When Rockstar announced named a game called Bully back in 2006, the reaction was hardly surprising. The Daily Mail, protector of all that is good and pure in England, immediately passed judgement, and smeared it as if it were the unborn child of Adolf Hitler.
In an effort to quench the media bloodlust, Rockstar made a quick name change to the obscure Canis Canem Edit, like the game had entered some sort of witness protection program. But this did little to calm the tabloids. That the game was nothing like what the papers purported it to be was irrelevant. The sheer audacity of Rockstar was enough to keep the hate machine going. The 'Bully' name is back though for the revamped versions coming to 360 and Wii.
So, with all that bile now squarely aired at Manhunt 2, now seems like the perfect time to re-release Bully for Wii and Xbox 360. The question is, then, without the media storm that inadvertently propelled sales, is it actually any good? What's new? And how does a last-generation game stand up to today's competition? I popped into Rockstar's office to find out.
In Bully, players take control of Jimmy Hopkins, a fifteen year old delinquent that has been kicked out of every school in his vicinity. His mother, distraught at Jimmy's most recent expulsion potentially interrupting her fifth honeymoon, manages to get him a place at the notorious Bullworth Academy, where bad seeds go to either grow and blossom, or whither and die.
Aside from a little additional content, graphical overhauls and a multiplayer mode, Bully is identical to its former self, and the only thing that separates the Xbox 360 version from the Wii version is prettier aesthetics and motion specific controls, respectively.
That's not to trivialise the changes. It's obvious that some serious work has gone into the title. Developer Mad Doc (Rockstar outsourced the project) has built the game on an entirely new engine, which they say makes the most of the graphical capabilities of today's consoles. It's no Gears of War or Mario Galaxy though.
The graphical overhaul is no more obvious than in the opening school yard on the Xbox 360. Graphics are crisper. Textures are clearer. It looks more like a contemporary game. The obvious focus for the Wii is the motion sensor controls that come into play during combat. It plays out a bit like Wii Boxing, as the player repeatedly thrusts the Wii Remote and Nunchuck forward. Punches need to be thrown in a certain combinations, so it doesn't descend into the outright frenzy you're likely to see in a real school yard these days.
Players can also pull of humiliation moves at the end of a fight, intended to win Jimmy the respect of other children by coming up with increasingly innovative ways to make them cry. These moves are motion-controlled. So to pull off a Chinese burn, you have to administer an equivalent move to your Wii Remote. Weapons work in a similar fashion.
Aside from offering guidance for graphic enhancement and Wii specific controls, Rockstar also provided Mac Doc with designs and scripts for eight new missions and four extra mini-games, which form the basis of multiplayer mode.
The mini-games mimic the school lessons that Jimmy has to attend daily. The idea of Biology, for example, is for the player to make incisions on a random animal and extract its organs, as quickly and accurately as possible. In the example shown, I saw the innards of a duck being hacked to pieces as someone tried in vain to pull out its little heart.
It's gross, but hardly engrossing, providing little more than a five minute distraction. And considering the mini-games were only demonstrated on Wii, it's undetermined whether taking away the motion controls will also remove the novelty appeal when played on Xbox 360.
More substantial are the extra eight missions. If the one shown to us is anything to go by, the content will be just as crass, juvenile and entertaining as anything released in Rockstar's history.
Demoed was a mission where little Jimmy helped the town drunk spread festive cheer during the Christmas period, by any means necessary. The drunk, dressed as a Santa, wanted to be the number one Claus into town, and needed Jimmy to deal with his main adversary.
Based on that, if beating up elves, decimating a Christmas grotto and slapping a fake Santa about whilst listening to jolly Christmas music sounds likes fun, this will be the game for you. Which, to be fair, includes me too.
If you've never really understood the appeal of Rockstar titles though, there doesn't seem to be anything in Bully: Scholarship Edition to win you over. The problems of the original are still there - a sandbox world that's barely a grain deep, little variation in the missions, aging AI routines - and are more obvious compared to today's games.
Still, the quirky sense of humour and School Days charm of the original is definitely present in this version of Bully, and specifically Wii owners pining for something deeper than fitness regimes and cooking programs.