Videogame Reviews

Get Schooled

Gary Eng Walk plays the creative, prep-school-set ''Bully.'' Plus: Samantha Xu on ''WTF''

BULLY
BULLY

Get schooled on ''Bully''

Bully
(Rockstar Games, PS2, Teen)
A stuffy New England prep school hardly seems like an enthralling backdrop for a videogame, but the hallways of Bullworth Academy can be just as perilous as any alien planet or demon-spawned dimension. In Bully, you step into the school-uniform sweater vest of Jimmy Hopkins, a troubled 15-year-old whose divorced mom has banished him here so she can go on a year-long pleasure cruise with her new playboy husband. Abandoned and alone, you must find a way to get along with classmates and teachers. Not all of them want to fight: Though you are an insolent ruffian who has a temper as short as your crew cut, you have to play the role of both reluctant healer and troublemaking hellion. But bullies, of course, are your main antagonists. Coming in all shapes and sizes (greasers, jocks, and preppies; even nerds occasionally fill the role), they'll chase after you, beat you up, taunt you with insults, shake you down for money, and even dish out wedgies now and then. You also have to avoid the attention of the patrolling prefects and teachers and try to avoid getting caught fighting, roaming the campus after the 11 p.m. curfew, or cutting class. Truancy isn’t such a brilliant idea, since time learning subjects like English and chemistry will enhance your school-survival skills.

Missions throughout the game are imaginative and unpredictable. One has you reclaiming a confiscated diary from the teacher's lounge for a damsel in distress; another has you covering for your alcoholic English teacher by collecting all of his discarded liquor bottles strewn throughout the school. Many chapters of the story take place off campus — in the local movie theater, convenience store, the town hall, the local insane asylum (don't ask) — so the tasks never get tedious.

It should be said that Bully isn't the lightning rod for parental and political outrage that many have made it out to be. The bloodless violence doesn't go much beyond fisticuffs, the most dangerous weapons are slingshots and firecrackers, and there isn’t any explicit sexual content, save for an occasional panty raid. That said, the game is still edgy and witty — and this Bully most definitely makes the grade. A-Gary Eng Walk

WTF
(D3, PSP, Teen)
If there's anything the Japanese can teach us about hard work, it's that too much of it can make you... freaking insane! And so it's no surprise that from the land of overworked salarymen comes WTF (which, in fact, stands for work time fun), a collection of mini-games that poke fun at the drudgery of corporate slaves. By completing various tasks, players earn cash (in realistically piddling amounts) to buy useless trinkets and ''real world'' tools. The mini-games range from the mind-numbing (like working on an assembly line capping pens and sorting baby chicks) to the sick-and-twisted (like stabbing fingers and playing a belching version of Simon Says). More of the game's freaky humor can be found in its Internet-inspired visual style and cute extras (which include e-mails and such unlockable tools as a ramen timer that is nothing more than a Speedo-clad muscle man flexing for five minutes).

But a successful videogame title must offer more than an awesomely warped sense of humor. Fun and addictive at first, many of the WTF mini-games soon turn difficult and — contrary to the game's spirit — feel more like you're doing actual work than playing a game. For those PSP loyalists dying for their first kooky Japanese mini-game release, WTF just might bring home the bacon. But for most others, the game offers all the fun of a long PowerPoint presentation. B-Samantha Xu

Originally posted Oct 30, 2006