- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

The arrival for the Wii of a popular and controversial PlayStation 2 adventure, Bully: Scholarship Edition (from Rockstar Games for Wii, rated T for teen, $49.99)gives owners of Nintendo’s magical console an enhanced interactive entrance into a private school loaded with hard knocks.

Set in a fictional New England boarding school named Bullworth, the game has the player control the troubled youth Jimmy Hopkins, who must scale the walls of acceptance in his new scholarly digs. He essentially fights, apologizes, kisses and bribes his way through legions of legendary school archetypes — nerds, preppies, greasers and jocks. The numerous encounters eventually define his role at the school.

It’s an eye-opening and immersive experience that enabled me to make decisions that could place Jimmy on the path of the dark — or darker — side, depending on how I made him treat others and his studies.

At the start, Jimmy is on a rigorous schedule determined by a swift-moving clock, having to make multiple classes every day and maneuver through a minefield of jerks who want to harass him.

Sounds like my youth — except he can fight back and can quickly become the bully himself, with options to taunt and ridicule weaker students and cause chaos around the grounds with stink bombs and firecrackers.

Fighting and rabble-rousing come with a price as sadistic prefects roam the outdoors and hallways, ready to grab any punks causing trouble and haul them off to Principal Crabblesnitch’s office.

In the end, Bully is a cat-and-mouse game. The player has to decide how much grief he will take, with whom he will align and how to take advantage of his classmates and environments.

The addition of class minigames rounds out the school themes, covering everything from word searches in English to a round of dodge ball in the gym.

The level of immersion is mind-boggling, and the game is loaded with minimissions. I can pick flowers, deliver them to a girl, get her to kiss me and get rewarded with a health bonus. If, however, I start kissing another girl, I eventually get a slap in the mug from the first girl.

If I am in a helpful mood, I can defend a student from thugs, get him safely to his locker and make some money for my efforts.

A pretty large landscape eventually lets Jimmy leave the campus and move around surroundings such as a comic-book shop, cemetery, movie theater and retirement home, using multiple modes of transportation, including hitching a ride on the back of a car with a skateboard.

The Wii version of Bully adds eight new missions as well as a quartet of new classes.

Most impressive is what the Wii’s pair of wireless, motion-sensing controllers bring to the game, adding a fantastic level of interactivity. The Wiimote and Nunchuk are especially helpful as they replace fists — swing them to punch or even grab an opponent.

More important, the classes are tailor-made for the controllers: Dissecting a frog in biology class means the Wiimote is a scalpel or tweezers; in music class, the controllers are sticks used to beat a cowbell rhythmically.

When the final bell is rung, Bully: Scholarship Edition is quite the virtual social experiment. I am not sure, however, that a “teen” rating is strong enough for the incredible number of mean-spirited moments the game includes. Depending on the player’s decisions, events can be very violent.

I’m not sure this is a game I would put in the hands of real-life bullies — it might give them too many good ideas.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washington times.com).

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