It is filthy in places, and there's also some sick along the way, but that's life, especially school life.
With its original moniker reinstated, Rockstar Games' Bully releases on Xbox 360 and Wii on 7 March, and not a moment too soon. Originally a PS2-exclusive, it was renamed Canis Canem Edit (Dog Eat Dog) to dampen down smouldering controversy from ill-informed politicians and national newspapers. It sold over 2 million units, but it failed to register on the radar of those who had already moved on to next-gen gaming – which was a shame. Now, some 18 months later, it's had a next-gen re-rub, with improved visuals on 360, all-new Wii-mote-waggling features, additional "missions", characters, classes and a two-player mode.
At heart it's the same game. You play 15-year-old Jimmy Hopkins, dumped at the gates of Bullworth Academy by your cold-hearted mother and her new man, left to deal with whatever comes your way over the following year. The main misconception about the game is that you are the bully, and that it glorifies bullying. While you are a bit of a hard nut, it soon becomes clear that kicking the crap out of everyone won't get you far. Instead, it's all about forming alliances, playing one gang of kids off against another, using your head and surviving. OK, and occasionally knocking seven shades of shiz out of other kids.
It plays along the lines of GTA, but with a funnier script and without the guns. Fortunately it's not an all-boys school, so there's plenty of awkward girl/boy stuff to deal with. Swap car-jacking for bikes and skateboards, drug-running for homework-pilfering and gang leaders for teachers. The drudge of lessons is replaced with fun mini-games. Chemistry, for example, is a simple rhythm-action affair, while Geography has you pinning flags on maps.
I'm amazed it's taken this long for someone to make a decent game set in a school - the last one was Skool Daze on the Spectrum. That was a classic, and if Rockstar knows what's good for them, they'll roll this out into a series. Bully: The College Years, anyone?
PS. Here's a screenshot from Skool Daze, in case you were wondering what I was going on about there.