Dog Eat Dog

I’ve been spending quite a bit of my time lately playing Bully Scholarship Edition. It’s not a title that I would have really considered buying myself but it came up as an option in a swap and I thought it would be an interesting game to try out.

Crossing Harry Potter with Grand Theft Auto, this modern take on the ground covered by the ZX Spectrum’s Skool Daze, was ported to the Xbox 360 from the 2006 PS2 “Canis Canem Edit” original.

Set in the late 90s, you play Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled young gent who is sent off to boarding school by his mother and her new husband.

The game isn’t really about bullying but rather about fighting against the bullies and surviving in the school from hell. To do this you need to win over the various factions, the bullies, the nerds, the jocks, the greasers and the preppies. There’s certainly no subtly in the characterisations with every stereotype you’ve ever seen in any US teen movie included. This can cause cut-scenes to become incredibly annoying on occasions but it’s really easy to skip them.

My initial fears about this title, though, seemed to be justified. I’m not really into juvenile humour. I’ve never been particularly interest in giving wedgies, pulling pranks and running around kissing people (not in a computer game, anyway). The first section of Bully saw me teamed with an incredibly annoying character, carrying out tasks that I had, frankly, no interest in.

Thank goodness for achievements. Without the “stain” on my gamer profile I would’ve taken this out after the first half hour and never put it back in. I’m really glad that I didn’t. Once the annoying character had been removed from the scene, the game, for me, started to get an awful lot better.

The game world is fairly large with new sections of the town unlocking each chapter. It’s not too vast though and you can quickly get around on foot, by skateboard or on one of the many bicycles. Vehicle sections later in the game also see you riding on lawnmowers and in go-karts.

There’s certainly a lot packed into the whole game experience. Unlike some titles, there’s a lot of variety in the missions. You attend lessons, carry out random errands, complete story missions, take part in races, play arcade games, explore for collectables, beat bosses and engage in random combat. There are absolutely tons of mini-games for those who like that sort of thing.

The school lessons are done very well. In English, the word seek activity, despite its apparent simplicity, is actually challenging. The music lessons are great and consist of simple rhythm games where Jimmy plays along with a suitably awful school band. PE sees you competing in wrestling and dodge ball. The art lesson is a bizarre cross between an etch-a-sketch and Tron’s light cycle game. Science involves timed button presses, in chemistry, and careful dissection, in biology.

Control in the game is generally good. It’s easy to move Jimmy around the place, select items and carry out tasks. Combat works well. It is single button fighting but you get an increasing range of moves to use. Weapons such as the slingshot, spud gun, itching powder, stink bombs and fireworks are all available.
Bully is usually quite a forgiving game. A mission failure is never catastrophic and doesn’t require too much back tracking. Save points can be accessed at most times and missions are never too long that they become tedious or boring.

The achievements are well thought out. There is just the right mix of normal play awards, ones that you need to specifically target and a couple of complete and collect everything.

Overall I actually ended up liking the game quite a lot. At the time of writing I’m on the last chapter and I’ve almost overcome my embarrassment of playing it! I still don’t think that I would’ve paid full price for the game but I have enjoyed it. The lack of any online multiplayer component (although there is apparently a local mini-games mode) will mean that most people will probably get better value from Bully Scholarship Edition as a rental.

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