released in 2006, Bully met high praise and critical acclaim. Is the remake, Bully: Scholarship Edition, a game with passing marks, or is this a game that's doomed to flunk out and flip burgers?

Meet Jimmy Hopkins-- a fifteen year old troublemaker who has been expelled from countless schools. Now his parents have enrolled him in Bullworth Academy, a private institution unlike any other, full of bullies and brutes, nerds and dweebs. Jimmy wants to make a name for himself at Bullworth, and it starts with taking each of the school's cliques down a peg. There's the geeks, preps, greasers, and jocks to contend with. Each of the game's five chapters has Jimmy going after a different clique on his conquest to take over Bullworth Academy, and it's a fun ride to the top, seeing Jimmy in full control of all groups of kids. Voice acting is on-par with past Rockstar efforts meaning it's terrific. The humor this time around is more PG-13, so don't look for any Room 69 innuendo or Hot Coffee incidents here.

360: Aww... Jimmy's already making friends.

Bully is a open-world sandbox game. At the beginning of the game, only Bullworth Academy is open to carouse around, but by the end the entire town is open for business, from the amusement park to downtown Bullworth to the industrial park. Those accustomed to Grand Theft Auto's game structure will feel right at home with Bully. You travel to the mission start location, travel to the designated destination, pull off the required task, and then travel to the next mission location to start the process all over again. The mission variety is quite large. There's your standard fetch quests and go-here-and-beat-up-this-guy missions, but there's also missions tasking Jimmy with infiltrating an asylum and the girls' dormitory which requires keen stealth and patience. One mission I enjoyed had you destroying all of the nearby port-a-potties in sight in order to coax a gym teacher into a special port-a-crapper which Jimmy knocks down a steep hill, covering the teacher in putrid poop. Fortunately, if failure occurs, some of the longer missions have in-mission checkpoints, but most do not which means failing forces you to travel all the way back to the mission location to restart the mission. That's just archaic and annoying.

360: Getting caught by the man.

Story missions are just half of the content in Bully: Scholarship Edition. The game follows a 24 hour in-game clock. Each in-game hour is sixty seconds. Jimmy didn't go to Bullworth just to raise hell though-- he went there to get an education, and two times a day he's required to go to class. Of course, you can always skip class, but there's always a teacher or police officer ready to drag Jimmy to class if he's not careful. There are multiple subjects that are randomly selected each day, and each subject has five classes Jimmy must complete in order to pass that subject. Jimmy will take part in English, Mathematics, Geography, Gym, Music, Shop, Art, Biology, and Chemistry classes. In English, Jimmy has a six letter word that he has to rearrange into as many words as possible, Math has Jimmy solving quick multiple-choice problems, and Geography has Jimmy placing country flags on a world map. Hey, who said video games don't test the mind!? Shop and Chemistry require quick button presses or Wii remote motions depending on the console of choice-- it's like one huge quick-time event. Completing a class gives Jimmy new bonuses such as costumes, collectible locations, bikes to ride, and moves to unleash on foes.

There's also plenty to do around the town of Bullworth: sights to see, people to punish, officers to harass-- y'know, kids' stuff. The amusement park located in the western part of town is home to many carnival games such as shooting galleries and dunk tanks. There's many mini-games around town to complete for those wanting to finish 100% of the game. There's go-cart races, bike races, newspaper courier missions, lawn-mowing missions, 75 rubber bands to scrounge up, 20 Gremlins-n-Goblin cards to gather, a yearbook to create, and loads more. Those who strive to complete games 100% will easily spend 20-30 hours playing through all of Bully's content and enjoy every minute of it.

Wii: You use the pointer to trace around the heart.

Players can fully customize Jimmy with an expansive catalog of purchasable items and gear. You can dress in full school spirit or dress like a greaser, dress clean or dress sloppy. The choice is yours. Dress nice though, or your affections towards the opposite sex will get shot down. There's hundreds of clothing options available, so it'll be difficult to find something players won't like seeing Jimmy in. You can also travel to a local hairdresser to style Jimmy's 'do in one of many ways. Be conservative with a crew cut or rock out with a mohawk. Again, the choice is yours.

Speaking of choices, Bully: Scholarship Edition is an excellent experience on either console, but there are differences between versions. I prefer the Wii version due to its cool controls. It's cool being able to point at where you want to aim the slingshot, use the Wii remote and nunchuk to punch with Jimmy's right and left hands respectively, and play Trauma Center-lite in Biology class, dissecting frogs and pigs with the Wii remote. With the Xbox 360 version you get a more enticing visual package with less pop-in, draw distance issues, and other graphical glitches. You also get achievements if that's you're bag. However, there's enough unlockable content without achievements to make players want to complete as much of the game as possible. Both games, however, do have a lot of loading screens entering and exiting buildings which is vexing after a bit. Regardless, between versions, it's just a matter of which console you prefer to play the game on.

360: A gym favorite, dodge-ball.

All in all, Bully: Scholarship Edition is a worthwhile purchase regardless of what console you get it on. The story is entertaining, the characters are likable and interesting, the missions are varied, few are frustrating, there's tons to do, tons to unlock, and each console has its own benefits to make either version a winner. With bonus missions and new classes, graduates of the original Playstation and Xbox game will have a reason to check this version out, too. Overall, Bully: Scholarship Edition for Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360 gets high marks and definitely won't have to be held back a year for failing.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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