Naughty Bear (Xbox 360) PAL  Naughty Bear (PS3) PAL 
Version Reviewed: Xbox 360

When this was first teased, I seriously thought this was an April fool’s joke. Then I realised it was around June of last year. As things progressively got teased, it seemed we were in for something special. Given all the tooting the developers gave in the build up towards its release date, we were promised an innovative sandbox adventure with intelligent AI and even more intelligent mechanics, all with a fluffy exterior. This then, is Naughty Bear; such an unlikely concept to ever see the light of day, has actually gone on to sell in shops. So if you go down to the woods today, will you find a big surprise?

There is warped and twisted idea that went into making this game and it stirs some interesting emotions once you stop laughing at the overall concept. Naughty is a bear that always seems to get up to mischief. So when the teddy bears didn’t invite him to Daddles’ birthday party, he decides that enough is enough and makes him a present. On his way to meet him, the other bears point and laugh at him, in short demoralising him to the point of homicide. Okay, so the British voiced narrator kind of pushes him towards the idea of a fluffy revenge. Essentially, all episodes start off with something that the teddy bears do in order to either eradicate Naughty or indeed eradicate themselves. In a guilty kind of way it reminds me of TV when I was a child, if written by Robert Louis Stevenson with a rather macabre twist.

Where's my money?!

Your first few hours of Naughty Bear will be a welcome departure from most games. You are given complete freedom to run around and maim the stuffed bears whilst vandalising their stuff. Combining the two into object kills is even better. You also have a wide array of weaponry to use on the bears which have varying strengths and can provide even more finishers to play around with. Traps provide impromptu set pieces when enemies walk into them, or stall your escape should you become trapped in one that you planted yourself. It helps that the AI has a degree of intelligence, in that it will automatically make the bear head for the nearest weapon or safe room in order to barricade. If a bear should hear something be sabotaged, it will investigate. Of course, this is all provided the bear is still sane. Their tiny little fluff brains can’t take an awful lot of the naughtiness going on around them. Should bubbles be appearing on their head, their objective turns from preservation to cowardice. One more scare sequence is enough to make them top themselves with whatever they have handy. All of these actions are fairly easy to control, though lacking in a great deal of strategy in execution. While visually it isn’t bad, Naughty Bear isn’t exactly pushing any barriers. In the cut scenes, the narrator is mildly amusing. However, when he’s making up terminology for an execution you just pulled off, he quickly becomes irritating, making you want to turn that sledgehammer on him instead.

As you play around more and more though, the game’s structure becomes abundantly clear. The entire game is based on one island. Considering the nature of the weaponry and ways to kill other bears, having it all on one level with changing themes is a bit of a disappointment. It is also set in an episodic format with four sub-episodes aimed at challenging you to perform in a certain way. Some require you not to get hit, while others require you to kill every bear. The most interesting bit of fun comes from the invisible challenges, where you cannot be seen. Grass provides cover for Naughty, while certain unlockable costumes provide a disguise. Then there are the not so fun levels; namely the Top Hat challenges. Every bear is stupidly good in these episodes because they wield laser rifles. In order to do well in all the levels, you need to score enough points to rank in various cups. This of course means abusing the multiplier and collecting the freeze multiplier power-ups at the right time. Other than this, general terror; murder; vandalism and destroying particular special items will raise your score…and this is the entire game for 35 levels. It gets incredibly repetitive very quickly. By the time I finished episode 7, I was bored enough for the game not to warrant the rest of my time. That isn’t the worst bit…

Okay I’ll spare you the suspense, mainly because the game does it for me itself. If you go down to those woods, you are not only going to find bears, but also a lot of bugs. The game will probably do the following to you at some stage during your time with it; crash on loading screen, not load the heads up display, bug out on the ultra kills and worst of all, make it so the bears know where you are despite you being hidden. All of these have happened during my time with this game. Isn’t there an occupation for testing quality? If so, what the heck are they doing? Some games in this day and age need an update to improve reliability. It’s annoying enough when it hampers enjoyment, but the real frustration is that an entire game mode cannot be played at all. I want to say that multiplayer is better. It probably isn’t, but the fair judgement cannot be made simply because it refuses to connect players to the game. It’s a shame too, as some unlockable badges help your online presence have the edge in some game types and it even has appropriately named modes.

Look at my cavities, I DARE YOU!!!

Naughty Bear has its own little ranking system which is based on the total naughtiness career score. This in turn unlocks new multiplayer badges, but seldom little else. The rest of the unlockables come from completing levels and obtaining certain ranks within them. Generally the better you do, the better the costume you obtain. For example, simply completing a level will reward you with better stats, but no other useful benefits. Completing all the challenge levels on a particular episode on Gold rank or above will net you a character who starts with his own weapon and can run around other bears without any fear. But perhaps the best thing about the game, and this for me is odd, is the achievement list and what it means in the game. Iconic kills, secret missions and costume based challenges. All of which take a degree of tact and certain costumes to solve. The “don’t let the zombie-teds kill the other teds” challenge was tricky, but huge relief was expressed once done. Sadly, this is perhaps the most satisfying thing you’ll do.

It comes with deepest regret that Naughty Bear, a game with so much promise, is being cast into the pile of over-hyped but ultimately terrible games. Its credentials are solid, but it rarely brings anything interesting to the table, apart from a couple of bugs to keep you on your toes. The presentation is hit and miss at the best of times, and the stagnant progression feels like an afterthought. Being set on one smallish level that makes the smallest Halo 3 multiplayer map seem huge in comparison is unforgivable. But really it is the fact that play testing either never happened or was never acted upon that frustrates me as a gamer. How can an entire game mode be so bugged that it is unplayable? How can the single player mode crash so dramatically that its bugs are more akin to 8-bit games? This game is naughty for all the actually bad reasons. It therefore needs to go up to its room and think about what it has done.

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