Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise E3 Preview
Almost two years ago to the day, Artificial Mind and Movement released a game which, thanks to its unique approach of all-out cold-blooded vengeance under the guise of a picture-perfect nursery rhyme world, had raised considerable interest among both press and gamers alike. Despite this interest, and it not being riddled with game-breaking glitches like many other titles at the time, the popularity of the game was short-lived and the critics were less than impressed with the final offering, citing it as an Xbox Live Arcade game in retail packaging and slamming it with a Metascore of 43.
That game was Naughty Bear and, with A2M now going back to their original name of Behaviour Interactive (we have Clerks 2 to thank for that; you can work it out for yourselves), they’re set to unleash an entirely new can of Naughty Bear carnage with Panic in Paradise. With so much unnecessary stigma pinned mercilessly to the Naughty Bear franchise, it’s highly likely that there will be those who see the name and make their minds up without giving it a chance to redeem itself and this is, to be blunt, a fucking liberty.
While it wasn’t exactly advertised that Panic in Paradise would have any sort of presence at this year’s E3, we were lucky enough to be granted a full thirty minutes with the game and, admittedly, what we saw was certainly not what we’d expected. The first thing you’ll notice when you first fire up the game is that the original children’s book art style from before – the saccharine paper cut-outs and pastel colouring – has had the stuffing ripped out of it and been replaced by a bitter and twisted looking grunge-style scrawl. Although some may argue that part of the original Naughty Bear’s charm was that it subverted the stereotypical kid’s game style by turning it into something sinister and violent, this new style fits much better than you’d expect, but exactly why this is so will become clearer later.
Gone are the playful cartoon characters, sporting wide smiles and bathing in innocence, and in their place we have Naughty looking decidedly more menacing than ever before and, if anything, rather than hint subtly at the premise of the game, Panic in Paradise steps forward out of the shadows wielding an axe, sporting a manic grin, and may as well be wearing a blood-soaked badge reading “Naughty Is Pissed!” With so many aesthetic changes slapping you in the face, there’s very little opportunity to think that this may end up being more of the same, and nothing else. There are bears, yes. We have a pretty twisted protagonist in the shape of Naughty, yes. He wants blood, yes. The premise may be the same, but the gameplay… the gameplay has been overhauled and taken to another level entirely.
The story behind Panic in Paradise is as water-tight as you’d expect from a hack-and-slash game – the remaining bears from Perfection Island have all decided to treat themselves to a well-deserved holiday on the famed luxury resort of Paradise Island but, typically, Naughty is the last person they want to have near them and so they head off on their own. What they don’t know, however, is that Naughty also fancied a bit of a busman’s holiday and so duct tapes himself to the underside of their bus and sneaks his way to the island to exact a brutal and messy revenge on those who had wronged him.
Fans of the original will notice that certain gameplay elements from the original have been carried over, such as the ability to drop into an immediate stealth status as you enter the bushes, hiding your entire being behind a single leaf – comedic suspension of disbelief at its very best. The various kill techniques remain, where you can sneak up on unsuspecting victims and either kill them outright, choose to maim them out of sight of other bears (or within plain view, if so desired) and continue to torture them as you see fit, or just begin a terror campaign and hope to drive them slowly insane towards eventual suicide. While these aspects may have been taken from the previous game, the annoyances and hardships of score-whoring and having to get through all kills within a ridiculously short period of time have been removed, making for an altogether more enjoyable game.
One of the oft-heard complaints of the original was that the levels were almost identical, making the game more repetitive than need be. Thankfully, this time around, we’re being treated to all manner of environments and set-pieces from costume parties where the bears are dressed up and dancing away in front of cardboard cutouts of Naughty, mocking him, to wellness centres where the peace and tranquility ends as soon as Naughty appears on the scene. In fact, over the thirty-six levels on offer, we get to soak in eleven entirely different environment so the monotony of the forest with the jetty is now a thing of the past.
Perhaps the most important addition with Panic in Paradise is the in-game store where, provided you’ve collected enough currency throughout the levels, and unlocked items as you progress through your killing spree, you can purchase both weapons and costumes for Naughty to wear. Each weapon has its own unique advantage and comes with three different kills, all of which are as entertaining as the next. Costumes, whether they’re whole ensembles or a collection of eclectic items, also carry their own bonus perks to help you in some ways but hinder in others, so selecting the perfect outfit for Naughty is just as important as planning your kills.
And plan you must! One of the Marmite aspects of the previous game was that certain bears had to be killed in a certain manner, and Panic in Paradise is no different… except that it’s considerably more brutal than the last. Consider this – one particular bear has the role of the typical mad scientist and has somehow managed to devise, and build, what can only be described as a Stargate (except it probably won’t be, for licensing purposes!) and in order to take out this particular bear, you have to send him hurtling into the Stargate. Still not impressed? In another level, your task is to kill twin bears. A simple enough task, perhaps, but in this case the only way to get close enough to the second of the twins is by wearing the skin of the first bear… after you’ve killed and skinned him, of course. If Ed Gein hadn’t died almost thirty years ago, he’d be slaughtering his way to the head of the queue at your local game store to buy Panic in Paradise!
It’s not all blood and gore, however. While there may be hundreds of ways to remove the stuffing from each of your kills, it is exactly that – stuffing. There are no machetes dripping with blood, no red sticky footprints leading to darkened corners and not a single ounce of the terror that you might find in a game such as Amnesia or Asylum. Instead, Panic in Paradise is everything that gaming should be – harmless fun with an edge, and not to be taken seriously. The sight of “Bearverine”, complete with adamantium claws and bushy sideburns, or the orgasmic and heart-shaped “Feeling Axe” which moans in ecstasy with every hit make it very clear just how serious this game should be taken.
For those of you who may have played the original game and screamed uncontrollably as a semi-transparent tree obscured your view just as you were about to perform a perfect stealth kill, ruining the moment completely, you’ll be pleased to know that the fixed camera has now gone and players have full control over the camera. This not only makes for a more visually-pleasing experience, but will also aid in setting up kills or being able to see around corners rather than having to take Naughty into unknown situations. In a game where surprise results in some of the best kills, this is key.
From the more adult styling of the interface and inventory system, through to the brutal set-ups for each of the levels, Panic in Paradise has taken what was originally a partially-flawed concept and fine-tuned it to the point where it will undoubtedly work this time around. Sadly, thanks to the fantastic marketing first time around, Naughty Bear’s first victim was itself after not living up to the expectations of the masses. This time, however, instead of having an Xbox Live Arcade title shoe-horned into a retail box, Behaviour Interactive have turned it on its head where we’re now being offered an extensive retail title with a huge amount of replayability for the price of an XBLA game. Whether it gets a chance to prove itself, or falls victim to the stigma of the first remains to be seen but I, for one, have already tasted Paradise, and loved it.
For more on the homicidal bear, take a read of our interview with Creative Director Ashley Pannell.
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