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Review: Naughty Bear

John Funk | 9 Jul 2010 13:00
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Naughty Bear is a game that taps into two underlying parts of the nerd psyche. It's the part that watched Looney Tunes and thought that watching Daffy Duck get shot was cackle-worthy, and the part that thinks that the juxtaposition of slasher-flick imagery with adorable fluffy cartoon animals is hilarious - you know, the part that watches stuff like Happy Tree Friends.

Unfortunately, it's also a game that's not very good.

There are a few problems with Naughty Bear, but chief among them is that the game's objectives seem to be at odds. While on the surface, the goal of all of Naughty Bear's levels is to punish the other bears on the island for their behavior via bloody (er, fluffy) murder, that isn't exactly right. In truth, Naughty Bear shares a core with old arcade games where you sought to get the high score - you need to be as naughty as possible to get the best trophies, unlock the best hats, and compete on the online leaderboards against your friends. To do this, you need to maintain a high score multiplier of constant naughtiness.

But that isn't fun. The moments where Naughty Bear is genuinely entertaining are the moments where you feel like a hunter in the shadows. You creep around unseen in the forest, sabotage a piece of machinery, and then wait for your hapless prey to come fix it - and then you strike, gruesomely murdering them before they know what's going on. It's got a morbid and dark sense of humor, and it's fun watching your plan play out. Unfortunately, the game wants you to keep that score multiplier up, which means that if you want to ever unlock things, that just won't cut it.

In fact, the game seems deliberately designed to make the stalking-trapping-killing bit (you know, the fun bit) as clunky and difficult to get to as possible. If one of the teddies so much as catches a whiff of Naughty, he gets worried and in turn worries all the other bears - and before you know it, they're barricading themselves in one of the houses. Your only recourse at that point is to make a full-on assault, wherein the combat system literally just involves hitting "attack" over and over until you get a "kill" option.

It doesn't help that the game is painfully repetitious. Yes, it's fun to see all the context-sensitive kills, but they eventually start to feel alike - there are only so many different ways a bear can have its face forced down onto Lethal Surface X while still being unique. There are only so many of them, and there are even fewer locations on the island that you will visit time and again in each one of the chapters. While Naughty Bear tries to mix it up by offering different objectives like "kill them all," "don't be seen," or "don't take any damage," it's a band-aid on a gusher. It smacks of padding the game to feel worthy of the price, and just exacerbates the feeling of repetition when you play the same mission five times over in slightly different ways.

Naughty Bear is marred by technical problems, too. The loading screens are frequent, there is no way to easily restart a level after failing (you need to load the menu, select everything all over again, and then load the mission itself), the camera is a hindrance and often obscures the bear-murdering action when you don't want it to, and the controls will occasionally decide that you don't want to pick up the weapon you're standing right on top of.

On the plus side, it does have a nice sense of humor - the tips and jokes on the loading screen make its frequent appearance more bearable (har har) - with some great pop culture references, like a later level where all the police officers are named after characters in the Police Academy movies.

After playing Naughty Bear, all I could think was that I might have been giving the game a more positive review if it were a cheap downloadable title on PSN or XBLA. It has a decent core mechanic that could be fleshed out, and it wouldn't need so much repetitious padding to make people think it's worth the price. A lot of Naughty Bear's issues could be overlooked at $15, but not at $50.

Bottom Line: Despite quite competently capturing the feel of a slasher flick and possessing a solid sense of humor, Naughty Bear is repetitious and clunky, and constantly feels like it's working to keep you separated from the parts of the game that are genuinely fun - that is, the hunting down and murder of adorable stuffed animals. Take out the fluff and the padding, and you might have a solid downloadable title, but as it is? Naughty Bear's biggest crime is that his game just isn't very good.

Recommendation: May be worth renting for a laugh or two - there is some fun to be had in the game - but otherwise give this one a pass.

Game: Naughty Bear
Genre: Action-Adventure
Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Publisher: 505 Games
Platform(s): Xbox 360, PS3
Available from: Amazon.com, Gamestop

This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

John Funk just isn't very naughty.

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