Naughty Bear Review

Title   Naughty Bear
Developer  Artificial Mind and Movement
Publisher  505 Games
Platform  Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Genre  Action
Release Date  June 25, 2010

If only they'd invited Naughty to the party!

There are, it would seem, games to suit every type of personality. For those who dream of taking part in medieval re-enactments but are a little too self-conscious to dress up in the garb, we have the traditional middle-earth style role playing game. For the macho jock type who wants to bang chests with his team mates and talk about “clean kills” we have the archetypal first person soldier based games. In fact, just about any personality type is covered in the world of gaming in one way or another and, sometimes, we get away with it. What about the closet serial killer though? The type of person who secretly wants to strut around the streets wearing an “I [heart] Gacy” t-shirt doesn’t really have many games that help to release that pent up aggression, unless you count shooting prostitutes in the face… which isn’t quite the same as going full pelt with a gleaming axe into the face of one of your peers. Enter Naughty Bear.

The developers over at Artificial Mind And Movement have clearly paid attention to the ridiculous notion, created by an overly saccharine society, that it’s ok to show extreme violence when it’s being acted out by, or on, a personification rather than a genuine human being. You know how it goes: Elmer Fudd shoots Daffy Duck in the face with a double barrelled shotgun and, a second later, the smoke clears presenting us with a rather irked Daffy Duck sporting a dense black face with his bill blasted around the other side of his head. A quick look to camera from our hero, a roll of the eyes, a hand reaching to the back of his head and *boink* he springs his bill back to the front of his head. It’s harmless fun, because it’s being done to a lisping duck with no trousers on.

Naughty Bear is no different in this regard; it’s violent to the point where you may actually find yourself thinking “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this”. Yet it’s also very satisfying and, all too often, I found myself mentally superimposing someone elses face onto that of Daddles or one of the other bears whilst pummelling it with a baseball bat to the point where it’s mashed beyond recognition and ultimately looks like Haley Joel Osment. Ok, perhaps not quite THAT disturbing, but you get the idea.

Don't look now, but it appears that the opposition is trying a hatchet job on you!

The premise of the game is that all of the other bears on the Island Of Perfection are having a party and your character, Naughty Bear, wasn’t invited. The others had the foresight to assume that Naughty wouldn’t exactly behave himself if invited and, unfortunately for them, never thought it through to the point where being excluded would actually push him over the edge towards becoming a homicidal, or ursacidal, maniac. One could easily jump to the conclusion that, were it not for Naughty, there would be nothing but peace and tranqulitiy on the Island Of Perfection but, unless I’m sorely mistaken, nothing could be further from the truth. Given the fact that the inhabitants are bears, teddy bears actually, there are a remarkable number of bear traps littered around their houses and recreational areas, as well as a veritable buffet of lethal weapons scattered around for no apparent reason. Sure, they’ll need the baseball bat for breaking open the various pinatas at their party… but what about the machetes, axes, guns, katana and other weapons? If you ask me… they’re all a little bit mental.

Awww, Naughty loves his little friends SO much that he's teaching Sunbeam how to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre

Your role is somewhat dictated by the narrator, a stereotypical voiceover from a British childrens’ television show… think Geoffrey from Rainbow or Ray Brooks from Mr Benn… and then imagine that they’re sick and twisted, and you have the narrator. The introduction to the game, along with the beautifully stylised infantile graphics, is more than reminiscent of the late 70s than you could possibly imagine, and I half expected to see King Rollo jump out from behind a tree with his odd little pointy beard, stabbing someone in the eye with it but he didn’t, sadly. Instead, the narrator speaks to Naughty in that deliciously condescending tone and slowly coerces him into believing that the only way forward is to obliterate all of his kin from existence by whatever means possible. Truth be told, it’s fantastic. You KNOW that you’re about to go on a mass killing spree where the object of the game is to be as inventive and cruel as possible, and you KNOW that there are more points awarded if you manage to keep any of the bears at the edge of death and manage to torment them further without killing them… yet the tone and inflection of the narrator would have you believe that you’re nipping across the road for a packet of Haribo and a carton of Um Bongo. The execution, if you’ll pardon the unintentional pun, is absolute perfection and can’t be faulted in the slightest.

Remove the illusion of the candy cane idyllic island, the innocence of the stuffed teddy bears and the happy-go-lucky jangly soundtrack and what you’re essentially left with is an arena type gladiatorial game. Before you’ve even managed to finish sabotaging your first barbecue, the other bears have taken up the call to arms, barricaded themselves in as much as they can, and watched the bravest of the bunch head out into the unknown brandishing whatever machete or baseball bat happened to be to hand at the time, with only one thing on their mind – your demise. The arena in this instance is the island itself which, let’s be honest, isn’t so much a land mass and is more of a traffic island but, it has to be said, there are ways and means to not only stay alive… but also amass ridiculous scores if you put your mind to it, and the arena itself plays a big part. Sabotaging areas will have the bears investigate and attempt to repair whatever damage you have done, and this is a perfect opportunity for you to sneak up on them from the cover of the woods and scare them to the point where they lose their marbles and, if pushed further, commit suicide. There are also telephone boxes which, if left undamaged, can be used by the other bears to call the local police who arrive in their little boats and take pot shots at you with their guns. Killing a cop bear does grant you additional points but it also places the temptation to use the gun which, if I’m honest, is nowhere near as rewarding as the axe or machete. Why take something out from a distance with a clean shot to the head when you can turn their face into a wobbling mass of raspberry jelly using your trusty axe? No contest, I’m afraid.

In terms of actual gore, however, there isn’t any. While it certainly doesn’t utilise the “less is more” approach of the Murnau classic Nosferatu where everything is left to your imagination for a potentially more disturbing experience… you DO get to see very graphic violence but without the realism of blood or, in the case of teddy bears, stuffing. This is neither a positive or negative, as I can’t imagine it would make the game any better had we been able to see the innards and yet, by the same token, it hasn’t hampered any of the enjoyment by excluding it.

The actual enjoyment of the game isn’t so much in the actual killing, but more in the strategy and execution. It’s easy enough to rampage through each area, killing all the bears in the quickest possible time, but the enjoyment factor comes in to play when you take in your surroundings and begin to strategise how best to take out each bear, using the various implements around you. Killing a bear using an axe would take no more than ten blows, at which point the on-screen prompt is to scare (LT) or kill (RT)… or you can just move on to your next victim and leave your half-dead prey to drag itself through the Island Of Perfection for all the other bears to see which, in turn, puts the fear of death into them and increases your score much more than had you killed the bear. Similarly, leaving a bear alive on the brink of death will increase the score for the next time you decide to attack it, providing you don’t go too far and kill it outright. The problem with taking such a pensive, torturous and enjoyable approach to the killings is that your score multiplier is constantly dropping and isn’t the easiest thing to increase when you’ve already broken all the windows, smashed all the cakes, bludgeoned all the indigenous species and destroyed all their entertainment. To that end, every kill has to be carefully calculated and considered in advance, otherwise spending the additional time to be more deliciously creative could ultimately result in losing thousands of points in the process.

Oh dear Naughty, it looks like you've gone outside with no trousers on again and Throbbles and Nobbles are laughing at your package! Don't worry Naughty, it IS very cold, after all.

As each level progresses, the process of killing each and all of the inhabitants becomes increasingly difficult thanks to other variants such as ninja bears, who can not only see you when you attempt to hide in the woods, but can also follow you in whereas the other bears will always avoid the woods. An age old question answered right there! Each level also has the option of replaying with more strict conditions, where you either have to avoid being damaged to qualify, or have to drive all the bears to insanity level forcing them to commit suicide as you’re not actually allowed to cause any harm yourself. The one which I found to be the most difficult was to avoid being seen at any point during the level. It’s entirely possible to kill the other bears using scare tactics, booby trapped barbecues and bear traps (coupled with scaring) but extremely difficult to be creative when you’re trying to avoid being seen. Difficult, but not impossible.

While some may argue that this offers a great deal more longevity to the game, the truth is that it actually makes it quite mundane. I’ve killed those bears already, in this particular arena, and I know where everything is now so there’s no thrill to be had from any degree of discovery. We’re simply being asked to lather, rinse and repeat… but the next time we use the same shampoo, same water, but slightly different hand movements. It was, if I’m being honest, rather tedious. It’s also not possible to simply complete level one and move on to level two, then to level three, because the next full level doesn’t unlock until you’ve cleared a few of the special runs in each level. There IS, however, one aspect to the game which does actually coax a lot more longevity and that’s the score whoring between friends. No sooner had I moved on to the next level than one of the others on my XBox Live friends list had managed to knock me off the top spot by a considerable amount and, while I’m far from being competitive, I decided to use that as leverage for another few runs at the same level to see if I could better their score. I couldn’t. I came close, but I couldn’t actually beat them. This gave me the same sort of thrill that I had when trying the same track a few dozen times in Trials HD to try and achieve that elusive top spot but, unlike with Trials HD, the novelty soon wore off after a few attempts and I found myself screaming for the next level to open up so I could just move on and finish the game. Never a good sign.

As far as the game mechanics are concerned, Naughty Bear is incredibly flawed and it pains me to say it because I’ve been desperate to play this game since the first time I heard mention of it, but the mechanics let this down massively. During my first day of playing, the XBox had to be reboot three times in the space of an hour as the game just froze and neither the controller nor the XBox itself were responding. Bear in mind that this is the same XBox that has managed to cope with twelve hour sessions of Fallout 3 and three or four hour sessions of Borderlands where I’ve gone on a Crawmerax killing spree and ended up with over one thousand weapons on screen at any given time. To have it crash three times in one hour during a game which, let’s face it, doesn’t have a very high number of polygons and mostly non-descript textures, is quite astonishing. Being the incredibly patient geek that I am, however, I continued to reboot and managed to get a solid four or five hours gameplay from my first day on the Island Of Perfection, but it wasn’t without countless additional crashes. Coupled with the fact that the game has auto-save points whenever you clear a level and advance to the next, any crashes mid level mean that you have no choice but to start the level over when you manage to reboot.

In Naughty Bear, cops venturing into public toilets run less of a risk than those hanging out in the same neighbourhood as George Michael

The in-game camera is also irksome whereby it will suddenly jump from one suitably acceptable position to a ridiculous backwards overhead position just because you’ve veered a little close to the back wall or a tree, resulting in you having to move Naughty Bear around enough to level up the camera angle again which, invariably, forces you out of hiding and into the path of a rampaging bear. Another annoyance with the camera is that, should you wander too close to a tree, the camera will continue to track you but with your character in front of the tree and not enough opacity on the tree to actually follow what you’re supposed to be doing or where you’re going. This was, for me, more annoying and troublesome than the eratic camera movements and led to me actually quitting the game at one point because it was far too much of a distraction.

It is, perhaps, the most disappointing game of the year for me… not because it’s the worst, as that’s not the case, but it’s one game that has been eagerly anticipated and I made the mistake of believing the hype and falling for the various trailers. It’s not a BAD game, don’t get me wrong, as it can be an incredible amount of fun at times but it falls short of being what it could have been. The idea was there, to take something as saccharine and innocent as childrens’ television and turn it into a macabre affair with more cartoon violence than any other game that springs to mind, but the execution was flawed. Whether the developers became too wrapped up in how aesthetically pure yet deliciously violent the game was and forgot about the gameplay aspect, I have no idea, but it does leave me with a sense that there’s something missing – gameplay. That, as far as I’m concerned, is the most important facet of any game.

  • The sickly sweet narrator is a touch of genius
  • Aesthetically speaking, the menu graphics are spot on
  • Violence without inciting violent feelings, which is quite an achievement
  • Great for score whoring with friends
  • A truly great concept
  • Frequent crashing
  • Gameplay arena is too small and could have been expanded upon
  • Feels like an XBLA game with a commercial price tag
  • Very repetitive gameplay
  • Camera was problematic at times

On the whole, Naughty Bear is an incredibly devious idea that simply wasn't nurtured to its full potential. While it excels in terms of deliberately kitsch and overplayed aesthetics to pull you back to the television shows of the typical 1970s childhood, it falls flat when it comes to presenting you with a game which carries the excitement through from the first level to the last. The repetitive nature of having to play through each level in various modes was a let down and very quickly became tedious. The game COULD have been fantastic, and I desperately wanted this to be the case but, sadly, it just wasn't. Bitter disappointment with what is essentially an XBLA game marketed as a commercial release.

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  1. Adam Adam says:

    Oh :(

    A review that broke my heart </3

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Sorry! I tried SO hard to like it more, actually I didn’t really DISLIKE it… it’s a fun game, just not a good game. Hope that makes sense?

  3. Edward Edward says:

    Looks like the game’s naughtiness was too much to bear…

    I’ll leave now.

    But I’ll agree with Adam.

  4. Adam Adam says:

    It makes sense and bless you for not trying to smooth over the cracks. The premise sounds fantastic and the First Look which Lorna wrote up (I hope I’m right with that one) was the first I’d seen of the game and it really sunk its teeth in then.

    I can very much see myself wanting to like this game to much and just from that, I probably still would. But all the while, maybe I’d just be convincing myself and no one else.

    Still, next time I’m in Blockbusters…

    Great Write up Mark, lets hope for more from Artificial Mind and Movement and maybe a different publisher to help them out too :D

  5. Rook says:

    I’ve done 3 levels in the first chapter and find it hard to want to go back. You have hits and you have misses, Naughty Bear isn’t even worth aiming at.

  6. Kat says:

    GUTTED. Je suis gutted.

    This title felt like the inside of my head in game-form. It could have been so awesome. Whhhhhhy mess it up, whhhhy?

    I’m still tempted to try it but I can’t justify the cost. Perhaps once it’s vastly dropped in price I’ll, literally, have a bash.

  7. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    See, I actually enjoyed playing it WHILE I was playing it, but I’d never find myself looking forward to getting to it again. Having said that though, both Zero and Tania seem to be having a great time playing through it so I guess it comes down to what you actually expect from it. I expected utter awesomeness and never got it, so it was an uphill struggle from the start for me. It’s still an enjoyable game, but it’ll never be a classic and never be on “must play” list.

  8. M@thew says:

    You’ve confirmed some of my suspiscions Mr Mark. Not bad by any means, just not as good as the premise promises.
    Definetely one I’ll wait to drop drown in price.

  9. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I had a suspicion that this might be the case… Fairy Tale Fights made me naturally cautious against awesome looking cartoonish violence from a small development studio, so I was adopting a wait and see attitude. I wanted this to be every bit as brilliant as it looks, but I wasn’t going to get burned by buying it at release for full price.

    So it’s nice to be vindicated, but also a bit of a let down, because I wanted to be proved wrong on this occasion. I will likely wait for it to find its way into a discount bin or ShopTo sale for a fiver, or pass on it altogether.

    Great write up all the same, dood. Had me chuckling in places… can’t believe you got away with that George Michael joke, heh heh.

  10. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    I may not… he may still sue :D

  11. Tania Tania says:

    I’m actually having a great time with this game, minus the “AHHHHHHHHH I WAS ABOUT TO GET PLATINUM!!!” or “NOOOOOOO I WAS ABOUT TO BEAT THEIR SCORE!” Cry whenever it crashes :(

    It’s pretty much what I was expecting, so no let down there, and the camera thing doesn’t really bother me.
    A very delicious psycopathic indulgence for me that I find both stress relieving and amusing! And I’m loving the score comparing thing!

    I feel so sorry for Naughty, the other bears are so horrible to him. They deserve whatever they get! ;)

  12. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Funny you should say that Tania… whenever I see a screenshot of Naughty Bear, the impression I get most strongly is that he seems very profoundly sad. His whole posture screams depressed self-loathing.

    I may just be projecting.

    Anyone seen where I left my hatchet?

  13. MrCuddleswick says:

    Great review. I’m still laughing at the King Rollo image.

  14. Lorna Lorna says:

    Great review. Alas, as time went on, my enthusiasm started to wane and now, like others, I’ll wait until the price drops to give it a go. Of the two games, I expected to be hammering this one and largely ignoring Lego Harry potter, however, it appears to be the other way around.

    Naughty does indeed look sad…

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