Years after its release, I'm still playing Bully -- now on the Wii's 'Scholarship Edition' after playing it originally on the PlayStation 2 -- and it's not got the biggest open-world to explore, nor is its fighting system particularly deep or nuanced. So why am I still playing it? Well, I think I just enjoy the school setting. Not in a suspicious beard-and-glasses-combo-lurking-outside-the-school-gates kind of way, it's just nice to be in an environment that hasn't already been done to death -- and it's a sad indictment on the games industry that titles such as Bully come along so rarely.
There is, of course, a possibility that my continuing obsession with this game is pure wish fulfillment. After all, Bully gives you a virtual playground in which to live out the fantasy of being a bad boy who kicks the faces off prefects, as opposed to a nerdy goody two-shoes. I think all of us wish we could have been a bit more like Jimmy Hopkins in our school days – not so much the dumb one-liners that he relentlessly spouts, but the fear and respect that he earns, the ability to be aloof from the school societies while being charismatic enough to flit between them and be accepted by all. Of course, nobody in the world is actually like Jimmy Hopkins, and Rockstar knows this. Just as the GTA series allows you to reimagine your mundane life as a tank driving, rocket launcher wielding gangster, Bully gives you the tools and leeway to tackle the demons of your school days – to experience the things you were always too frightened to do, to finally punch those wankers you always wanted to punch.
However, as I touched upon earlier, the main reason that I'm hooked on Bully all these years later is that there is still absolutely nothing else like it on the market. If it's an open world city you're after, there are new ones released every year. Fill yer boots. The small town atmosphere of Bullworth Vale though? Still yet to be replicated. Admittedly, the size of Bully's game world wasn't breaking any boundaries or wowing anyone, but it was so richly redolent of American small town suburbia and had so many interesting elements crammed into it that made each inch worthwhile. Furthermore, the scaled down setting served as a perfect microcosm for Rockstar's famed talent for characterisation. The GTA games tend to pack in many characters throughout their campaigns, but your interactions with each of them are often rather fleeting. Bully is more about a set of key characters from around the school, students and staff alike, and the limited cast means you develop a greater knowledge and understanding of the characters that populate Bullworth. All of the school societies and subcultures are bang-on too, albeit obviously caricatured, and a knowing reflection of the delicate power balance of school days. Best of all, as the player you will end up subconsciously aligning yourself with the characters with whom you most identify from your own experiences -- I tend to play as a nerd defender, please don't read too much into what that says about my school experience. I'M A COOL DUDE GUYS, BELIEVE ME.
Anyway, for those craving new experiences, this is a one-off curio that you simply must try. It hasn't aged too badly either, particularly the Xbox 360 and PC versions, and it's available for a pittance. Get it played, you mugs.
Also, it's sick filth. Don't let your children play it unless you love Hitler.