Two years ago, a promising game came out that looked to be as dark and violent as it was outrageous and cute. That game was Naughty Bear (NB). Unfortunately, NB was torn apart by critics and gamers alike, sending it to exile in the deepening wasteland of the used games section of your local game store. Now that the price is down to $17.99, I decided to see if NB would be worth a buy.
As a new game back in 2010, I can see why many people were completely appalled by Naughty Bear with a $50 price tag. So much was promised, and very little was executed correctly. Instead of being open-world or a linear/story driven game, NB centers around episodes to earn trophies and high scores – each episode containing a slightly different story and many variations of that episode’s concepts. Let me elaborate: there really isn’t a cohesive story throughout the entire game. Each episode revolves around a reason that Naughty Bear is getting homicidal (or bearicidal?). First, it’s because he wasn’t invited to a birthday party. In another episode, he’s being spied on by the military. In another he’s invited to do some cooking with the other bears, and everything goes wrong. Basically, something makes Naughty Bear mad, and the only way to fix it is to terrorize and kill all the other bears.
After you finish each episode’s main quest, you are scored on terror, unique kills, smashing stuff, and meeting optional objectives. This score gives you either a gold, silver, or bronze trophy, which in turn determines what new missions will unlock for that episode. Once you have enough trophies under your belt, then the next episode will unlock. This continues for seven entire episodes. The different missions include things like a race against time, simply killing all bears, killing them only in unconventional ways, stealth, etc. Each episode is increasingly more difficult, adding new bad guys with special abilities; some shoot guns, others are ninjas, and there are even zombie bears in one episode. Those aspects carry over into the episode’s side missions, making them more difficult as well.
The graphics are passable, although the camera occasionally gets stuck behind the environment, making it difficult to see. The teddy bears are believable enough to make it funny. However, the environment is exactly the same for every episode and side mission. I mean, once you’ve played this game for an hour, you’ve seen all the environments this game has to offer: Cabins in the forest. Sometimes the cabins have little mini factories, a disco, or regular home accessories inside. There were some small variations toward the end of the game, but they weren’t huge. For the most part, you play on the same map the entire game, and the only thing that changes is the reason for Naughty Bear’s rage, the enemies, and the objectives. I was shocked.
The main reason many wanted to play NB was to enjoy bear-on-bear violence. There is plenty of that to go around, complete with a variety of weapons and instruments of death. Each weapon has it’s own special kill move, but after you’ve seen it a couple hundred times, it begins to loose its charm. You can also kill bears by sabotaging mechanical devises, and as they try to repair them you do a special kill. If they try to repair a phone, you shove the receiver down their throat. If they race to escape in a car, you smash their heads in the door. Even though you will use the same tactics over and over and over, it’s still pretty satisfying to have giant teddy bears snivel and whimper at the sight of you, and watch the stuffing fly as you hack them to pieces or dump them into cake mixers.
Besides the glaring repetitiveness of the game, the other real issues lie in the game mechanics. You can’t lock on to your enemies, so you’re constantly chasing them while mashing a single button to slash at them. With a fairly awful camera system, this occasionally can make killing and remaining stealthily hidden in the brush difficult. There are a limited number of actions you can perform, and that includes attacking, swapping objects, dodging, scaring (screaming BOO! at an enemy enough times to make them suicidal), setting traps, and performing special moves. These add to the repetitive feel of the rest of the game. The only things you earn by racking in the points is your colored trophies and unlocking different outfits for your bear that give him slightly higher stats.
Here’s the thing: as a $50 game, Naughty Bear deserved all the criticism it received. The developers tried to stretch a gimmick into a 20 hour game and just couldn’t compete with similar high dollar games in its genre. It just isn’t worth $50. Now, with the price down to $17.99, things have changed. I was getting frustrated with the gameplay until suddenly it hit me: NB is just an extended form of an arcade game. Once that sunk in, I was suddenly more open to enjoying myself. Running around a map for 20 minutes to scare the life out of cuddly bears while racking up insane amounts of points began to appeal to me more. Plus, there is even a running leader board that lets you know your rank for each mission compared to all the other gamers out there. See? It’s starting to make more sense now. There is an online multiplayer for up to 4 players, featuring capture the flag, team death match, and a form of Odd Ball. Unfortunately, unless you know three other people who have this game, good luck finding a match. I tried matchmaking several times, and only managed to connect once.
The achievements are a little hit or miss. Of course, you get achievements for simply beating the main mission for each episode. Then there are achievements attached to specific high scores. There are hidden achievements that are usually based on the optional quests. Then there are some pretty hard ones that require you to kill certain “ring leader” bears in very specific ways. If you have a little time and access to Youtube, these can be done. It helps that you can replay any mission on any episode you want to after you’ve unlocked it to try for a better score. An added bonus is that NB offers an eighth episode as DLC… Free DLC.
If you’re looking for a deep story, awesome graphics, and diverse gameplay, this isn’t your game. Naughty Bear should have been released at a far more reduced price and been marketed as an arcade game. Shame on you, developers. If you’re going to charge $50, you have to be prepared to compete with the amazing games that populate the third person shooters/action genres. But if you’re someone who enjoys racking up points, competing on leader boards, and getting way more achievements than you would with an XBLA release, then this one’s for you. Regardless of the faults, there is just something strangely addictive about teddy-on-teddy violence.
For arcade fans out there, Naughty Bear is “Worth It!”
by Rachael Edwards-Hite