Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bully : Scholarship Edition

Humor and social commentary coupled with open-world gameplay have made Bully : Scholarship Edition for the Wii one of those games that I have a hard time putting down. It's a boarding school simulation with lots of fighting, an overarching story, and lots of different objectives and mini-games to chase after.

Players take the role of Jimmy, a tough kid who's been kicked out of other schools and finds himself dropped off at the Bullworth Academy by his indifferent parents. Jimmy finds himself adrift in a school full of different factions - nerds, jocks, bullies, preppies, and greasers - as well as girls - with choices to make about how to behave around them all.

You get to go to class, and each class is a different mini-game unto itself. Music class is a rhythm game using various percussion instruments, and biology is essentially a copy of the Tramua Center games, with various tools being used to dissect all sorts of dead things, rendered in near photo-realism. Art class is strange - it's basically a copy of the old arcade game Qix, where the player sections off parts of the screen to reveal the picture he's painting of the hot art teacher.

Missions help the story unfold, or offer ways to make money. There are vehicles such as a skateboard and bikes to unlock. The bike is especially useful in getting around the surrounding town, which opens up at the start of the second chapter. One of the jobs you can get is that of a paper boy, and again, like the arcade game, you ride around and deliver papers.

There's a huge area to explore around the school and town, lots of hidden places to find, and collection quests to work on along the way. The controls on the Wii work very well, using the motion sensing for some special moves that Jimmy learns from the homeless guy living behind the school. Some of them are hard to train - one move in particular required insanely fast timing, and even after I learned it I've only been able to do it once in battle.

The humor comes from the crazy cast of characters around the school - shy girls you can get to kiss you, alcoholic teachers, a disgustingly exaggerated stereotypical lunch lady, and preppies indignant that you beat their best boxer in the ring (there is, by the way, a great boxing game built into Bully). The cutscenes that let the characters shine are always welcome and enjoyable.

I never thought that I'd want to relive my own school days and teen angst in a videogame, but Bully does it so well that even familiar moments of adolescent awkwardness are fun to resolve in ways that I never got to in real life. There's really so much to see and do in Bully : Scholarship Edition for the Wii that this is one school year that I hope never ends.

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