It's been a year and a half since Bully (Canis Canem Edit in the UK) built up a storm of controversy and then sort of fizzled out of the public eye, but Rockstar Games has refused to let the game die quietly. Instead, Jimmy Hopkins and crew are getting a second chance at life in Bully: Scholarship Edition, a remastered and expanded version that adds updated visuals and a slate of new missions and classes to the already excellent story and gameplay of the original. And if you missed it the first time, now's your chance to catch up.
Like the original, Bully: SE mixes free-form, Grand Theft Auto-style exploration with childish pranks and bare-knuckle violence, creating a high-school-delinquent experience that's surprisingly charming underneath all the snot-nosed rebellion. As sawed-off little tough guy Jimmy Hopkins, your goal is to survive a year at Bullworth Academy, a boarding school that's home to elite snobs and roving packs of delinquents who - like Jimmy - wouldn't be accepted anywhere else.
Luckily for us, Jimmy's not satisfied with mere survival, and the longer he spends at Bullworth, the more fed up he gets with its culture of bullying and idiotic power struggles between the school's five cliques. It isn't long before he decides to take matters into his own hands, first trying to fit in with each of the cliques and - when that doesn't work - savagely pummeling them until they recognize him as their leader.
It helps that, in addition to slowly getting access to a small arsenal of stink bombs, firecrackers and other improvised weapons, Jimmy's strong enough to beat up an entire football team at once. Which he'll have to, because until he earns respect from the cliques, they'll frequently attack him with little to no provocation. Not that they'll get in any more trouble than he will; the game's cops, prefects, teachers and other authority figures seem to be keeping an eye on Jimmy specifically, and if they catch him fighting - or playing pranks, bullying other students or, horror of horrors, hitting a girl - they'll chase him down and attempt to haul him off for detention unless he can get away.
Of course, there's a lot more to Bully than just violence. There's also vandalism, bike races and the dozens of errands you'll have to run while on missions for the teachers and students at Bullworth. The world - made up of Bullworth Academy and the big, diverse town that surrounds it - is small but intimate, and there are constantly new things to do as new areas and missions open up. Suffice it to say there's a huge variety of stuff to do, ranging from covert photography, graffiti and egging houses to making out with girls (or certain boys) or just cruising around on Jimmy's always-accessible skateboard.
There's also a bunch of new stuff that's been added for Scholarship Edition, not the least of which is a new series of missions revolving around Christmas. Whereas before, Jimmy would just be called down to the headmaster's office to receive a depressing sweater from his hateful mother, there's now a whole new sub-plot involving a war between a drunken hobo Santa and a more legitimate-seeming "impostor" who's "stealing his money." There's also a ridiculously humiliating Christmas pageant that makes the sweater thing seem trivial and non-traumatic by comparison.
Like in the original game, you'll also need to attend two classes per in-game day, although these are actually short, entertaining minigames that offer valuable power-ups (or at least silly wardrobe items) when successfully completed. Scholarship Edition adds four new ones to the mix: Geography, Music, Math and Biology, all obviously designed with the Wii controls in mind (which makes them a little less interesting on the 360). These classes - as well as the old ones, some of which have been retooled to use the Wii controls to great effect - also form the basis of the game's two-player mode, which pits Jimmy and his maladjusted, sadistic "friend" Gary against each other to see who can do a better job.
Out of the four new activities, the best is Biology, which features Trauma Center-style dissection of five disgustingly realistic dead animals. The worst, meanwhile, is Music, which asks players to clonk away at some percussion instrument using the Wii remote and Nunchuk (or the L and R triggers on the 360) as drumsticks, while the rest of the class cranks out some awful dirge that used to be a lively march. At least it's usually short.
Controls aside, there's only one real difference between the 360 and Wii versions: the graphics. Both versions feature visuals that have been noticeably beefed up since the PS2 version, with dynamic lighting and shadows, but the Wii version looks decidedly last-gen. To be fair, the 360 version does, too - don't expect anything on the level of Grand Theft Auto IV, here - but it packs some slick, hi-def new textures and re-modeled faces that make it easier to ignore how everyone's fingers look strangely like rectangular sausages.
Even without all the improvements, though, the underlying game has held up surprisingly well since its 2006 release. Bully's still a captivating, cartoonish adventure that packs a ton of activity into its deceptively small world, and it's still a lot of fun to run around dodging prefects and thwacking preppies with a slingshot. There's enough new stuff here to make it worth a look for fans who've already played it on PS2, but if you didn't catch it the first time, Bully: Scholarship Edition is an excellent way to find out what you've been missing.
Mar 4, 2008