Naughty Bear is a unique game. It takes a lovable teddy bear, a kind voice over and a very limited environment and turns them all violent. You play the role of the scorned bear, Naughty Bear, that gets shunned by the other bears on Perfection Island. Ranging from being kept from a birthday to being hunted down by a mayoral candidate’s followers, there’s plenty for Naughty Bear to be bitter about, which provides proper motivation for our anti-hero to go on killing sprees.
The gameplay in Naughty Bear is pretty simplistic from a distance. You basically can hack and slash on other bears until they submit and you can go in for the kill. Weapons are a plenty as you can use sticks, bats, machetes, traps, mines and guns. You can also go around sabotaging, or destroying, means of escape for the other bears. Watching a stuffed bear burst into flames when they try to get away in their car is something you will secretly laugh at, although it’s quite disturbing.
Outside of weapons and rigging material, you also have the chance to scare the bejeebus out of your enemies. For example, if you have a bear (Cuddles — sorry, had to) caught in a bear trap you can go up to him/her/it and press the scare button to let out a ‘boo!’. If you have them specifically in a trap you can actually perform a ‘super scare’ that drives the bear insane. In their insanity they will end up killing themselves. Sick? Yes. Funny? A little. Sick and funny? You bet your ass.
That’s the entertainment in the game, though. That’s the novelty as you play this scorned bear from what could only be described as a warped Care Bears episode. 505 Games and Artificial Mind & Movement put specific emphasis on this strange/insane character and different ways for him/her/it to kill the other bears; regretfully, they left out a few things to make this game ‘really’ good.
Before we get into the ‘bad’ of the game, let’s talk about multiplayer. I had some good fun with multiplayer as you can play 2-4 people online (no need for more than that). You get different types of games that include finding ‘jelly’ and a deathmatch-esque game. The restrictive online environments make this work really well, as the tension of hiding from other players is overwhelming fun. It’s like being in a horror film with sick bears running around hacking and slashing each other. I found the multiplayer probably more enjoyable than the single player.
As for the presentation of the game, it’s actually quite good. The bears are very detailed and the expressions they give are kind of cool/messed-up. The environments, while not overly detailed, are fitting for the storyline. You get a lot of ‘cute’ things that are meant to look innocent and fun. The best part of the presentation of this game is the voice over that moves the narrative along and announces how good/bad your killing has been. I found it incredibly amusing and, sickly enough, it never got old for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong all the killing in the game is entertaining. It’s neat to see a kill and super kill. It’s neat to do warped things like stick a bear’s head inside of a cooler and pound the door shut until their neck is broken (anyone that says it’s not fun is lying). The problem with Naughty Bear lies firmly in limited levels to play through, restrictive locked level system, faulty camera and occasional system freezes.
The levels in the game can get stale after a while. The environments for most of the game revolve around a couple of small towns on Perfection Island. You get a few buildings with a few places to hide or do terrible things. I’m not saying that these were boring environments, far from it, but I think they were far too repetitive for a full-size game. After a while you get a bit bored with what’s going on when the killing gets old.
Another flaw in the game is the restrictive locked level system. What I mean by this is that you’ve got to get a certain amount of points and a certain ranking to unlock the next level. If you don’t get beyond what is asked of you then you can’t progress to the next level. I can remember a few games in the recent past that restricted player progression this way and they are absolutely irritating. If developers are intent on doing this sort of restriction for level progression then the bar shouldn’t be set so high, as is the case with Naughty Bear. Going from level one to level two is an easy task. Going from level three was a chore. Each level has a small sub-level attached it, which is what AM&M called ‘challenges’. They are helpful in progressing to the next level, but they are a pain in the ass at times. For example, when attempting to unlock the third level you have to go through a challenge that requires you ‘not’ to hit people during the entire challenge. You basically have to withstand a barrage of violence without striking back. That task is nearly impossible and slow as molasses. Having challenges to help out your progression is nice, but don’t make them impossible.
Another issue with the game, which I can only imagine is a dilemma for every developer, is how the camera should be controlled. Should it be at the user’s discretion? Should it be locked into place? There are games out there that give you camera freedom, such as Metal Gear Solid 4. It works well for MGS4 and provides a huge amount of freedom for gamers looking for enemies. Is that better? Not necessarily because a game like God of War III runs with a locked camera and it would probably not work as well any other way. So, with that said, again I think it’s a tough dilemma to figure out what works best for games. As for games like Naughty Bear, the user-controlled camera simply doesn’t work well. I don’t think it’s the ‘freedom’ part that hurts the camera as much as the camera is incredibly sensitive in its movement. It can be compared to a mouse set at ‘overly sensitive’ in Windows. You lose control of the camera too much, which might cause some motion sickness for some gamers.
Finally, the biggest flaw of the game, which should have been taken care of before the game was released, is constant freezes. The game froze on me five times during the extent of my review period. Three of the times it was during offline play, mostly during the menu screens, and the other two times were online. I generally blame this sort of stuff on my Xbox 360 (who wouldn’t think of that first?), but the system worked like clockwork during my entire season of NCAA Football 11. This is one of those unacceptable things and needs to be corrected through downloadable patches.
So, is the game fun? I think it’s dying to be fun, but the flaws of the game keep it from fun. Had this been given at least six more months to work these things out then it probably would have been a great game. It feels a bit unfinished, a bit unpolished and needs a few more updates to make it solid. I’m not sure online updates can correct the stuff that it needs, but I think 505 Games and Artificial Mind & Movement should give this a shot. If they can correct it then it’s a great game in my opinion. Until then the flaws just hurt the fun way too much.