If your friends were having a party and you weren’t invited, how would you react? Would you a.) brush it off as absent mindedness? b.) be a little offended and ask them why? Or c.) decide to go on a murderous rampage destroying everything in your path? For the titular Naughty Bear, this is never a decision he needs ask himself. It is c.) every time. Every. Single. Time.
From the team at Artificial Mind and Movement, the folks behind WET, MySims Racing and a wealth of big name title ports, such as Iron Man, Dante’s Inferno and Mercenaries 2, comes this, their latest original IP. Going into the game, I have to admit, I was a little apprehensive, as you can see from their track record, the developer’s pedigree isn’t particularly a good one. While WET, for example, was visually quite interesting, it was a boring game to play, the central bullet time mechanic sucked any potential fun from the title, severely hampering the pace of the game, and the transfer of Mercs 2 to PS2 was rough to say the least…
Playing as a curious blend of Manhunt’s stealth, State Of Emergency’s visceral violence and Canis Canem Edit’s dark humour, the team really do seem to have struck out for that Rockstar feel in terms of game play and tone. Aesthetically however the title could not be more diametrically opposed, a cuter-than-cute, brightly coloured world of teddy bears, helium balloons and scrumptious looking cake. Through this duality of elements comes the unique premise of Naughty Bear, doing for stealth action what Battlefield Heroes does for WWII military history.
The premise is simple, go into an area, lay low, kill or scare silly every bear in that said area with a variety of weaponry and in-game objects (for high scoring contextual ultra-kills / ultra-scares), meet certain requirements, move on to the next, repeat. It’s a very safe structure that’s livened up by genuinely funny introductory cut scenes and an unsettlingly happy narrator.
The real fun of the game comes from a pseudo-social engineering aspect; scaring, maiming and killing bears, seeing how they respond and how their friends respond. It is a wonderfully evil feeling of the purest schadenfreude when the cruel acts you have inflicted upon a fluffy, singled-off victim – such as burning their face on a barbecue, trapping their legs in bear traps and beating them senseless with golf clubs – forces them to limp away from you weakly, back to their base camp. It is a delight to see the reactions of their comrades from afar, seeing the widespread panic and fear that sweeps through their encampment, watching as they attempt to barricade themselves in a building, call for help or escape the area entirely. This is where the game excels, with a large, Shining-esque ‘Here’s Johnny’ style grin plastered across the face of the player at their most powerful, completely in control of those around them, a ruthless force of nature in a cartoon fantasy world.
A shame then that you never have as much power over yourself as you do your enemies, as the game is really quite imprecise in places. At times you’ll be out of cover when you think you should be in it, the combat is rudimentary at best, animation cues are wonky beyond belief, and the camera is an irritating nuisance.
Perhaps the biggest issue though is pacing. The game can be incredibly dull at times and far too hectic at others, and with no perceived patrol routes as such for your enemies, waiting for them to walk past your waiting landmine is a case of hit and, more likely miss, all the while being overcome by a feeling of boredom from a game that is aiming to be fun. For all of the criticisms you could point to in the Metal Gear Solid franchise, Kojima at least understands that the frustrating part of stealth is the waiting, using inaction as the punishment for alerting guards and setting off an alarm. Except of course that the ‘alarm’ in Naughty Bear, i.e. the inhabitants panic, cannot be turned off. You therefore come to rely on very gamey elements to beat the levels, such as jumping out of cover, killing an enemy in a crowd of others and then dashing back to the woods that instantly hide you. In addition, there’s no instant kill move when sneaking up behind an enemy, so dispatching your foes is an extremely slow and arduous task.
Naughty Bear is a real mixed bag. While it lets itself down in its realisation as a game, it is most certainly entertaining in places, and its style can make up for its lack of substance at times. At points it manages to turn from slightly broken stealth action game to smile inducing time waster and if the team can go away and develop the concept further, the next iteration could well be a corker. As it stands though, it’s very much a try before you buy.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: Xbox 360 (Playstation 3) Release Date: 25/06/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Naughty Bear for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of seven days on a Xbox 360 Pro. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.