For the last few months, in part thanks to our very own Craig Snow (I have to blame somebody else), I’ve been rather excited for Naughty Bear. I find the false innocence in brutally violent games – such as Fat Princess -- rather amusing. You run around a colourful environment and see blood spill everywhere when you slaughter tiny beings for having a different coloured hat to you. I’m sorry to say that Naughty Bear possesses none of this charm. At its core, it is an enjoyable, slightly humorous, and rather violent game, but it is covered in so many layers of manure that the diamond at the centre is almost completely invisible.
You play, of course, as Naughty Bear, a troublesome little mammal who is really just misunderstood (honest!). The rather nonsensical story revolves around Naughty Bear and his mission to kill everyone who behaves slightly unpleasant, and then everyone around them, followed by everyone who tries to escape, and finishing off with whoever is called in to deal with you. For example, in the first mission, Naughty makes a present for the birthday of one of the island’s citizens. Two bears laugh at him for doing so, and he responds by murdering both of them, then murdering all of the guests at the party (they fight back, though, so that sort of justifies it), and finally murdering the birthday bear himself. So far, so good.
Naughty Bear can walk, run, hit things and scream (which explains why nobody likes him), and you essentially have to perform these four actions on different bears, using different objects, across some 35 levels set in 7 different stages.
This game sounds funny, right? Violence in a cartoony world, with your victims screaming in high-pitched voices? Always a recipe for hilarity. And to top it off, there’s an “English” narrator; after all, all good narrators outside of Unreal Tournament are English.
There we go, I’ve got everything good about this game out of the way, so I can proceed to bash it to oblivion. I, myself, am an Englishman, and I put “English” in inverted commas with good reason: either the narrator is an American trying to put on an English accent, and failing miserably because he assumes that there is no intonation in an Englishman’s voice, or an English person who is so completely depressed that… well, that he’d volunteer to narrate Naughty Bear. Either way, he reads his lines (which describe Naughty Bear’s various violent actions) with a pained and clearly fake enthusiasm reminiscent of that in Kaz Hirai’s “Riiiiiiiiiiiiidge Racer!” at E3 2006. This isn’t Stephen Fry from LittleBigPlanet. Hell, it’s not even Pegbeast from PSP Mini Kahoots. It's perhaps the worst narration I’ve ever heard in a game.
Now your objective isn’t actually to be violent, but rather to be naughty. Naughty actions include killing other bears, sabotaging various appliances and… well, that’s about it. You can press Square/X to simply destroy the unfortunate object, or X/A to tinker with it. Both award points, but the former gives more, while the latter attracts bears, whom you can then ambush. Performing these actions gives you Naughty Points, the measure of success in the game.
You can pick up a stick and club a bear to death, or you can hide in the foliage for ten minutes (hiding in foliage makes you invisible, apparently, and Naughty holds up a leaf on a stick for good measure), run around a barbecue for another few minutes trying desperately to turn it on by pressing X while being chased by another four bears with pistols, running back to the foliage and waiting for somebody to start praying in front of the barbecue (at least, I think he’s praying. I can’t think of any other plausible explanation for why he’s leaning over a barbecue with his palms together) and then sneaking up behind him and pressing L2/LT to scare them (yeah, right) or R2/RT to grab them by the neck and repeatedly slam their head into the grill for a satisfying finish and quite a few Naughty Points. If you live that long; nine out of ten times, you’ll give up and return to the club method. A system that is supposed to reward you for perseverance does the exact opposite when you die for the fifth time trying to kill bears in interesting ways.
Thanks to the cowardice of the local bears (a broken sink sends them into a panic), some of your enemies will go insane. This involves running around the nearest building with bubbles above their head and clutching their hair. At this point, Naughty Bear can scare them to death, which is rather anti-climactic and actually very dull: he grabs them by the shoulder and screams in their face. The bears find this so terrifying, they commit suicide, and you are treated to an animation of a bear repeatedly smacking itself with a club/sword/axe.
Similarly, after a certain number of regular attacks on a bear, you will have the option to press R2/RT and execute him. These are entertaining the first time you kill a bear with each weapon. By the second time, they begin to get a little dull. By the fifth, they cross the border into “annoying” territory, because they never change. Rubbing a stick in a bear’s face causes him to catch fire. Cute. This happens again. Hmmm. This happens again. Ergh. This happens again. Grrrrrrrrrrr.
See, if the animations were actually good, I would have no objection. However, they are thoroughly unimaginative, and really just downright boring. And when I use the word “boring” to describe a game which involves slaughtering cartoon bears, you know something is up. And that’s the problem with Naughty Bear, above anything else: it’s just not fun to play.
Each mission has a certain required number of trophies. The higher your Naughty Score at the end of a level (if you die or fail, this is reduced by 70%), the better your reward - Wooden Spoon is the worst, followed by the trophies: Bronze, Silver and Gold. There are seven Episodes (with different settings), each of which has a main mission and four side-missions. You must complete the main mission to continue. The side missions add a twist to the main mission - in Killer, you have to kill every bear (which you’ll most probably do anyway), while in Friendly you can’t attack any, and you’ll have to get your Naughty Points some other way (quite a stupid idea, for a game built on mindless violence). Meanwhile, Untouchable (don’t take any damage) and Speed Run (time limit) both serve to make the game even more aggravating than it already is. No small feat.
On top of the fact that everything in the game is uninspired, annoying and, yes, boring, the technical side is absolutely dire. Naughty Bear doesn’t look good in the slightest. Not even decent, really. These sorts of textures, environments and character models would be forgivable in a PSN or XBLA game, but not in a full disc release. And yet, despite the mediocre graphics, the game somehow manages to lag. It’s quite a technical achievement, when you think about it. Few developers can get their game to lag while a badly-drawn bear strolls into a sparsely-detailed house. The pop-in is even worse. At the end of each sub-stage, Naughty crosses a bridge, and – I kid you not – even this scene has pop-in. Now imagine how bad the lag and pop-in get when four bears are charging at you, a fifth is shooting you, and you’re running around in circles trying to turn on a barbecue.
But by far the worst aspect of Naughty Bear is the controls. The accuracy of analog stick input is perhaps slightly better than an early Dual Shock PSOne game, and this is unforgivable for a game which relies on precise actions. When running from the Bear Army (not Bear Cavalry, unfortunately), you will get stuck behind cupboards and walk straight into walls, and end up being repeatedly shot in the process.
There’s also a multiplayer segment, which is so hopelessly broken that it’s barely (or should I say “bearly”?) worth mentioning. I played two matches. The first disconnected after three seconds. The second disconnected after about a minute. It didn’t look particularly exciting, though, so I wasn’t disappointed. Up to four people can play together over PSN. The first mode I glimpsed involved finding a piece of cake. The objective of the second was to find jelly and put it in a machine before Naughty Bear killed you. The multiplayer kills the only not-quite-entirely-un-enjoyable part of Naughty Bear- beating defenseless cartoon bears to death.
The technical aspects of the game, as always, are worse in multiplayer. The graphics are even worse than in the single player, the framerate drops further, and you’ll often wait as much as a second between button press and action… before being disconnected.
I can’t really say that Naughty Bear has any redeeming features. The only thing that comes to mind is the ability to beat other bears to death, and as I’ve mentioned, this gets monotonous, and it’s actively discouraged by the game at times. The pseudo-stealth doesn’t work; “scaring bears” doesn’t really work either; creative kills rarely work, and when they do, you’re rewarded with a poor animation. The graphics are below average; the frame-rate misbehaves often; the controls are unresponsive; they somehow managed to make an English narrator bad. But on top of this, amplifying every problem, is the simple fact that Naughty Bear isn’t enjoyable. It’s mindless violence, and it isn’t enjoyable. When a game revolves around humorous violence and I’m not laughing, something is wrong. When I’m positively dreading the fact that I have to keep playing so that I can write an informed review, something is very, very, very wrong.
If you even manage to complete five levels of Naughty Bear, you're doing pretty well. Manage ten, and you are superhuman. Finish the entire game, and you're probably quite seriously ill, and you should schedule a visit to the doctor as soon as possible. It's the equivalent of watching paint dry while running around in circles and whacking yourself on the head with a hammer, on a rowboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a thunderstorm.
Perhaps somebody with a little more perseverance could wring some enjoyment out of Naughty Bear, but if you possess the patience and determination to complete this utter wreck of a game, you should put your talents towards something more constructive, such as climbing Everest or curing deadly diseases. Edmund Hillary and Alexander Fleming would bow before you.