Video Game Review: Bully – One of Rockstar’s best

Tiger Media Network

American video game company Rockstar has quickly become one of the most legendary companies in the industry, having garnered a reputation for great storytelling, memorable characters and some of the most detailed worlds any game can offer. At the same time, the company is no stranger to controversy, and its 2006 title, “Bully” was no exception. 

From the game’s title and some arguably tame pre-launch screenshots, several politicians and anti-bullying organizations spoke out against the game. On top of that, infamous lawyer Jack Thomspon, known for his campaign against violent and obscene media, sued Rockstar in an attempt to ban the game. He would go as far as to call “Bully” a “Columbine Simulator.” 

However, like most of Rockstar’s games, these cases had little to no merit. Not only was the game far from the violent school shooter simulator these people claimed it to be, “Bully” actually harbored a strong anti-bullying message, with the main character standing up to bullies. This made the outrage surrounding the game completely moot and downright laughable.

This is what “Bully” truly is: a fun, charming game with an entertaining story, a memorable cast of characters, endlessly entertaining gameplay, a great soundtrack and an excellent open world to explore. All of these factors elevate “Bully” into one of Rockstar’s best titles. 

The games release: 

  • Initially released in October 2006 for the PlayStation 2.
  • “Bully: Scholarship”, featuring more content and multiplayer, was released in 2008.
  • Developed and published by Rockstar Games.
  • The original version is available on PS4. 
  • Retitled outside of the US as “Canis Canem Edit,” meaning “Dog eat Dog.”

The game follows Jimmy Hopkins, a 15-year-old delinquent who has been expelled from every school he’s attended. He is dropped off by his mother at Bullworth Academy, a harsh boarding school in the fictional town of Bullworth. “Bully” follows Jimmy as he attempts to gain control of the school’s various cliques in an effort to put a stop to bullying and restore peace to the academy and the town itself. During his journey, he comes into conflict with the school’s headmaster, Dr. Ralph Crabblesnitch, and sociopathic student Gary Smith, who seeks to take control of the school for himself.

The thing that helps “Bully” is its sense of childlike innocence, which is the reason why I think comparing it to “Grand Theft Auto” is a bit disingenuous. In “Grand Theft Auto,” the player can commit mass murder and destroy property with grenades and rocket launchers. In Bully, all of the mayhem caused is completely juvenile, from throwing stink bombs at people to egging houses. Instead of guns and grenades, Jimmy uses a slingshot and firecrackers and only gets a greater arsenal of schoolyard weapons as the game progresses. I genuinely don’t think any other game has given me this much satisfaction for just being a complete nuisance. It’s the sense of delinquency that helps “Bully” stand out.

Shawn Lee is the composer for “Bully”, having produced and written all of its tracks. Born in Wichita, Kansas, Lee had also composed music for Telltale Games’ “Tales from the Borderline”. Outside of video game soundtracks, he has co-founded Young Gun Silver Fox, a yacht rock duo based in London, England.

Another great aspect of “Bully” is its cast of characters. Jimmy himself is, in my opinion, one of Rockstar’s best protagonists. He does come off as rude and abrasive, but he’s still likable and relatable for a variety of reasons, and his interactions with other characters – who are immensely entertaining – are gold. Almost every character is an over-the-top stereotype. Each clique has its own distinct personality, which is true for all its members:

  • The Nerds: Social outcasts who love role-playing games, are constantly bullied
  • The Preps: Cartoonishly posh and snobbish
  • The Jocks: Super strong, but dumb as rocks
  • The Greasers: Bike obsessed and always wear leather jackets

The staff of Bullworth Academy are also entertaining; Dr. Crabblesnitch, school cook Edna and the English Teacher Mr. Galloway are my personal favorites in this regard. “Bully” not only features a great protagonist but a great supporting cast as well. 

When it comes to older Rockstar games, the controls (particularly the combat) were clunky and felt incredibly dated. However, “Bully” does not have this issue. In between classes, missions and causing juvenile mayhem, you’ll be spending a lot of time brawling with other kids. The combat in “Bully” feels great, and there is a surprising amount of depth to it, too. As mentioned, there are also classes you have to attend, as you are in a school. These classes are just minigames that unlock additional bonuses and perks; Chemistry grants access to more items such as firecrackers and itching powder, Gym class earns you new fighting moves and greater accuracy with weapons, and English gives you the ability to talk bullies and angry staff members out of attacking you. 

Finally, the game’s soundtrack is simply iconic. The game’s soundtrack was entirely produced by composer Shawn Lee, who does a fantastic job at capturing both childlike innocence and juvenile mischief. The funky bassline that plays throughout is absolutely legendary. That is a recurring theme in all of “Bully’s” tracks: amazing bass lines. From the chorus-filled, chimy bass that plays during bike races and jobs, to the more intense, rocked-based tune when you’re being chased, it’s always fun to listen to.

Other highlights: 

  • A fantastic open world with five distinct areas, gradually unlocked as the story progresses
  • Various fun side activities like arcade games and races
  • Excellent missions and structure, which only get better as the game progresses 

Minor issues: 

  • Some areas of the town aren’t used nearly enough
  • The ending is a bit abrupt

At the end of the day, “Bully” is a phenomenal game. Its story and missions are so much fun to play through, and Jimmy Hopkins is an excellent protagonist. With so much side content, a great open world, and entertaining gameplay, “Bully” is absolutely one of Rockstar’s best titles.

Nick McCoy is a senior at Fort Hays State University, studying digital media and journalism. An avid gamer and music listener, he reviews video games and songs, and hosts the radio show “The Understanding of Nick” for KFHS. 

Tune in to “The Understanding of Nick” on KFHS Radio on Thursday at 4:00 pm, for a more in-depth look at “Bully”. 

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