Everyone was bullied at some point in their life during school, so Rockstar took it upon them to help people reflect on that and become a bully themselves or anti-bully. Jimmy Hopkins is sent to Bullworth Academy because he’s a huge jerk and his mom and step-dad hate him. The story really makes you reminisce about high school because of how accurately it portrays it. You walk around and you see jocks beating up nerds and greasers beating up preps. Of course due to the game’s age (about 7 years old) comes problems, glitches, and stiffness due to the PS2’s limited technology, but the overall atmosphere and fun content will keep you hooked.
The game is based on Grand Theft Auto so if you play that series a lot you are right at home here. You get a mini-map with stars marked on them, a combat system, a vehicle system, as well as a shooting system. They all work really well and even better than the GTA games, but don’t forget this is a Teen rated game so you can forget about Jimmy killing hookers and pushing drugs. After you get familiar with the engine you will get introduced to the combat system which works well thanks to a lock-on mode and targets switching with the right analog stick (keyboard controls suck). A health bar is displayed around the target’s feet and the melee combat system is surprisingly deep. You unlock combos and moves by bringing transistors to the bum that lives behind the school.
With grapples, takedowns, and various combos come ranged combat which is fun thanks to the interesting and fun weapons. Instead of rocket launchers and AK-47s we get potato spud launchers, bottle rocket launchers, slingshots, stink bombs, itching powder, spray paint (for tagging), eggs, and various breakable melee weapons that are awesome to use. You can’t jack cars, but you can jack bicycles and you have a skateboard in your inventory. I really wish there were more vehicles to use than just these two things, but it works because the world isn’t big enough to need anything faster.
The days in Bully go by like school and of course, you can get busted, and instead of wasted, knocked out like in GTA games. Prefects are the authority on campus and there are a lot of rules. There are two classes a day and you will see a bell on your map and if you are skipping class you can be busted for truancy, hit kids and get chased for violence, hit girls or adults and the meter goes red and everyone runs after you for this. You can be busted for trespassing (being inside a building after hours), theft, vandalism, and all the hijinks of kids so watch out. Of course, getting busted is actually hard because you can always outrun them and if a prefect gets a hold of you can you rapidly press Y to break free, if a teacher or cop gets you you’re done.
Classes are fun and consist of mini-games like music class uses the triggers to tap out the rhythm, biology has you dissecting animals, math class has you answering simple questions, shop class has you doing button commands to repair bikes, and photography class has you snapping pictures. There are more classes and they help keep you busy between missions and can be fun. When you aren’t doing missions or classes you can do one of the two jobs in town which is a paper route and mowing lawns. I really wish there were more jobs, but more on why later. There are also challenges for each faction as well as random activities like people have you egg things, make delivers, or break into lockers.
Missions are varied and range from throwing snowballs, playing tricks, assaulting faction fortresses, sneaking through an asylum, and helping teachers with adult problems. There’s a lot of variety in the main missions and it will keep you hooked and wanting to do the next one. I just wish there were more side missions that had a good payoff because money is kind of useless in this game. I rarely spent it and didn’t really need to. There is also a lame dating system built in where you can compliment a girl, then give her a gift, then she’ll kiss you. This is as far as it goes and after trying it once you won’t do it again.
All this sounds fun, and is, but it comes with a price of age. Everything feels stiff, stilted, and linear which really detracts from the experience. The same NPCs walk around and sayings repeat constantly, animations are stiff and awkward, the same music repeats constantly, the sound is low quality, and the graphics aged poorly with low poly models, and some ugly textures. The only things that haven’t aged are the excellent voice acting, memorable characters, and charming and witty dialog. This is the best part about Bully because of characters like Gary who are whacked sociopaths who you want to just punch. The world isn’t very big at all, and while you can change your clothes, and hair, and earn money there’s really no reason for it. You can find collectibles in the world, do races, and more, but honestly for what? There’s no payoff and I guess you just do it to be a completionist a best.
I could go on about how stiff the game feels or the multiple glitches that I encountered, but after completing the 10-15 hour campaign I felt no reason to continue on. I couldn’t bear hearing the same saying, listening to the same music, or seeing the same NPC walk by me. Back in the day, it was revolutionary, but now it’s just a wrinkle in the game timeline as something unique and playful because there isn’t a single game out there like it. Enjoy the game for the great dialog, characters, and story, as well as the fun mini-games and varied missions, but if you can’t overlook the many faults then move on.
While the Oddworld series may have been dead for years now the last creation from Lorne Lanning is a great opus. While the series hasn’t been perfect gameplay-wise it instills great characters, humor, and a unique art style that can be recognized from the series. Stranger’s Wrath was a cult classic Xbox hit but saw poor sales (as did most of the Oddworld games) due to its quirky style. You play as a bounty hunter named Stranger trying to collect enough Mulah (money) to get a mysterious surgery performed. The story doesn’t get interesting at all until the end but there are two key plot twists that really throw you for a loop and make the story worthwhile.
The game is split up into two parts. The first half of the game has you finding 12 different wanted bad buys and wandering around the linear world finding them. The thing that made Stranger’s Wrath so unique was its shooting mechanic. Unlike most shooters Wrath has you shooting critters as your ammo and you even have to gather them in the wild. A few ranges from Zap Flies that has unlimited ammo and can be charged. Boombats are explosive, Thud Slugs are like shotgun shells, and so on. Each critter will eventually be upgraded in the game, but this is a unique approach to shooters that have never been done since.
Most of the time you can try to sneak your way around and bounty up bad guys, but the stealth mechanics are pretty broken. You can hide in tall grass and lure the bad guys to you then may wrap them up to get them alive (for more bounty) or just run and gun and kill them all, but you get less bounty. While the shooting may be unique it doesn’t really know what it wants to do. There’s ammo for stealth, but it’s not good enough for run and gun action. Finding ammo in crates helps, but you will constantly try to decide which ammo type is best suited for the situation. You can equip any two at the same time for combos, but you can’t shoot them at the same time. I would have liked to see some sort of combo element implemented with that.
The second part of the game lets you have more powerful melee attacks and is all about run and gun really. You get the upgraded ammo types so this is possible, but the game’s difficulty is ruthless and you will die a lot. Thankfully the game has a quick save feature so this alleviates it a little bit. I just felt that this game should have stuck to either a platformer or a shooter because switching from first to third constantly can be a bit disjointing, and even jumping around and climbing is difficult because it feels like all the physics in the game are very floaty.
Wrath is a fun game, but it feels very dated thanks to the low-res visuals, very linear environments, and limited interaction with the world. The PC port didn’t go so well with some hideous visual distortions through the whole game, and no upgraded textures yet (they are still on the way). The voice acting is good and all, but everything just feels so limited in scope that you really wish the world was bigger. I love all the ideas thrown in here, but they are executed a little poorly and the game as a whole doesn’t feel as polished as it could be.
Overall the shooting mechanic is very unique but works against itself and the game doesn’t know if it’s a third-person platformer, stealth game, or run-and-gun first-person shooter. If it stuck to just one the game would be better, but it is a cult classic and shouldn’t be missed if you never owned an Xbox.
The series needed a quick revival after the rocky 64-bit era failures. With new technology, the series could redeem itself with a new engine, so in 2002 MK: DA was announced at E3 of 2001 and everyone freaked out. It totally rewrote the way we played MK but was received very well. Fighters were going in a new direction and MK was lagging behind. The new game featured a few new game modes, a whole new 3D fighting system, and was more realistic and a bit slower than the past fighting games.
Alliance featured real-life martial arts fighting styles that each character had. You would switch between two different fighting styles (Jeet Kune Do, Maui Thai, etc.) and one weapon fighting style. These were designed to stay true to the character’s background and form and they were done very well. The game also used motion capture technology for the first time to recreate all the animations and martial arts fighting moves. Alliance did feel slower since all the combos had to be memorized, and the game now featured a story Konquest mode that had Raiden walking along a path to teaching you how to use every character. This made playing the game easier, but everyone wanted to control a character in this mode.
The game also featured a Krypt mode that allowed you to use the in-game Kurrency from Konquest and you could unlock alternate costumes (my favorite thing out of the Krypt), concept art, concept videos, and just a bunch of fan service like interviews and things like this. There were hundreds of items and I loved this. It made you feel like your fighting skills were paying off (literally). While Test Your Might was only seen in the first game Test your Sight was a new mini-game that was just the three cups and a nut game. It was good to know Mortal Kombat was going into new play modes and mini-games.
I mainly remember Alliance for the Adema “Immortal” music video, and it helped me fall in love with rock music. I also remember getting it for my birthday along with the T-shirt and I couldn’t be happier. I was also disappointed to not see online play because Sony was just starting to roll out their Network Adapters for online play. Alliance was an amazing fighter, but it also introduced new characters that I actually loved. Unlike MK4 these characters had the MK feeling to them. Kenshi, Nitara, Hsu Hao, Bo’ Rai Cho, Frost, Drahmin, Movado, and Li Mei were new characters, but I only really loved Li Mei, Nitara, Drahmin, Kenshi, and Frost. Two unlockable characters known as Blaze and Mokap were put in. There was no special boss of the game again, and Moloch was once again the mini-boss. The others to me felt like generic characters and never became really popular. A lot of favorites returned, but the roster was about the same size as other games so this was a little bit of a letdown. Each character had two Fatalities, but the other “-alities” were sadly missing once again. At this point, I thought they would never come back. DeadlyAlliance was the foundation for two more great 3D MK games, but it eventually became its own poison.
Tournament Edition was released for GameBoy Advance and became the first “good” handheld Mortal Kombat. I even got a chance to play this and it was amazing and even had a 3D fighting plane. It had one character that never made it into the console games known as Sareena only seen in the live-action cut scenes of Mythologies.
Mortal Kombat: Deception
Released: PS2, Xbox, NGC
After almost three long years Deception was announced in 2003 and it featured a ton of new content. It was also the first-ever online fighting game. The game boasted a bigger roster, a return of more fan favorites, three new game modes, and a new “-ality” known as suicide Hara Kiris. It was also the first MK game to have a collector’s edition with extra add-ins. The PS2 version got a special Sub-Zero character known as the Premium Pack, but the Xbox got four covers with Scorpion, Raiden, Mileena, and Baraka known as the Kollector’s Edition. Each came with a metal serialized trading card for the cover character as well as a making-of DVD, and an Arcade perfect port of MK1. It was a good start for the collector and I got the PS2 version.
New game modes included Puzzle Kombat (Street Fighter Puzzle MK style), Chess Kombat, and a new adventure Konquest. The Konquest wasn’t that good and featured terrible graphics, hideous voice acting, and you had to run around collecting Kurrency and finding chests to unlock some fighters as well as unlocking alternate outfits. The Konquest mode was considered a bad hindrance and felt like filler where a more robust version could have been created, or just kept to the original Konquest mode. Chess and Puzzle combat was well received, and the Krypt stayed but was slightly expanded.
The Hara Kiris were the first suicide Fatality that the losing opponent could do. These were self-mutilation “-alities” that fans really dug and could take away the glory of winning from an opponent. These never saw the light of day after Deception which is really too bad. The other mini-games from Deadly Alliance were missing, but the two new modes were enough. Online play was smooth and really extended the replay value of the game. I remember playing online for hours on end and it really kept me playing for months after release. Deception went down as the best MK game of the 128-bit era adding new combos and some fighting styles to the game. A new feature introduced was multi-tiered arenas that dealt damage if you pushed them over yellow lines, but red ones were new stage Fatalities (but just ended in instant death). This added depth and strategy to the game since getting pushed around made you nervous. MK4‘s stage weapons were added back in and actually felt useful this time around. A new “Breaker” system was introduced which let you have three chances to break an opponent’s combo.
Deception was also the first MK game to not be originally released on a Nintendo console due to Nintendo’s lack of online support. After so many protests and petitions Midway finally released Deception to the GameCube with Shao Kahn and Goro as playable characters to make up for the lack of online play. This, however, didn’t sit well with critics and was quickly forgotten. New characters were introduced into the series once again, but most didn’t feel quite right. A couple stuck but others felt generic such Dairou, Darrius, Ashrah, Shujinko, Kobra, Kira, and Havik. I liked Kira and for some reason played as Darrius quite a bit due to his close-range fast combos. I didn’t like the rest so it felt like at this point the MK team just can’t create good new characters. A new boss was introduced as Onaga the Dragon King and there really wasn’t a mini-boss this time around.
Shaolin Monks was the last attempt at an MK action-adventure, but this time was well received and was actually good. A new development team took the reins on this one and featured a fluid combat system, Fatalities, and hidden secrets. It was a very short game (about 4-5 hours), and featured terrible graphics, voice acting, and the story was complete nonsense. However it was all about the fighting, and the puzzles used the series’ violence to be solved. You chose to play as either Liu-Kang or Kung Lao but Scorpion and Sub-Zero could be unlocked later. It was a pretty fun game, and items were unlocked with hidden red orbs throughout the game and featured 2 player Ko-op.
I loved the game at first, but over the years it felt really dated and the ugly graphics really stuck out over time. It was a successful side story and it proved MK could do it. It also featured an Arcade perfect port of MKII as a hidden unlock but was once again not released on the GameCube due to the system dying early. No one really screamed about this so Midway just continued not to release games on the Nintendo consoles for the time being.
Armageddon was the 128-bit version of Trilogy. It featured all the greatness of this era and the team claimed this would be the last MK game in this series. After Armageddon, there were rumors that MK would completely change will all-new characters and settings, but this never happened. Every single character in the MK universe was playable which made Armageddon the biggest roster in any fighter game up to its release. Over 60 characters were playable, but some things also changed that fans didn’t like. Gone were the unique two-per-fighter Fatalities and instead were “generic Fatalities” which featured a tier system (up to 10) where each button combo would mutilate a certain part of a character ie: Rip off their arm, leg, rip out kidneys, snap their neck, and then you would be rated based on how many you could put in. Each time the meter ran down quicker and quicker, but the system was very complicated and was hated by most fans. The team also dropped one of the fighting styles for each character so it was just one style and a weapon style. This was so the game wasn’t unbalanced and overly complex.
Konquest mode stuck around but instead used a fighting system similar to Shaolin Monks, but Kurrency, hidden items, and a story were still here but it was still unnecessary. The graphics were a little better in Konquest, but the whole fighting engine looked dated since the next generation of consoles was starting to come out. Puzzle and Chess Kombat were sadly missing, but the Krypt was back for the third time and instead was a wall of unlockables, so it didn’t have the charm like last Krypts. It was also smaller this time around which really upset me. Motor Kombat was introduced and was probably the worst mini-game from any other game. It was very short (the tracks) and didn’t feel right at all and felt just tacked on. Thankfully the MK team never brought it up again, but it was fun to check out. Armageddon also had a Kollector’s Edition with a signed animation cell of the logo by Ed Boon, a making-of DVD, an arcade port of UMK3, and had 4 different covers depending on what store you bought it at, but was only available for PS2.
About a year later they answered the new cries from Nintendo fans and released the game on the Wii, but was met the lackluster results. The motion controls didn’t pan out correctly and were hard to pull off so using the Virtual Console gamepad, or GameCube controller was the only real way to play. It also didn’t feature online play (once again) and this really hurt the game sales-wise. It did have a new Endurance mode as well as an exclusive playable character Khameleon from UMK3. Armageddon only featured two new characters which were Chameleon and Sareena who were only playable in Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition for GBA. Armageddon did have a Create-A-Fighter mode which was well-liked by fans, and I particularly loved this mode and wish it would come back to future releases. It allowed you to even type up a bio, choose fighting stances, styles, combos, special moves, so it was very in-depth. Armageddon felt a little bloated and the 128-bit era of MK games was starting to grow tiresome for fans.
Mortal Kombat: Unchained
Unchained was MK fans who owned PSP’s desperate cry for an MK game. While the DS got UMK3 fans of the PSP got a perfect port of Deception since it could display proper 3D graphics. While everything was intact PSP owners got Goro and Shao Kahn from the GameCube version, but Infrastructure online play was never put in. The game was excellent and felt right, and was the best portable MK game ever made. I spent hours and hours on this game, but my biggest complaint was that the announcer’s voice sounded pretty bad due to sample rate scaling to fit on the UMD. Konquest mode’s horrible graphics were even scaled-down more so it was painful to even look at. The graphics weren’t downgraded too much and still looked amazing on the handheld. It was released about a month after Armageddon so I felt it was a bit late to release this.
While there were only two games released in the staple numbered series they were both excellent, and one good adventure game was released as well as a strong portable. The 128-bit era was a great time for MK, but fans started longing for the old gameplay again. The 256-bit era will mark the series as a complete return, but for now, we had some excellent MK games to play until the next generation cycle.