Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Publisher: 505 Games
Naughty Bear has bricked my Xbox for the third time today and this is by far the worst. Chasing an elusive platinum score on one of the level challenges, I've successfully sent the entire parade for the Teddy Bears' Picnic completely insane, except for one. Three of them are stuck in traps, bewildered and gibbering in helium-pitched exclamation, one is about to shoot himself through the head and another is pulling his own stuffing out through a self-inflicted hole in his belly made by a rusty cartoon machete. A frog watches me from atop a tree stump, I hit it with my fluffy paw and it explodes in a puff.
Subtly, I pull the plug on the DJ stack assembled for the party and run to hide in the bushes and, sure enough, the last bear comes running to fix it. As he's poised there, hunched over the broken mess of electronics I make my move. Stealing up behind him I grab his head and slam it into the decks several times. Fluff goes flying everywhere along with bits of plastic and part of an LP. The music warps horribly and the bear finally slumps to the floor. A gameshow announcer who sounds suspiciously like someone trying to impersonate Jason Donovan proclaims my evil genius and suddenly the platinum award appears. I've done it! I've won! I'm going to hit the top of the leaderboards!
And then everything freezes and I have to reset and it's the third time it's happened in the last hour. There are no mid-level saves and no checkpoints whatsoever. I've spent the best part of an hour causing utter mayhem and now I'm going to have to do it all over again. A controller almost dies.
Welcome to Naughty Bear, the game that crosses Winnie-the-Pooh with barcode-tattooed nutjob Codename 47. You play as the eponymous stuffed creature, brown and fuzzy with a mischievous smile. The first time you meet him, though, he's a little down. There's a birthday party on but Naughty Bear hasn't been invited because he's...well...got a bit of a reputation. A little hurt and upset, he's still managed to get the birthday bear a gift and so off he trots, hoping that at least his present will be well received. Unfortunately, all of the other bears take the piss out of Naughty's tiny present and laugh him off the premises and he runs home tearfully, all goodwill erased. Cue a rampage of vengeance, as clearly the only course of action is to turn the bears insane and brutally slaughter them one by one.
This, then, is the name of the game. You're plonked down in a colourful little sandbox, littered with weapons, objects to break and destroy, hiding places and other bears. Your objectives, of which there are usually two, generally have you killing all of the bears or turning them all insane, the other objective being score based. You see Naughty Bear is something of an arcade title, forever pushing you onwards to larger multipliers, higher scores and more shiny awards and in-game trophies. You're rewarded with costumes that bolster your speed and accuracy, strength and health bar for your troubles, not to mention leaderboard pride, the scores of which will update in real-time, with the highest for each level spurring you on by sitting in the top left hand corner of your screen.
You rack up these points, fairly obviously, by being naughty and there are a fair few ways of doing this. Windows can be smashed, objects broken and destroyed and bears bellowed at and beaten with a variety of objects from golf clubs to legs of ham. The big points, however, come from context sensitive scares. The various environmental objects littered around the maps - from power boxes to telephones, BBQs to arcade machines - can be sabotaged rather than utterly destroyed. The latter will net you the most immediate points, but doing the former will encourage bears to come and fix them, during which time you can sneak up behind them for ultra scares or graphically violent contextual kills. The most points are reserved for unleashing so much horror that the bears go mad, after which one more 'Boo!' (an exclamation that has its own button) is all you'll need to send them suicidal and tip them over the edge into what the game terms 'Unfathomable Sacrification'. Of course, doing all of things unseen makes for no witness and less of a fear factor. Have someone top themselves in front of a few bears and watch that multiplier soar!
Sounds brilliant right? A deliciously sadistic Manhunt-style game made absolutely fine thanks to the fact that everyone involved shares a species with Paddington and Rupert. The presentation is fantastic, the cutesy art and colourful design wonderfully reminiscent of all of those early morning kids TV shows, whose costumed protagonists you wanted to burn alive. It's actually a shame the game features bears, I'd have much rather gone Teletubby hunting or tried to assassinate Barney. The graphics aren't wildly stunning, but then again they don't need to be. Detail is there where required, with the bears looking absolutely brilliant, sporting taunting grins when you're at the window and then morphing into visages of terror as you smash it in with a baseball bat and climb in after them. A2M and 505 Games have been touting this one as a possible summer smash and, for the first hour or so, you're likely to agree with them.
But then it all goes slightly wrong.
You see, fun though the initial stages of the game are, it's not long before you realise that there's not an awful lot to the game. Sure there are extra levels, seven main story chapters to be exact, and each with a series of challenges to bust through with varying conditions of success (don't get hit, don't get seen, kill everyone in the quickest time possible etc.), but they're all pretty much the same. The game tries to spice things up a bit by throwing in new bear types like ninjas and machine-gun toting soldiers, but it doesn't really help the enormous feeling of repetition.
The lack of variety extends to the core gameplay and violence as well. There are a plethora of weapons to use, but they all pretty much work in exactly the same way, the only slight difference being in the ultra kills you'll be able to pull off with them - stab with a sharp knife, beat with a bat or club. But even this is a purely aesthetic difference and, after the third time of viewing, begins to leave you cold. The interactive environmental devices that you can sabotage also all work in the same way too: tinker with one and wait for the bear, then scare him with a 'Boo!' or go for the context kill. Again, fun the first time, but less so each time after that. it's not helped by the fact that, in spite of the different challenge modes, the tactics you'll use are relatively universal.
Worse still, after a time you actually begin to feel a little sorry for the bears that you're going around and killing. Naughty Bear himself is a bit of a dick really, which may well be the point, but as vintage Rare most palpably demonstrated with Conker, if you're going to go for offensive you've got to have the charm and the gameplay to support it. Although the game does have a lot of cutesy charm going for it, aided by fantastic facial animations for the bears, after a couple of hours I hazard that you'll find yourself either wholly desensitised to the violence (which defeats its outlandish purpose) or else feeling slightly disturbed. Pixar fans should certainly steer clear.
This isn't a morality thing at all, I love childish and immature representations of violence. Mortal Kombat II is one of my favourite games ever. But Naughty Bear's gameplay is so slender when it comes down to it that the game reveals itself to be something of a one trick pony. There are some utterly fantastic ideas here and some really quite impressive AI, but it feels much more like a Marketplace title than a full game because of the flat, repetitive gameplay which is a real shame. It's also pretty impossible to play Naughty Bear for a short amount of time. The levels and challenges are all multi-tiered, with no checkpoints or opportunities to save. This might not worry the guy going for a speed run, but it's hugely irritating later on when you set everything up perfectly for the killer score only for the camera to break itself and for you to get capped in the head .
The multiplayer aspects, what I managed to see of them, are pretty solid and the foliage scattered about each and every level in Naughty Bear that serves as your hiding place is used to absolutely brilliant effect online. Take the game of Golden Oozey I played this morning on release day: there were only two of us as the servers had only just started letting people play and what unfolded was a ten minute game of cat and mouse. The aim of this mode - one of four, the others being 'Assault' (Team Deathmatch), Cake Walk (kind of like King of the Hill, but the hill is a cupcake) and Jelly Wars (Capture the Flag...but with jellies) - will be instantly familiar to anyone who every played GoldenEye: grab the golden gun and start killing people. But the fact that there were only two of us, added to the hide-and-seek system that works really very well, made for a wonderfully tense game. There are powerups for speed, a rage powerup that I used to good effect as it's quite hard to aim when an angry bear is pummelling you. To be honest, there's a great deal of potential here in the multiplayer aspect of the game and I'm actually excited to dive into it further the more people pop into cyberspace.
What we have here, then, is something of a curiosity piece. A2M have certainly tried to do something a little bit different with this title and that in itself should be commended. It's a game that will surely make you laugh, if you're of a certain disposition, or at least titter nervously but how long for is another matter entirely. It's telling that the game is being released at £30 rather than a full £40-50, even so I can't help but feel that an opportunity for a true summer smash has been slightly missed here.
- Great premise and promising multiplayer
- Some highly entertaining contextual assassinations
- Lots of challenges and cups and character costumes to unlock
- Not enough core gameplay features to prevent things from feeling repetitive early on
- No checkpoints
- Lacking in essential charm
The Short Version: This is a game with vast potential - an excellent premise, some lovely presentation, an addictive scoring system to keep you occupied, and some seriously dark humour. Unfortunately these things are tempered with a lack of variety, limited and rehashed gameplay features and a feeling of repetition that sets in far too quickly because of it. Taken in small bursts, Naughty Bear is a fun, madcap barrage of sadistic delights. But it's not too long before it reveals itself as a disappointingly shallow game that feels far more suited to XBL and PSN than a full release.