TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Bully’ for the PS2 is head of the Rockstar class
I hope you’ve been enjoying this month of my favorite games so far, as we have two more games we’ll be taking a look at in May. Today’s game, like the first two we looked at, is one that took staples of the company it was developed by and turned them on their head.
The company in question, Rockstar, is certainly a company that needs little introduction to today’s gamers, but too often, like today’s subject matter, “Bully” for the PlayStation 2 is one that slips through the cracks laid by the many variations of the “Grand Theft Auto” series and, to some extent, “Red Dead Revolver” and “Red Dead Redemption.” Today, we take a look back to see what makes this game not only a hidden gem in the PlayStation 2 library, but an unsung hero in the vast history of Rockstar and its many contributions to the success of modern gaming. The bell has rung, so it’s time to head to class!
In many ways, “Bully” is deceptive in what it truly offers in all aspects versus initial player expectations but, as in life, one should not judge a book by its cover, and this is apparent right away in the soundtrack alone. While a Rockstar game, and one with a distinct teen vibe to it, could have just plugged in popular music of the time, they created a true original soundtrack with unique sounds that, while subtle in some aspects, also get your adrenaline pumping when it needs to. The soundtrack is so elusive and deceptive to your ears that you actually have to pause the game or totally clear your mind of everything else to really appreciate it. This isn’t some kind of epic soundtrack that beats you over the head with its outward and grandiose style. It is simple, yet effective – a common theme in great games and soundtracks throughout the history of video games.
Of course, this is only one pleasing and impressive aspect of the sounds you hear in “Bully,” as the sound effects are pretty good and sometimes hilarious, especially in combination with some of the best voice acting in Rockstar history, and what’s most impressive about it is none of the voices used for characters in the game belong to people you know from other arenas of entertainment – just some great voice actors who knew what they needed to do and did it well.
Yes, it is easy to get impressed by the staggering display seen in most Rockstar games, and “Bully” is no exception, but for my money, I find the environments and characters encountered here even more impressive than your standard “Grand Theft Auto” fare because of the smaller scope of things presented in a truly grand fashion. There are areas outside of the school you can get to, but all together the world in “Bully” is nowhere near as vast as you see in other Rockstar games, though I think it is in the smaller scale that greater detail is presented and showcased quite well. The colors are bright and really pop when they need to, but most of all, the colors and themes in the game visually fit well with the characters and stories being told.
While Jimmy is quite simple in scope design-wise, it works well in further showing how diverse the characters are that he encounters, with the typical over-the-top Rockstar stereotypes of a lot of the social classes one will encounter in school. There are certainly better Rockstar games out there graphically, especially as we move into the PlayStation 3, but what is seen here are some of the most consistently good graphics in a game by the developer, done in a way that, yet again, is not overdone or so over-the-top that you can’t appreciate the little details within.
At first glance, “Bully” may seem very tiresome, especially during the early moments or the tutorial portions of the game, along with the fact you still have to attend classes early on and you can only stay up until 2 a.m. before falling to sleep and magically waking up in your bed. However, a lot of those classes you complete earn you some key skills that you will need later in the game, and to be honest, there’s not much for a 15-year-old to do past 2 a.m. in the tiny town of Bullworth anyway – just enough to keep you interested and coming back for more.
The storyline is great, and quite deep and compelling considering the level of characters we’re working with here, and the side missions are a lot of fun, too. If there’s one major drawback to Bully, it would have to be the seemingly constant need for backtracking in the game just to get storyline chapters completed. Remember, while you can ride a bike, you obviously can’t drive a car, so getting to certain areas can take more time than you’d like, and if you have to do it several times in one chapter, you could find yourself getting a bit frustrated, regardless of the reward.
The camera angles are pretty good, but as in all Rockstar games, there are some glitches to discuss; the most puzzling are missions not starting when you go to them at the right time of day. The fights you get into (and there are many) are pretty easy to overcome, especially as you learn new brawling skills, though I found boss fights using long-range weapons a lot more difficult. I definitely preferred just straight-up close-range fistfights.
“Bully” never did reach the high praise expected by Rockstar games, nor will it ever have that status reserved for Rockstar’s cash cow, “Grand Theft Auto,” but it did carve its own niche, not only in the history of the company, but also in the realm of games similar to it. That being said, “Bully” is definitely a game Rockstar needs to revisit because it tapped into something gamers wanted at the time, despite the lack of press coverage, flying under the radar of a lot of gamers who aren’t diehard Rockstar consumers. In the same way gamers loved “Red Dead Revolver” on the PS2 and its subsequent sequel, “Red Dead Redemption” on the PS3, if Bully ever shows up on a current gen or even next-gen system, it will certainly push the envelope and garner some more much deserved cult status among gamers.
I hope you enjoyed this review of another one of my favorite games. We will be wrapping up Nick’s Faves Month next week with a game that needs little introduction as far as it relates to fans of the Nintendo 64, a game that certainly kept, and possibly still keeps, college students busy for all hours of the night.
Until then, don’t let the muggy weather get you down, and remember to always game on!
Note: All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.
by Nick DeMarco
Nick DeMarco is a blogger, retro video game small business owner, and lover of all things retro. Don't get stuck on an elevator with him, unless you know who Ace Harding is and why Crystal Pepsi deserves just as big a comeback as Surge.