Video game review entries

February 21, 2009

Game Review: Bully for Wii

5 out of 5 stars

There are a couple of valid criticism labelled at the Wii as a whole. First is that tons of its games are just a bunch loosely collected mini-games. The second is that those that aren’t are often just lazy ports from other consoles.

Bully brilliantly manages to flip both of these criticisms around and provide something truly unique.

It’s a game with a long history: originally released on PS2 under the title of Canis Canem Edit, the game has been re-worked for both the 360 and the Wii and given back its original title now the controversy has died down. For the record, you don’t play as a bully, you fight them. The media missed that little fact in their outrage.

What’s brilliant is that Bully plays like it was made for the Wii from the ground up, in many ways it’s a perfect fit. Because at its core, Bully is just a collection of mini-games, but a collection that is strung together so very well you don’t even realise.

There is no primary mechanic in this game. There’s no one thing you spend most of the game doing. An arguement could be made that the fist-fighting fits this as it features in a lot of missions, but at most it accounts for 30% of your play time. About the same amount of time is spent travelling from place to place or racing on skateboards or bikes, while the rest of the game involves taking photos, sneaking around, mowing lawns, delivering papers, throwing stink bombs, boxing, collecting things, playing drums and so on.

Bully throws you into a boarding school environment and lets you do whatever you want to. Going to one of eight different lessons starts a mini-game, which vary from playing dodge-ball in gym class to Brain Training style quizzes in Maths. Or you can skive off entirely and follow the storyline missions, do some side-quests or just go off and explore. On the other hand, attending the lessons and doing well will grant you special abilities which benefit you in the rest of the game.

Bully has one of those mindless collect-em-up subquests where you have to collect 75 elastic bands hidden throughout the world. I normally hate that sort of thing. They’re practically impossible without using a walkthrough or guide. Except in Bully, complete a certain geography lesson, and the approximate location of all the remaining ones is added to your map. So now if you’re in an area for a mission, have some time to kill, and see there’s a band nearby, you can search that area for a quick diversion.

It’s that sort of pacing that also makes Bully such a brilliant game. You get up just before school starts in the morning, and have to be in bed by the end of the night or you’ll collapse. This provides just the right amount of structure in the otherwise free-form game. You can start of in class in the morning, go out on missions of lunch time, head back to class if you’re nearby when afternoon lessons start, stay out and skive if you’re not. The evening is spent with either continuing on missions or doing some sub-quests before heading back to your dorm for the night.

Or perhaps you really want to do both classes that day so spent lunchtime around the school grounds searching for collectables. Since each day isn’t particular long either, it has that brilliantly compulsive “just one more day” aspect that will keep you playing until 4am in the morning.

With all these opportunities for choice, Bully could be a disaster. Sure, you could try and ‘power-game’ it, ignoring the main storyline and doing all the of the classes as soon as possible, but the positioning of each element and the pacing of the game pushes you away from that and actively encourages you to spread your time around, to the point that when you finish the main storyline, you’ll have done a good chunk of the side-quests, but still have a few things to finish off afterwards if you so wish.

Despite it’s brilliance, Bully has been mostly over-looked when it comes to ‘must-have’ Wii games, probably because it’s seen as being ‘just a PS2 port’. But the fact is, the game is far more at home on the Wii that it ever was elsewhere. The piece-meal, mini-game centred approach, with multiple mechanics that all use the Wii controller in a different way is what the Wii does best. The controls are nearly perfect, with the one exception of it asking you to hit + and – at the same time – try that without hitting the Home button (wonderfully, the same section on the PC version asked you to press mouse wheel up and mouse wheel down together).

There’s probably not enough new stuff in this version of Bully to make it worthwhile if you’ve played it on the PS2, but if you haven’t played it at all it’s complete must-have for the Wii. An exceptional game that proves that the words “console port” and “mini-games” don’t have to spell failure for the Wii.

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