Bully: Scholarship Edition is a game that will put some groups on edge with its very premise; that you role-play a bully by beating up your opponents with a variety of easily-made weapons. More than likely though, they haven't actually played the game.
The central character of Jimmy Hopkins presents not a Rebel without a Cause, but a peacemaker. All he wants is for everybody to get along, and he's not above using his fists to achieve this aim. In short, Bully: Scholarship Edition presents the foreign policy of the US over the last 15 years in a schoolyard setting.
The world is seen as in chaos because of its stupidity, and it's up to Jimmy Hopkins to save them. Along the way, he'll romance the girls, circumvent stupid authority figures (UN, NATO etc) and stop a diabolical manipulator from stealing power away from him (Nazis, Terrorists etc). But you're not here for a left-wing, pinko, Commie, ***got liberal rant; you're here for a review of the gameplay.
Rockstar have used a tried and tested formula to deliver fun gameplay. They've presented a watered-down version of the GTA series, and instead of this being a bad move, it proves a winning one. The mission structure; the fighting and characters could all be drawn from the seedy world of the GTA series, but instead of a wide ranging city to play with and high stakes, Bully: Scholarship Edition scales this back to a town, and low stakes gameplay. While this game doesn't reach any dramatic heights, it is fun, and it appears that all the elements have been designed with this in mind.
The combat engine is extraordinarily easy to master, and the boss fights are simple enough to figure out. The brawling engine consists of punches, kicks and grabs, with only a few combinations available. Tekken this ain't. Yet, wailing on nerds or jocks is quite fun. The game relies on the simple satisfaction in beating up the various social cliques, rather than wowing the player with complicated mechanics.
The boss fights range from the traditional 'run out of the way when he charges' to the 'take out all the minions first', and the fights themselves are rather pedestrian. It's a shame, because the missions leading up to that point are really quite fun. These range from the 'sneak around', 'fetch x number of items' and the 'beat up this kid'. They're all pretty standard missions that you've seen before, but their execution is superb; they're easy, but they're fun. Take, for instance, the 'sneak around in an insane asylum' mission. I've pretty much blown the content of the mission for you right there, but the wails of the demented and the comments of the orderlies keep you amused as you sneak around.
Outside of the mission system, you do have to go to school. Going to school consists of going to classes that consist of various mini games which are on the easy side of ridiculously easy. All of these again, are executed quite well, keeping you amused while you unlock bonuses for passing each class.
It's a pretty nifty way of getting the player to actually want to go to class once in a while.
The characters seem well to be well drawn, even if more than a few of them venture into stereotypes (such as the whole 'nerd' clique). They all have their own intricacies and quirks, from the nerd who wets himself (Algie) to the femme fatale greaser (Lola), they're all fun characters to interact with.
The graphics are passable, but don't ever dazzle the player which seems par for the course these days. It's a console port, and it looks like one. You can't really criticise the graphics without seeming pedantic, because they do a passable job. They do exactly what they're designed to do, draw the player into the game world. The graphics do their job, but don't dazzle.
One thing that really stuck in my craw about the game however, is the romance system.
This really seems tacked-on, doesn't add any extra dimension to the gameplay, and requires the player to take massive leaps of faith. You see, our protagonist has been hit by the ugly stick a fair bit. So when he's able to romance any girl with a line and a gift, you can't help but scoff at the harlots who only require this as a prerequisite to a makeout session with an uggo.
You'll notice that I've used the word 'fun' a lot during this review, and this is what Bully: Scholarship Edition is.
In many ways, this game harks back to the origins of GTA where fun was the order of the day, and the high stakes action of the recent versions wasn't present. It's short, it's sweet and it's a heck of a lot of fun.
Rockstar have done well to make sure the game doesn't reach into the realm of melodramatics, but instead sticks to its main strength in presenting an easily digested game.
My recommendation: Rent it for a fun weekend, but don't expect a masterpiece.
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