Naughty Bear is on the prowl, meaning it’s time to dust off the digital kitchen knives for some mediocre antics as the psychopathic teddy. A single glance at the cutesy setting and colourful characters might have some believing the game to be an innocent, child-friendly experience. Anyone privy to the impressive marketing campaign will know better however, as Naughty Bear is all about striking fear in the hearts of these denizens in as many despicable ways as possible, in turn bolstering your score multiplier. As the fluff begins to fly, you may find some rudimentary reasons to chuckle, but be warned; there is a heinous truth from which even Naughty himself cannot escape, and one that becomes painfully evident upon completing the first episode – the world is made up of just a single level that repeats itself ad nauseum.
Not accounting for Naughty’s hut, this single map consists of two relatively small areas that reveal a complete lack of effort and creativity from the level designers, if indeed there were any. Woods encompass the perimeter for concealment, winding paths serve as patrol routes for your prospective victims, and houses allow frightened bears to barricade themselves in and call for help. This help comes in the form of gun-toting police bears by way of speedboat and can also be called in by any bears lucky enough to escape your notice. After the first hour of gameplay, you will have memorised vehicle and telephone locations to ensure that this simply doesn’t happen, effectively trapping the bears for the inevitable slaughter. The game throws the occasional curveball later on but this principle is enough to see you through the majority of the game’s seven chapters with little fuss.
For a game that focuses on beating the literal stuffing out of your fellow bears, an assortment of weapons is nothing short of a necessity. Naughty has access to knives, golf clubs, baseball bats, umbrellas, frozen legs of meat and even the odd bear trap that can be placed quite blatantly in the middle of a path, ready for anyone foolish enough to step into it. You can choose to slice and dice if that’s your preferred style of play but it’s in the contextual kills that most people will find the real enjoyment. Sabotaging a piece of equipment such as a telephone, power box or vehicle will more often than not lead to an unassuming bear leaning over to fix it, leaving itself wide open for a satisfying instant kill. A bear might even do this once all of his friends have been wiped out – something you’ll find utterly ridiculous but nonetheless useful. Gunplay fares particularly badly, taking a long time to despatch your prey and feeling generally awkward to use.
It’s worth noting that although the game has just seven chapters, each one consists of five regular stages in which certain criteria must be met. Killer challenges demand the standard method of blocking escape routes and slaying every bear on the map, whereas Untouchable challenges prove to be the most difficult, demanding that the bears meet a ‘grisly’ end with Naughty himself taking zero hits throughout. This becomes almost impossible once zombears (from the aptly-named, ‘Night of the Living Ted’) begin to shuffle out of the ground, following you into the bush then soaking an obscene amount of hits before taking the fall. Invisible challenges require that Naughty not be seen more than a select amount of times, which is especially difficult given the cack-handed stealth mechanic which fails to impress from the word go.
Camera issues don’t help the proceedings much either, failing to present the world in a way that’s useful for surveying the lay of the land. It can shake, wobble and generally glitch out at completely the wrong time, with the game itself suffering from the odd framerate hiccup. The game is not a graphical marvel in any way – or indeed all that technically sound – yet it never becomes downright ugly. The voices are cute, only rarely irritating, though the narrator who initially provides the game its pre-school charm eventually wears out his welcome, much like the sullen bear himself. Every chapter gives an equally ridiculous reason for the butchery and what might have raised a smile at the beginning will be met with a bored shrug later on.
Online multiplayer has been advertised as part of the package, apparently sporting eccentrically named modes such as Cake Walk, where players must claim and keep a golden cupcake and Jelly Wars, where a team sets out to defeat Naughty by filling a mixing machine with ‘jellies’. Obviously, these modes are unlikely to persuade anyone to step away from the major releases for long, particularly as the online component is unequivocally broken. Try as we might, we could never actually begin a match, and on one occasion the game tried to dump us into a mode we hadn’t chosen at all, only to boot us off before it even began.
To be fair, Naughty Bear does feature some creative moments in the different types of enemies, cutscenes (though these repeat themselves in the sub-stages all too frequently) and quite humorous kills. Hearing a bear squeak and chirp out of fear in a hurried limp as you plot their demise is good fun when pulled off correctly and watching the AI react to the carnage inflicted on them can, at times, be sadistically entertaining. People who enjoy beating their own score and unlocking different costumes with various stats will definitely find something to work for, even if it does become a grind after the first hour or so. If you aren’t interested in these things, or you spent full whack on this release at retail, then you’ll undoubtedly find yourself disappointed, even fuming at the limitations of this over-priced title.
There can be no doubt – Naughty Bear should have been a Live Arcade title priced at no more than 1200 MS points, in which case the score would most certainly have been higher. The fact that the publishers had the audacity to give the title a full retail release, albeit with a few quid knocked off, smacks of daylight robbery given the extremely limited nature of what it has to offer. Lacking in depth and diversity but not completely devoid of charm, the game is a playable yet troubled effort that warrants little more than a one-night rent. Naughty Bear – more like Lazy Developer.
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