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Bully: Scholarship Edition

(Rockstar; US: 3 Mar 2008)

Portrait of the Thug As a Young Man Redux

“He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man.  He must be, to use a weathered phrase, a man of honor by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. . .


“He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all.  He is a common man or he could not go among common people.  He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job.  He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge.”
-Raymond Chandler, “Simple Art of Murder”


“I only give people what they have coming to them.”
-Jimmy Hopkins, Age 15


Raymond Chandler, the creator of detective Phillip Marlowe, may have been describing his sense of who the hardboiled detective is in his essay, “Simple Art of Murder”, but he may as well have been describing another hero in the two-fisted pulp tradition.  Jimmy Hopkins, common teenager amongst common teenagers, believes in reciprocity, be it financial, ethical, or simply brutal.


This is the second appearance of Rockstar’s young protagonist, Bully: Scholarship Edition serving as an extended version of the 2006 game that featured an open world approach to the violent psychoses of the junior high or middle school experience.  The Bully franchise is more or less Grand Theft Auto filtered through the meaner streets of boarding school.


As a result, those who experienced the game the first time around will be treading a lot of familiar ground.  For myself, a big fan of the first game, even this, my third or fourth play through the world of Jimmy Hopkins was nearly as fun, funny, and horrifically familiar (in terms of the game’s ability to evoke afresh memories of the misery and madness of adolescence) as it was the first time through.


The satire of this particular experience of the brutal competition, confused relationships, and silly classroom assignments seemingly designed only to keep hormone-crazed teenagers busy until they can mature enough to actually learn something is still pitch perfect.  Even now, listening to the dialogue of the other students as Jimmy makes his way around Bullworth Academy, still has me laughing out loud at the general “truthiness” of it all. 


However, I spent most of my time the first time that I reviewed the original game discussing the strengths of Bully as a satire of this period in everyone’s life as well as the emotional power of this gaming experience brought to life through Rockstar’s clever approach to immersing the player in the role of Jimmy Hopkins.  Feel free to check in on that review for more discussion related to those elements of the game in our archives.


Ostensibly, this new edition of Bully is intended to further flesh out these immersive qualities of the game both through its mechanics and its additional story-related missions.  The version that I am reviewing on the Wii particularly focuses on furthering the immersive aspects of the game by providing more physical simulations of Jimmy’s actions and activities.  Such immersiveness is especially evident in the additional classroom minigames that govern Jimmy’s time at Bullworth.


Picking up a scalpel via the Wiimote and guiding it through the flesh of a frog or fetal pig in Biology class before prying back that flesh with a sideways motion of the controller and pinning it back for examination in Biology class has an authentic feeling to it.  Both my wife and I let out audible “ewwwws” as a result of this process.


Similarly, a new Music class minigame has Jimmy playing a variety of instruments, from a cowbell to drums, by swinging the Wiimote and nunchuk up and down in time to the beats.


Beyond the physical sensation of these “hands on” experiences of performing educational busywork, the other two classes now offered, Math and Geography, round out the school time experience in the game.  These additions are all quite good as they extend Jimmy’s more ordered existence in this open world.  While Grand Theft Auto is good at emphasizing the freedom of criminality through its open world and the ability to do nearly anything at any time within that world, Bully cleverly contains a simulation of the freedoms of childhood while acknowledging that such freedom is stunted by the more structured world of school bells and constant evaluation.  One of the weaknesses of the original game was that with fewer classes required, Jimmy could be freed from his schoolwork easily by half way through the game.  These additions had me running back to school regularly to not miss a class.


The other notable elements fleshing out the game world are several new missions that emerge by the third act of the game.  Some of these missions help to enhance a sense of the Townie faction represented by the citizens of the town of Bullworth—a subculture of the school experience that was more superficially explored in the original game.  Some of them simply add some additional events that further expose the silliness of school experiences.  Jimmy gets the opportunity to both wreck and save traditional staples of children’s experiences of Christmas in two different missions—one in which he trashes a store front Santa and one in which he performs at the school’s Christmas pageant.


Ultimately, though, while these additions do clearly add to the Bully experience, the game may leave those who enjoyed the original wanting more.  For those who have yet to experience Bully the first time, you should go out and get a copy of this newest version.  I originally rated this game a 10, and it is only because I am evaluating this edition as an extended edition and find its additions to be fewer than I would have liked that I rate Scholarship Edition as a 9.  The game is brilliant. 


I hope that sales of this new next-gen edition will warrant an extension of not simply the original but the franchise itself.  If Jimmy is right that people should get what they deserve, then what fans of the original and newcomers to Bully really deserve is a complete sequel.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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