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Video Game Review: “Bully: Scholarship Edition”

   Bully is a videogame I have had in my queue for nearly two decades now, something which usually entails I have long since forgotten about it and never intend to play it. I can’t explain it, but I always found myself both drawn to and negated from Bully for a reason I couldn’t understand. In the PlayStation 2 era, Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas were my jam, and you’d think I would be drawn to Bully just as well. I wasn’t though. Maybe it was the school aesthetic and a general misconception that Bully was a pretentious, preppy videogame, or something, I haven’t the faintest, but I am happy to say I am now equipped to share my thoughts about Bully to all of you.

   And, when I say that, I mean – I spent a lot of time with Bully (almost 30 hours, in fact). This is because I went ahead and did everything you could do with Bully, earning all the Achievements (which meant completing the main story, all the side missions, all the classes, all the errand missions, every mini-game / scoring the high score on all the Arcade games, finding the hundreds and hundreds of collectibles, and whatever else I had to do).

   It wasn’t an easy feat.

   This is largely because Bully: Scholarship Edition is apparently the worst version of Bully to play. On the Xbox 360 version, I encountered so many glitches (none that outright ruined the experience or made it unplayable) which added a new dimension to completing Bully.

   A lot of the glitches were graphical. Every time the main character sat down in the classroom, his whole body did a full 360 and contorted like a man possessed. I had one instance where I completed a boss battle and it restarted the cut-scene and made me fight him all over again. The sound would sometimes go in and out, or the character would veer left instead of right. Sometimes, it seemed like something was meant to happen, like characters were meant to chase after me, and instead, they were frozen in place.

   Overall though, the most unfortunate glitch I encountered, but thankfully, found out about rather early, is that errand missions (these are basically tasks throughout the town, like egging a person’s car or finding a lost dog) are glitched. Although they aren’t listed on the map, errands aren’t random and can be triggered in a certain location, under certain specifications. The issue I was having is that they wouldn’t be. After completing the campaign, I started narrowing in on them, and discovered I couldn’t find them! It appears that everything is set up a certain, specific way, and after you play awhile, it falls out of place (likely an issue that arose from porting it to the Xbox 360), throwing everything off its rhythm. By loading my save file every now and again, I was able to ‘reset’ it all, and that immediately made all the difference for it.

   Otherwise, Bully: Scholarship Edition plays okay. I know I listed a lot, but most of it was mostly inconsequential, mostly infrequent, and easily remedied if needed. In spite of the worst fears, I never had any issue collecting Achievements (none of them were bugged) and I can confidently say that Bully: Scholarship Edition on the Xbox 360 is a solid, largely unhampered way to experience Bully (and even if it wasn’t, it’s not like I am doing it again).

   In Bully, the player assumes the role of Jimmy, a troubled but well-meaning teenager who has found himself banned from every high school imaginable. In a last ditch effort, he is enrolled at Bullworth Academy, one of the toughest, harshest schools around. Hereafter, he finds himself tasked with completing classes (like Math, Biology, and Music) and building relationships with students and school faculty. Inspired by his disdain for bullies, and maybe, a little bit, his own warped worldview, Jimmy tries to ‘take over the school,’ which means claiming leadership of the various different factions, like the nerds, jocks, preps, greasers, so on and so forth.

   It is an interesting premise for a videogame, and, in a lot of ways, I would say Bully is years ahead of its time and could act as the blueprint for a bigger, better videogame someday later on. This isn’t to say that Bully in itself isn’t big or good, but that it doesn’t manage to reach the height of its own lofty ambitions. The idea of an edgy high school simulator with an open-world component is a tall order and, for a large part, hasn’t ever been attempted before or since on this magnitude.

   The story is decent, if a little messier than desired. Laid out, it is actually a very simple, thin story that can be summarized in a sentence or two – Jimmy is manipulated by another student early on. That student becomes the bad guy of the game later on. There are other layers to it, but they don’t always feel like they work very cohesively, or like they aren’t as smart or nuanced as you’d want. The villain disappears for long periods at a time, and then, comes back and we are meant to believe that events that happened were all a part of his master plan, and it doesn’t feel very earned in that respect. Likewise, too, certain characters who are interested, like a character named Zoe, while likable, are introduced abruptly and far too late to make them feel warranted. It is a story that is satisfactory, but one that feels under cooked and like all the side-missions and objectives didn’t always benefit it.

   The game-play is both fun and flawed, and is really the meat of Bully. Bully overall has a fun, playful nature that can endear you, and the game-play largely exemplifies that. Although it isn’t the most apt comparison, sometimes Bully’s a bit like a WarioWare spin-off. Not really, but you know what I mean. It has mini-games. A lot of them. A lot. Of. Them.

   This was a criticism leveled at Bully by a lot of critics, but I was actually absolutely here for that.

   They aren’t all the best.

   In-fact, a lot of them are bowling shoe ugly.

   However, a lot of them are fun.

   Most times too, they are over before you have the chance to rip your hair out or become bored with them. I liked the arcade games, a couple of the Carnival games, etc., and, I didn’t like some others. It’s a mixed-bag, for sure, but I had more fun than not. As for the classes, which are the most prevalent mini-games, they’re alright as well. Geography and Shop are the only ones I’d single-out as egregious, with Geography being harder than the average person could do without a walk-through and Shop being rather awkward to maneuver (especially when you’re not allowed a lot of practice on it).

   Exploring Bullworth is a lot of fun.

   Skateboarding through, looking at the various different districts and completing small objectives, doing Go-Kart Races and Bike Races, and errands throughout the city, it scratches that open-world itch in a fulfilling way. It doubles down on what I said earlier with the WarioWare comparison and sheds light on why it can be difficult to articulately recommend Bully altogether. It isn’t ever any one thing, condensed down and more concentrated than the average open-world. Everything feels like an excuse for a mini-game or a small activity, and although they’re never outright great, they’re mostly enjoyable and it offers so much variety that nothing ever becomes stale.

   As it ends, Bully stays with good company. I don’t believe it is a great game, hurt by its lack of character depth and the hit-to-miss ratio on everything it packs into itself, but I was definitely charmed by it and I definitely recommend it. It has a kinetic likability that isn’t always common, where it never musters the dramatic depth or highs of the best open-world game, but it is also rarely has lulls or moments where I’m disinterested. I cared enough to do everything there was to do (a feat I feel helped my appreciation of its attention to detail and the small lore buried in I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed) and I believe that’s a very big compliment.

Rating: – 3.6 out of 5.0

Written by Nicholas "Nick" McConnaughay

Nicholas McConnaughay is a writer of books and a connoisseur in the fine art of storytelling. He spent his formative years binging slasher films like Child's Play and A Nightmare on Elm Street, and blames that for some of his quirkier tendencies.

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