Rockstar Games have a penchant for attracting attention. The same is true today as it was back in 2006. The cynical amongst us would say that the company have created a business model around the idea that if a game attracts publicity for being gratuitous, it will sell. Whilst the more conservative amongst us might suggest that Rockstar Games simply like to produce fictional playgrounds of an adult nature with wish-fulfilment in abundance. Whatever the case may be, the games they produce sell. Which calls into question as to why a game has lauded as Bully: Scholarship Edition has never received a sequel.

Even Rockstar Game Presents: Table Tennis, the most unlikely of candidates, performed greater than anyone could have expected. And yet Bully, renamed Canis Canem Edit for it’s European PlayStation 2 roll-out under censorship and media pressure, reportedly missed the mark. And so here we are, with Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox 360 (also released simultaneously on Wii). A concession to the title’s underperformance at retail? Or perhaps simply a wish on behalf of it’s developers to widen the title’s potential audience? Whatever the reason, 2008’s Bully: Scholarship Edition is fundamentally the same game that launched on PlayStation 2 in 2006. And frankly, there’s little wrong with that.

Bully: Scholarship Edition screenshot

Bully Bullying is the New Bullying

A third-person action-adventure title, Bully: Scholarship Edition is set in the sandbox of Bullworth Academy and the surrounding town. The game features a host of unwelcoming characters and a taste for the uncomfortable. Bully: Scholarship Edition has all the hallmarks of a more traditional Rockstar Games release. Wherein the original had been criticised for allowing people – especially children – to enact the role of a bully at school. The point had clearly been missed. Assuming the role of the extremely troubled Jimmy Hopkins, the players’ main goals begin as that of a peacekeeper. Defend nerds from bullies and run errands. It’s only as the story rolls-on does the player become forced in a merciless agenda, and even then, it’s with good moral intentions.

The missions in the title roll-through five chapters – each progressing through the school year. You’re guided along an inviting, if well-trodden, storyline. The missions vary from a wide range of tasks, such as getting to places, beating bosses, outwitting nerds and many more. Each begins with a cutscene explaining the activity and all have been well realised. Most missions are limited by the in-game clock; to which the player is at all times held hostage.

If in bed by 2am, Jimmy will awake at 8:30am without fail. However, Jimmy will pass-out immediately at 2am should you not make it, and things begin to get hazy around 1:30am. Also, the area – both school and town – is patrolled by prefects, police, teachers and various other nasties that want to keep you down. Get caught by one of these and your mission will end. Should a lesson be in progress, you will immediately be forced to take it.

Bully: Scholarship Edition screenshot

We Don’t Need No Education

Lessons in the title are presented as mini-games. Dissections for Biology, rhythm puzzles for Chemistry and Music, word puzzles for English and basic Maths solutions for, well, Maths. Each of these is entertaining and is a well presented use of the subject matter; it’s clear that no aspect of the environment has been ill-considered. The animation is everything; Rockstar Games’ Bully: Scholarship Edition isn’t without flaws – far from it – but it’s a larger than life world. Jimmy Hopkins is a supposedly lower class student of low intellect and a troublesome background, but with a surprisingly adult wit, and so acts as a presence intimidating similar to the four lead kids from South Park, and as immediately likeable.

The rest of the cast represent Rockstar Games’ fondness of the most grotesque and unsightly of human characteristics. Singular stereotypes fleshed-out and personified. The drunken bum Santa; the pervert teacher; the unwashed, overweight cook; the ape-like bully and the geek. All imaginable before even a single piece of character art has been shown, and all exactly how many would imagine them.

Bully: Scholarship Edition screenshot

Bully: Scholarship Edition Lacks that Modern Rockstar Polish

Unfortunately, bugs litter the game. Speech samples informing you it’s an English Class when the loading screen (of which there are far too many) clearly stated it was Maths; re-spawning at the wrong checkpoint, inaccurate control set-up information, sticking points and hilariously bad physics are all common in a brief hour play. The lock-on system is woefully inaccurate, often resulting in the player hitting their team-mate as opposed to their rival. Occasionally failing a mission because of it. This is not the Rockstar Games sheen we’re used to in modern times.

Even back in 2008, Bully: Scholarship Edition remained decidedly last-generation in its looks. It’s unfortunate that a little more care hadn’t been paid to the often jerky frame-rate and glitchy, rough textures. The character models are all very-well realised, yet even at launch looked very dated. The soundtrack however, is excellent. Although it also is full of glitches and can be quite repetitive, it is brimming with hilarious one-liners and some of the best scripted interactions in videogames.

Bully: Scholarship Edition screenshot

Bring Back Bully

Bully: Scholarship Edition is a direct port of a game from a previous generation of videogame consoles, and one that hasn’t aged well. However, there remains something unique about the whole experience. The gameplay is of a high standard; traditional and rarely inventive, but comfortable in its familiarity. We’ve all seen Bully: Scholarship Edition before. However, what sets it apart is its character; it’s perfectly realised world that is more fun to be in than most. It’s a game that confuses from its very core; you’ll like it, but you’ll never be quite sure why. The fact that it will have you coming back for more time-and-time-again may just be enough though. Whether or not we’ll ever see a sequel is unknown, but the fact that you can revisit Bullworth Academy on Xbox Series X|S is as good a reason as any to rekindle that friendship with Jimmy Hopkins.

Categories: Games