Version tested: Wii
So far, multiplatform games have not had a good time on the Wii, and neither have ports. Shoehorned-in motion controls and poor, unoptimised graphics tend to doom them to mediocrity or worse; the best games on the system have invariably been designed for it from the ground up, with the exception of Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition.
Bully: Scholarship Edition, thankfully, bucks that trend. It's a very good port of the PlayStation 2 game, identical in almost every respect except the controls, which are integrated effectively and entertainingly. The important things - the witty script, the huge and believable cast of supporting characters, the variety and inventiveness of the game's missions - are still the same, and still make Bully a boisterous, funny and - even now, more than a year on - unique experience.
Well, we say unique, but as you'll know if you've read anything about either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 2 versions, the bare bones of Bully are anatomically similar to GTA's. The setting, storyline and script, though, are completely its own. You play a cocky but likeable dropout, Jimmy, who has been expelled from so many schools that the violent and bully-ridden Bullworth Academy is his last option. It's structured around missions that entail everything from fighting and fetch-and-carrying to helping a drunkard English teacher escape the wrath of the headmaster, stealing girls' pants and taking pot-shots at jocks from a tree. Apart from that, there's plenty to discover just biking or skateboarding around the school and its surroundings, collecting trinkets or finding new side-missions.
Bully is excellently paced, always expanding your boundaries just as you begin to feel like a big fish in a small pond. At first, being constrained to Bullworth Academy doesn't even feel like a restriction, but ten or fifteen hours on, with the whole of the town and the surrounding area to explore, the thought of being confined to barracks is unbearable. What makes is really special, though, are the excellent cut-scenes, characterisation and dialogue that are ever-present during your adventures in Bullworth. The school factions - the Jocks, the Nerds, the Preppies, the Greasers - and their characters are a perfect mix of stereotype and originality; not only is Bully extremely funny when it wants to be, but it's also real enough to feel involved in.
All of this is the same on every platform. What the Wii specifically brings to the table is, of course, a different method of control. Without two sticks, the camera is controlled by pressing left and right on the d-pad, which works fine, but as up and down on the d-pad control jumping and aiming, and the plus, minus, 1 and 2 buttons all serve different functions as well, you have to get used to moving your thumb about.
More significantly, schoolyard scrapping is now done almost entirely with left and right arm punching motions, Wii Sports Boxing style. With the help of a lock-on button, this actually works really well, and the novelty and thrill of physically smacking bullies in the face hasn't worn off after ten hours. It's just subtle enough, too, requiring you to time your punches and ensuring that just windmilling doesn't actually work. The humiliation finishers, too, are satisfyingly physical, mimicking arm-twisting, head-locking and shoulder-punching with remote movements. The four new school-subject mini-games were also clearly designed with the Wii controls in mind - dissecting a rat, pinning flags on countries and drumming are obviously more fun with the remote and nunchuk.
Comparing the Wii and 360 versions of Bully: Scholarship Edition is difficult, really. The motion-controlled combat and extra Wiimote-centric mini-games definitely add to the experience - physically punching and grappling with your hands will always make for a more entertaining experience than pressing buttons - but looks-wise, the Wii game's only marginally better than the PS2 original. This means it falls far short of the 360 version's graphical standard, even if it does avoid the more powerful system's (soon-to-be-fixed, says Rockstar) technical issues. Consequently, Bully's age is far more obvious on the Wii, but playing it is a wee bit more enjoyable. It's a choice between much nicer looks and motion controls - a trade-off that is sure to become familiar as multiplatform Wii games get more common and less lazy.
If you've already played Canis Canem Edit, then four new mini-games and new combat controls, however great, probably won't make you buy it again. But set in the context of the Wii game library, Bully stands out more than ever. It's far removed from everything else on the system, and still just as mischievous and entertaining as it was a year ago. The dialogue is full of life, the missions make you laugh out loud and the whole thing is infused with wayward, playful charm. One day, hopefully, all Wii ports will be this good.
8 / 10