There are just some games that just hold onto that little valve of nostalgia in your heart and make you fall in love with them again and again. You may forget about their existence for years, but then while cleaning you rediscover that old game disk and start your journey anew. Bully: Scholarship Edition is one of such titles. Created by RockStar Games and originally released for PlayStation 2, and then later made available for Xbox 360, Wii, Playstation 3, and PC, Bully: Scholarship Edition grants us that timeless experience of being trapped in a boarding school and having to decide whether to walk the line of good or evil.
We’ve encountered a lot of “teen experiences in a boarding school” settings as of late, with Dontnod’s explosive Life Is Strange dominating most of our top-ten lists in 2015. But let’s forget about the spunky Max Caulfield and her journey through Blackwell Academy for a bit. Let’s instead turn our attention to our boarding school protagonist of old, who prefers launching rotting eggs at his foes rather than rewinding time. This, dear reader, is the experience of Bully: Scholarship Edition, and what a wild ride it will take you on as it sucks you into its world of charm and chaos.
Still, as good as this ride may be, no game comes without its kinks. Without further ado, it’s time to delve into The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly of Bully: Scholarship Edition.
Bully: Scholarship Edition tells the story of 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, a delinquent expelled from multiple schools who has just found himself dropped off at the door of Bullworth Academy. Bullworth is home to many young men just like Jimmy–whose fists are more active than their brains–, and Jimmy is quickly taken off his pedestal as he is robbed of his money at the start of the game. From here, you meet Gary Smith and Pete “Petey” Kowalski, who become your band of brothers so to speak. They quickly show you the guide to life at Bullworth Academy before you can even change into your new, spiffy school uniform.
One thing that I have always enjoyed is how realistic this game is to the high school experience! You have all sorts of cliques: Jocks, Nerds, Bullies, Greasers. True to high school, if you piss off one person in a clique, your reputation with that entire clique falls straight into the toilet; likewise, if you win over one person in a clique, your reputation with that clique’s members skyrockets. Jimmy chooses not to join a clique, which allows him to make enemies and friends with all sorts of people.
There are two classes per day for Jimmy to attend, going over all sorts of subjects. Once you complete five assignments for a class, you no longer are expected to attend, allowing you more time to complete the game’s tasks. While some classes are quite fun and challenging, others are…well, we’ll go into those later.
You can also choose how you want Jimmy to be portrayed in the game. You can attend your classes, make friends, and help people out. You can also apologize to people you have upset, including the prefects! Or, you can choose to fight literally everyone in the game, skip your classes, and make an overall nuisance of yourself. I personally play Jimmy as a good guy, but even I had to slip into the dark side occasionally to acquire Achievements based on pulling pranks on those around me. There’s nothing wrong with a good stink bomb or watching someone slip ‘n’ slide away on a batch of marbles!
The storyline is also quite believable. The main characters in each clique–along with Gary and Petey–are reminiscent of the personalities found in every school. Not every Jock, for instance, is portrayed in a typical brainless fashion; several have backstories to set them apart from one another. There is a case of alcoholism, a variant of Dungeons & Dragons, and the chance to befriend a hobo that the other kids pick on. If you show you care, he will reward you greatly.
As you can see, there are many characters inhabiting the world of Bully: Scholarship Edition. More on that later, as well.
For a game that requires as much fighting as it does, I assumed it would be rewarding to use the different skill combos you learn from the tutorials, your physical education classes, and from your good friend The Hobo.
Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Just like with a good arcade game, button mashing is all that you need to win the fights in Bully: Scholarship Edition. You still need to brainstorm to pick up on your enemy’s movement patterns, but even the boss fights can be won in one or two attempts by simply backing that boss into a corner and whaling on your X Button (for Xbox users, and the corresponding button for PlayStation, Wii, and PC gamers) until they meet their maker. Sure, it’s satisfying that post-fight, Jimmy will help most of his foes to their feet and explain to them that he doesn’t hate them and wants to be bros for life, but I feel a bit cheated that performing some of the combos actually hurts in boss fights because the pauses that Jimmy takes to execute them gives the boss a chance to unpin himself.
Yes, I said himself.
In Bully: Scholarship Edition, Jimmy takes girls on dates, not to hospitals. Heart of gold, Jimmy Hopkins. Heart of gold.
A lesser evil is also the image output. Again, this game was originally created for PlayStation 2 users nearly a decade ago. Despite having been ported over years later to other next-gen consoles, the original graphics are still decade-old quality. They are in no way bad, but it does make life harder for Let’s Players, who often have a hard time getting the quality they want out of the game. Using higher graphics controls often causes the game to crash, leaving YouTubers stuck with a less-than-optimal output. But hey, if you like the low-res quality you see on the screen, then you should have no issue dropping $14.99 to pick up a higher-res version of your very own!
Earlier in this article, I mentioned Jimmy’s classes and the plethora of people he encounters throughout Bullworth Academy, noting that I would refer back to them later. And that is because these are the two aspects that make up the Ugly part of this article.
Bullworth Academy is filled with students from all walks of life. This is a great feature, and I’m thankful for that. However, too many of them are fighting to become “main characters”, and this is where the issue arises.
There is the main member(s) of each clique, and those are faces easy to remember and interact with. But sooner or later you’ll get a mission that says, “Go find [insert name here]”, and you’re just stuck thinking…who? It’ll turn out that this person is a minor character that you might have met and spoken to only once, but now you’re forced to help them with whatever mission they have decided to go through with. It keeps the game from becoming stale, sure, but I often found myself wanting to bond and interact more with some of our staple characters rather than just the last kid-in-the-corner.
Luckily, after completing some of your Photography classes, you are awarded with a School Yearbook, which you can use to tie together some of the names with some of the faces around the school.
Oh yeah, I was supposed to go over the problems with Jimmy’s classes, too…
As mentioned prior, Jimmy has a plethora of classes to take during his stay at Bullworth Academy, some of which include English, Geography, Math, Biology, Chemistry, Gym, Shop, and Photography. There are five assignments to complete for each class, and successful completion rewards Jimmy with new clothing and skills. Some of the classes are quite fun and challenging (English features a word scramble, where you have to make out words from the letters provided; Geography gives you a chance to test your knowledge of where countries are located and what the capitals of states are) but others are either throwaways or showcases the game’s sometimes buggy controls.
Math is one of what I would call a throwaway class. Jimmy is presented with basic mathematical equation (10×7 anyone?) and drawings of three objects to select which is smaller (like a space station, a koala, and an ant). He must get a certain percentage of these right within the allotted time, but really these are way too basic for a sophomore to undergo in the grand scheme of things. There are also the Chemistry and Music classes, in which Jimmy just has to hit buttons in a certain order (think Dance Dance Revolution with a controller) in order to pass. Again, throwaways.
On the flip side, some classes are made worse due to programming woes. In Jimmy’s shop classes (which reward him with new bicycles upon the completion of each assignment), you must rotate your controller’s joysticks at certain times. On the screen, it just shows “Rotate LS counterclockwise”. But I failed the first class three times before learning that it wants you to start with the joystick pointing downward, not in any other position. Why wasn’t this explained in the instructions? Why is this important at all?
We also have Jimmy’s Biology classes, which feature the dissections of various woodland creatures. The cursor moves so slowly throughout this course that it becomes nearly impossible to finish the assignment within the allotted time during some of the later classes. Also, when putting organs into Jimmy’s Petri dish, you have to aim for just the right spot on the dish; otherwise, you have to start all over.
Thanks a lot, RockStar Games.
Overall Rating: 8.5
This is truly one of those games that I am always excited to pick up and start again and again. Although there may be some small things that irk me here and there, Bully: Scholarship Edition provides us with such a delightful, open-world experience that it’s hard to put the game down until you’ve finished all of the missions on your map.
With the rise of Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U, I keep hoping that we’ll see another reboot of this series coming to us soon, or at least a similar title released from RockStar Games soon to provide us with fun and excitement that is a little more kindhearted than some of the Grand Theft Auto titles (although those are plenty of fun as well, for other reasons!)
Bottom Line: I’d definitely give Bully: Scholarship Edition a playthrough when you have a free weekend. I’d recommend getting a digital download, as some of the physical copies are still going for upwards of $50.00 on Amazon.com. Whether you want to be the hero or the bully, Jimmy Hopkins quickly becomes a lovable character with a kind heart underneath his tough exterior.
Maybe his mother will let him come back home now.