Welcome, good friends, to Perfection Island! Here, multicolored bears laugh, play and live together in harmony. However, in this otherwise pleasant society, there is one brown bear who is constantly and unjustly mistreated, thus causing him to snap and turn to a life of crime.
It's best not to read into that too much.
This is Naughty Bear, a game that covers a multitude of genres. It's part life (and death) simulation, part stealth game, part arcade game, part stealth arcade game, part beat-'em-up, part role-playing, part shooter, and part time management. Its world consists of no more than a half-dozen small environments that make up the bears' home island, to facilitate player memorization — and memorize you must, because it's this village that you must terrorize over and over again for the high score jackpot.
Terrorizing Perfection Island is actually quite fun to watch once you manage to pull it off. With titular bear Naughty's skills, you can have bears run around screaming their heads off before you take them off yourself. You can drive bears insane and leave them be to send a "message" to other bears, or drive them so crazy that they kill themselves. There are numerous fatalities you can perform on bears, be they either weapon-based or environmental. Stick a machete through a bear you've scared stiff, or push a bear who's foolish enough to start a barbecue into the burning fate he no doubt deserved. Is a bear trying to escape? No problem! Catch up to him and kill him with his own getaway vehicle!
The more one plays Naughty Bear, the more one sees just how little is sacred. You can kill authority bears (cops and even the mayor!), fend off a "zombear" attack, take on teddy ninjas, disrupt parties, role-play your favorite horror movie killer .... Naughty Bear, in some ways is a toolbox for unleashing personal spite against society in a very fun way. A word of warning: If you have a big heart, you might feel sorry for these little guys and hate yourself in the midst of gameplay, entirely by accident. I'm not speaking from experience or anything.
If this sounds like certain other games with an "urban" motif, that's because it pretty much is. However, Grand Theft Auto never allowed you to go crazy in a mock-fairy-tale land before, and that's where Naughty Bear ironically derives most of its charm.
Finally, to help further facilitate your mayhem, you can upgrade your bear with different pieces of stat-boosting clothing after fulfilling various criteria. You can also unlock different venues and enemies, and DLC has been promised. There's even an online multiplayer component, though none of its modes have anything to do with the psychological or thematic components of the single-player game. It's mostly deathmatch/capture-the-flag-type material instead. Still, if there's one thing to say about this game, it's that there's absolutely no lack of content.
That's it for the good half of Naughty Bear. Now it's time to get to the problematic half. These problems are ones that were probably tough to avoid in the design process, but they're there all the same.
First off, the camera is annoying at best. It seems to always want to find the wrong angle to show the action, meaning you have to constantly rotate or reset it with the right analog stick (pressing it in will auto-reset it, which is welcome but still a bother). Second of all, it constantly insists on sticking way too closely to Naughty himself, meaning it's hard to survey the area while trying to run around fulfilling your tasks. Thirdly — though this may just be me — it swivels in such a way that it can make someone mildly dizzy, especially since it's positioned so close to the ground. This last problem is most prevalent in the area of Naughty's hut.
The game's other, far worse problem is its pacing. If you're not one of those people who instantly takes a shine to this game, then it's not long before it feels like work. Unlocking most of the content — including the base story missions — requires a lot from the player, no matter how new they are to the game. High scores are mandatory, and to achieve them, you have to fulfill a multitude of requirements simultaneously in a mission. You must lay traps, you must get other bears to see you and the people you've trapped, you must wait for people to repair items you've broken, and you must try to direct bears to where you want to go, which only works some of the time.
You have to get bears to try to escape so you can scare or kill them for bonus points. You have to utilize stealth and sneaking moves on super-paranoid bears, which only works if you're directly behind a bear, occupying the smallest of spaces. Finally, you have to perform all of this at super speeds or else you won't be able to keep up your score multiplier. There's the old-school "sink or swim" mentality, and then there's overwhelming/holding back players with barrages of rules and conditions while they're still trying to figure things out.
The worst part of all of this is there are no checkpoints between mission segments. Let's say you get lost in the heat of the moment trying to mess with a group of bears, or you find a bear about to escape in a boat all the way across the island. Even with helpful guiding arrows, it's possible to get lost on the paths, allowing the bear to escape and flushing upward of a half hour's work down the drain in a Dynasty Warriors-style rip-off. This isn't work you can get back easily by skillfully pressing buttons or knowing patterns. These are often random luck factors that you have to take advantage of when the opportunities come, and losing them means losing your chance at a high score. Failing a mission here carries worse consequences than most games involving the same sorts of activities. That's a very easy way to make players take your game disc out of the system and possibly toss it across the room.
If you're the type of person who really loves to see and cause mayhem and carnage everywhere or if you're the type of person who finds comedy in pain and suffering (so long as they're overly cute and fluffy stereotypes that probably had it coming in the first place), then you will probably take to Naughty Bear like a duck to water. More power to you. The problem for everyone else, however, is that this is the "wreak havoc in an idyllic setting" gimmick taken nearly as far as it can go, at least in terms of play mechanics. Once you've scared, driven insane, or killed your hundredth bear, the novelty's just about worn off. While the game doles out some changes in abilities, scenery and cast (including the aforementioned ninja, robot and zombie bears), it's often not nearly enough to restore interest.
Naughty Bear mostly coasts on its great concept. Its execution aims high and fulfills some of its promises, but not enough to remain engaging. It's a decent experiment that will endear itself to some gamers more than others, and I would say it's definitely worth a rent or a bargain bin pickup. It's not worth the initial full asking price. Substituting flesh and blood humans for bears and stuffing is a good thematic and business move, so it's bound to find an audience with its Teen rating. For those of us legally able to buy M games, though, there's not much here that you couldn't do in a traditional sandbox game such as Saints Row 2 — and you'd get more satisfaction out of it to boot.
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