Scholarship Edition Bullies the Competition

April 1, 2008


If you haven't had enough of roughing up ruffians in between classes, 2006's Bully is coming back for a second semester in Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. The original PlayStation 2 game made waves due to unwarranted controversy and its Grand Theft Auto-inspired gameplay, but can Scholarship Edition overcome the sophomore jinx?

Jimmy Hopkins is no stranger to the curbsides of new schools, but the 15-year-old troublemaker may finally be in over his shorn head. His latest expulsion has led him to the looming gates of Bullworth Academy: a veritable school of hard knocks with an equally unsympathetic student body to boot. Here, it'll be up to you to discern friend from foe while helping Jimmy climb his way up the pecking order among the school's various cliques--like Russell, the ogrish leader of the bullies, Algernon, a rotund bookworm with urinary woes, and Gary, a misanthropic student that could be best described as, well, crazy.

Bully may be short of a few pimps and prostitutes but it's still very much a Rockstar game at heart. As you'll find out from the many interactions with Bullworth's colorful personalities, Rockstar's taste for dark comedy and satire lingers on like trace amounts of cocaine on a twenty dollar bill. Humor goes a long way in spicing up a game's charm, and with Bully it shows.

When the sun's out, the world is your oyster. You can embark on story-driven missions, help out on an errand or two, or even take the ol' skateboard for a ride while picking up stray collectible cards and rubber bands. When you're done running amok for the day, you can catch some much-needed shuteye back at the boy's dorm before setting off to do it all over again. Just don't get caught trespassing after hours.

If you feel the need to catch up on your reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, you can opt to sit through Bully's mini-game-based classes to earn various perks and abilities. Piece together enough anagrams in English and you'll be able to mingle with the fairer sex to a greater degree. Follow the on-screen button prompts of chemistry class and you'll be able to work your way around a chemistry set to concoct various weaponry in the form of stink bombs and itching powder. Who says you don't learn anything useful in school?

As far as new content goes, Scholarship Edition boasts a few more missions, a set of new clothes to unlock, and a handful of new classes including biology, geography, math, and music. You can even put your gray matter to the test in the new competitive multiplayer mode where you and a pal battle it out among the game's various classes and arcade mini-games.

As with most special editions, there isn't anything particularly remarkable with Scholarship Edition, though the new classes and multiplayer mode lend to a fair amount of replay value to the already considerable amount of things you could do in the original. Factor that in with the Xbox 360 version's achievements and you'll be guaranteed to spend some extra time in study hall.

In Bully, the gameplay revolves around whom you interact with on a daily basis and what results from that interaction. Get chummy with the nerds or deliver a flower to a girl and you'll earn their favor. Piss off a jock or two and expect to get speared by their linebacker wherever you go. Even the school's prefects get in on the action. Get caught breaking into a few lockers or trespassing after hours and it's off to the principal's office with you. If attempts at apologizing or puffing your chest go awry, you can duck into nearby lockers and trash cans to keep Jimmy's trouble meter at bay.

Fighting is rarely the answer to anything, but in Bully it's a way of life. You'll start the game off with a few basic combos and grabs, but over time you'll pick up some awesome fighting moves from the resident bum as well as a few useful grapples in gym class.

If you find yourself hankering for some extra firepower, Jimmy's arsenal of kiddie weaponry--from a tricked-out slingshot to slippery marbles--provide some much-needed oomph in sticky situations. You may not be swinging a katana anytime soon, but delivering a firecracker's explosive punch line to a gaggle of bullies is surprisingly rewarding.

With some of the new curriculum like the Trauma Center-inspired dissecting of biology and the rhythm-based gameplay of music class, it becomes somewhat apparent that the Wii remote came to mind in their design in Scholarship Edition. Even menial tasks like aiming are a bit smoother to perform on the Wii. Even so, the controls on the Xbox 360 still function as well as you'd expect.

What you can also expect is the same sense of childish thrill from ducking out of sight of authority figures and delivering noogies to those that deserve it. Bully may be a last-gen game by today's standards, but its strong core gameplay lives on as a good example of the sandbox formula done right. Bullworth is a thriving microcosm of freaks and geeks, and after your many dastardly deeds of pranking and ganking you'll soon come to feel like just another one of the boys.

With Grand Theft Auto IV around the corner, Bully: Scholarship Edition is a nice warmup. Though in reality, it deservers a lot more credit than that. Its clever writing, nuanced characters, and well-developed system of virtual hijinks and interaction have really stood the test of time. On the Xbox 360, it makes for a solid adaptation, and on the Wii it fills a gap in the software lineup with some decent Wii remote implementation to boot. If you missed delivering digital wedgies the first time around, a new set of in-game content and a two-player multiplayer mode in Bully: Scholarship Edition give it all the more reason to enroll.