Short Version: While it has an interesting premise and a unique take on video game violence, Naughty Bear falls short on too many fronts to warrant a recommendation.
Game Rant's Ryan Blanchard reviews Naughty Bear
Violence and video games go together like peanut butter and chocolate. They just work. Now, if I were to tell you that there is a game that takes the brutal violence of Manhunt, but instead of taking place in a gritty, real-world setting, places you on an island straight out of a child's storybook, inhabited by bright, colorful teddy bears, how would you react? This is the premise and gimmick behind Naughty Bear.
Now, I won't deny that this is a novel idea for a game and if done right, could make for an incredibly enjoyable experience. Sadly, that's not the case here. If approached in a way similar to that of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, taking place in an open world of some sort, Naughty Bear could have been so much more than it is. Instead, it falls short on its interesting premise with clumsy controls, lackluster graphics, and repetitive gameplay that doesn't even last through this already short game. Read on for a more detailed look at Naughty Bear.
Story And Sound
You are Naughty Bear, living on a paradise island where everything is bright and happy. When one of the other bears holds a birthday party but everyone laughs at the present you make, you decide fight back, punishing anyone who gets in your way and generally being as naughty as possible throughout the ensuing events.
It's not a complex story by any stretch of the imagination, but the way that it's presented is one of the few positive aspects of this game. It almost feels as if you're playing the game from within a child's storybook or a children's show, with an unseen narrator speaking to and influencing the title character. While the story is uninspired, I was actually drawn in by the narrator who nonchalantly egged me on as I slaughtered a town full of multicolored teddy bears.
Aside from the narrator's voice though, nothing else stood out for me in the sound department. After the hours I put into the game, I can't remember a single thing I heard which is definitely not a good thing. It's one thing to subtly complement a game through the sound design, but when I can't remember anything, that's not serving its purpose to its fullest potential.
This is where the game could have saved itself from its many flaws. Sadly, that just didn't happen. The first major problem I noticed when I jumped into the tutorial was just how clumsy the controls felt. Controlling Naughty Bear might not have been quite as terrible if the camera didn't swing around him like a toddler with a sugar rush. No matter how hard I tried to keep it under control, the camera would just reset itself and continue wrecking havoc on my sense of direction and location in the environment.
How could they mess up the gameplay of a game where your sole purpose is to cause as much trouble as possible by brutally beating and killing fluffy teddy bears? By presenting you with simplistic missions that rely more on luck than actual skill to do well in. That's how. As you take control of Naughty, each level tasks you with moving through three small areas, being naughty enough in each to open the door or bridge to the next area. These points can be earned through almost any task from smashing a window, to sneaking up behind a bear and scaring him, to brutally murdering someone.
Again, how could they have messed this up? While the developers pride themselves on using absolutely no scripting in the ways the other bears react to Naughty, relying on different personality traits for each bear, this just didn't seem to work. It may have been a glitch, but one time I ran into a certain bear, he immediately ran in fear, while the next time I met him, he ran at me with a machete. Either that teddy bear is bipolar or there's something wrong with the personalities, because it seemed that the bears were constantly changing their personalities between levels.
With the bear personalities out of whack, I can explain why everything felt so incredibly random. Say I want to lure in a bear by sabotaging a car outside of his house. Normally I could have decided whether to do this depending on whether that particular victim bear's personality dictates that he enjoys repairing things, but instead, it comes down to you waiting in a bush, praying that a nearby bear will fall into your trap. This removes all of the strategic thinking that would have been required and to tell you the truth, if the personalities had actually worked, this game would have been bearable. Instead, it takes the skill out of the game, forcing you to resort to running through the small areas mashing the attack button until all the teddy bears are dead.
Finally, I should also mention the complete lack of diversity in this game. There are only seven episodes in Naughty Bear. In each of these episodes, there is the story mission, followed by instances in which you have to go back into the story mission and complete it with certain requirements ranging from taking no damage to not being seen. So, the player basically only has seven different missions to tackle before being forced to tread familiar ground to earn medals. It doesn't help that, of these seven story missions, they share locations between each other which further kills the game's diversity, turning it into more of a grind than it already was.
You may be thinking that, even though the core gameplay is flawed, maybe the graphics will complement the game's unique premise and presentation. Sadly, that also just isn't the case. While they visuals are passable and don't make me want to gouge out my eyes while playing, that's not to say that I'm fine with what I'm seeing. Everything, albeit bright, just doesn't stand out. It's almost like they took the look of Viva Pinata and then toned down the graphics engine a few times. This isn't helped by the fact that there are so few environments, that you'll end up re-treading familiar ground far too much. Simply put, you shouldn't expect much from the graphics in Naughty Bear. While they aren't bad enough to push you over the edge, odds are, you won't find any enjoyment in them.
Naughty Bear really doesn't have much going for it. While the premise definitely has potential and the game's unique style and narrator are definite positives, that's about where the happiness ends. There are some great ideas here, but the execution of said ideas is absolutely painful. That's not to say that you can't find enjoyment in this game, as the brutal violence inflicted upon these little teddy bears may be able to hold your attention for a level or so, but after that, you begin to realize that the game can't survive on that gimmick alone. This is definitely a game that should be avoided.
If you're still interested, head over to the official Naughty Bear website.
Naughty Bear is out now for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in the UK and it releases in North America on June 29th.