Naughty Bear Review
You know, when I first heard about the concept behind Naughty Bear and started checking out some video installments of the maliciously hilarious “Book of Naughty,” I was quite enthusiastic about it. It was sort of like stomping on fuzzy childhood memories but there was a sadistically gleeful side of me that desperately wanted to beat the stuffing out of roving toy bears. …please don’t ask me why. Perhaps I need help. But then again, none of this really matters in the slightest because the game turned out to be a waste of my time, primarily due to poor execution, repetitive and unfulfilling gameplay, and a constant reminder of all the missed opportunities. This latter downfall made the experience all the more frustrating; every few minutes, I’d say to myself: “damn, it would’ve been so cool if they had done this…” It’s just too bad.
The low-grade graphics are part of the reason Naughty Bear trips and stumbles. It’s certainly colorful and I particularly liked some of the animations; I laughed out loud when a bear safely locked inside a house mocked me with the standard, tongue out, fingers waggling in the ears expression. The cut-scenes are decent, too, but that’s where the good news ends. There’s clipping and graphical hitches galore during the gameplay, the special effects are nowhere near where they need to be, and the level of detail and polish falls well below par for this generation. I understand the need to keep it cartoon-y – it’s the contrast, similar to what we saw in Fairytale Fights, that works – but without the requisite amount of refinement, the flaws become painfully evident. The minute you start to become somewhat immersed in the atmosphere, you spot another major drawback that makes you frown in disappointment. Overall, “lackluster” is almost too good of a description.
The sound is a little better, only due to the crisp sound effects that accompany your achievements (but do not accompany even the most brutal kills) and a genuinely humorous narrator. The soundtrack is almost as repetitive as the gameplay and it always takes a back seat to the effects, which aren’t even remotely memorable. One would expect that with the ability to burn bears to a crisp, hack the stuffing out of them, or electrocute their unknowing heads, the sound would be hysterically grisly. Instead, it all sounds sort of muted and dull, and only very occasionally does the sound seem to enhance your killing spree. There’s also a significant balancing issue, as some of the environmental effects are much louder than others, and far-off sounds can be just as loud as up-close-and-personal audio. As a whole, the technicals just don’t work very well and again, it’s a shame.
I suppose we could get past the shoddy technical aspects of any production if the gameplay is fun, tight, and ultimately satisfying. And although it starts off semi-entertaining, everything gets old really fast, for a number of reasons. But first, let’s start on a positive note- the game starts as “naughty bear” is shunned from a birthday party. He wasn’t invited and when he still tries to act in good faith and show up with a present, he’s laughed off the premises. Well, this causes him to snap and sets the tone for the rest of the adventure: you’re gonna get your revenge, and it doesn’t matter if the bear deserves it or not. The goal is to find new and unique ways to terrorize the inhabitants of the town, and this can involve scaring the crap out of them, torturing them, and executing insane kills with either environmental tools or a variety of weapons, ranging from axes, baseball bats and even a gun.
Sounds just plain nutty, right? You can hide in wooded areas with a big palm leaf shielding your existence, lay down traps for unsuspecting wanderers, sneak up behind bears and push them into bonfires, shove them into electrical boxes, and even scrape their head along turntables. Each weapon has a unique kill animation; after beating on a bear enough, you have the option of hitting the R2 button and executing an immediate kill: if you’ve got a stick, naughty bear will actually sit on his victim and rub the stick into his or her face until the bear ignites. He’ll just keep beating on an opponent with a bat and if you so choose, you can even scare the ever-loving crap out of them (this could even result in death). The game encourages you to be inventive and switch it up; your “kill chain” continues to fill if you keep using different weapons and finding new ways to slay bears.
Yeah, great. Unfortunately, the problems are everywhere. First of all, as soon as one bear is alerted, every last bear in the vicinity is alerted, and will remain so forever. That basically eliminates any chance you have at stealth, although you might get lucky as the entirely unreliable AI might cause a fleeing bear to suddenly stop and warm his hands at a bonfire. Furthermore, while they can never seem to hear you run up behind them, they apparently have super-bear hearing when you’re slinking around outside and they’re inside a house. You’ll likely have seen most every unique kill animation within the first hour of play, picking up a gun turns the game into a slow-moving, badly conceived third-person shooter, and the massive clipping issues combined with poor visuals really hinder the experience. In the end, I just got really bored and really disappointed.
You end up doing the same things over and over and all the fun goes away extremely quickly. How bears are alerted and how they react appear entirely random and erratic, there’s only so many times you can stab a bear in the stomach before you start to yawn, the stealth (sneaking, hiding) and action (combat, general movement) is essentially broken and oh yes, the camera is downright awful. One time, I laid a trap just outside a door and when the bear got stuck and I went up to finish the job, the camera view got so wonked-out, I was seeing bits and pieces of bears and houses and trees in strobe-like, screwed-up display. Naughty Bear is just another game that features a great concept but fails miserably in execution, which is why you really shouldn’t bother paying full pop for this one. Maybe when it arrives in the bargain bin (which won’t be long) and you’ve got absolutely nothing to do…and you’re a touch masochistic…
7/6/2010 Ben Dutka