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Naughty Bear – Xbox 360

Naughty Bear – Xbox 360

Naughty Box

 

     Platform: Microsoft Xbox 360

     DeveloperArtificial Mind and Movement

     Publisher505 Games

     Release Date (NA): June 29th, 2010

     Genre: Beat ’em Up

     Rating: 5.5 out of 10

     Reviewed by Nike Halifax

 

“Hello new friend. My name is Fred.
The words you hear are in my head.
I say I said my name is Fred.
And I’ve been…
Very naaaaughty.”
–Freaky Fred, Courage the Cowardly Dog

I really wanted to hate Naughty Bear. I really did. I tried–really hard–to hate Naughty Bear. It was so promising, too. The concept of a toddlers’ cartoon gone wrong conjures up unpleasant memories of Ninjabread Man. I had to install the game to my hard drive because the Xbox made an uncomfortably loud buzzing noise whenever it read the disc. Even the main menu reeks of (catchy) stock music and just has that air of shovelware tripe. It was a no-brainer. Look around: the best reviews said it’s mediocre at best, and most downright trashed it. Yet try as I might, I enjoyed myself. Quite a bit, actually.

I mean really, how could I not?

I mean really, how could I not?

Naughty Bear‘s not a bad game. It’s not a great game, but it’s good for what it is, and what it is is a classic arcade-style beat ’em up with some stealth elements. You can pick up different weapons, destroy all kinds of objects, and rack up points, and all levels are delivered in small chunks for quick thrills. Honestly, it reminds me a lot of MadWorld on the Wii. They both have twisted humor, they’re both a basic brawler with a gimmicky coat of paint (MadWorld‘s visuals and Naughty Bear‘s premise), and both are hampered by similar problems: a fidgety camera and repetitive gameplay. But where MadWorld is considered as something of a flawed classic, Naughty Bear is regarded as garbage. Which is strange, because Naughty Bear is the more competent game.

Naughty Bear‘s gameplay is broken up into different episodes, with seven on the disc itself, one free for download off of XBL Marketplace, and two more that require payment. Despite the episodic structure, the game has very little in the way of story. Basically, the game takes place on an edenic island (dubbed Perfection Island) full of lush jungles, quaint cabins, and groovy discothèques. On this island are a race of rainbow-colored, k̶i̶n̶d̶, happy, and loving C̶a̶r̶e̶™ bears. Pretty much every episode focuses on the eponymous Naughty exacting his revenge on the citizens of Perfection Island. Leading the story along are a series of funny pantomimed cutscenes (Naughty’s the strong, silent type) and a delightfully twisted narrator straight out of the most saccharine children’s cartoons.

Naughty makes sure that disco is still dead.

Naughty makes sure that disco is still dead.

Each episode opens with some circumstance that motivates Naughty to go on a killing spree. For example, Episode 1 opens with everyone celebrating at a birthday party that Naughty wasn’t invited to. Feeling sad and more than a little hurt, Naughty tries to build some bridges by bringing a gift to the party anyway. The other bears take the gift, destroy it, then point and laugh at poor Naughty, driving him to the logical extreme of mass murder. In every episode, the other bears are seen rejecting, ostracizing, or outright attempting to eliminate Naughty, so Naughty (with a little encouragement from the narrator) decides to fight back.

It’s pretty much confirmed by one of the game’s loading screens that the narrator exists solely in Naughty’s imagination. A few other indicators (like the fact that Naughty lives in isolation, lacks basic social skills, seems to have several self-inflicted wounds, sees statues coming to life, and has a whole episode dedicated to his belief that the military has sent birds to spy on him) suggest that Naughty is simply an eccentric ursine schizophrenic living in a part of the world that doesn’t understand or try to help people with mental illnesses. Even if you don’t over-analyze things like I do, you can still tell that the other bears are total ass-hats. In that way, Naughty’s oddly lovable, and you share in his catharsis when he beats the (literal) stuffing out of his peers.

What a scamp.

What a scamp.

Naughty Bear plays like a basic beat ’em up. Basic combat is limited to pressing one button, and the variation in how you attack is limited to what weapon you’re using. Weapon selection isn’t fantastic, but it’s varied enough, and each weapon handles differently and has a unique context-sensitive execution move. That’s the other side of Naughty Bear’s combat: context-sensitive button prompts. Depending on the circumstance, Naughty can pick up and set traps, break or sabotage grills, cars, phone lines, and other objects, perform “Super Scares” and “Ultra Kills,” and basically either murder bears in horrendously creative ways or scare the stuffing out of them.

The A.I. of your victims is remarkably fleshed out and tailored to the game’s mechanics. Victims grow increasingly uneasy with the more dead bodies or injured bears they run into, the more gunshots they hear, or the more damaged property they come across. They can flip out even more if they see you walk past a window, hear your break something in the distance, or see you hurting others. They can barricade themselves indoors and point and laugh at you from the window (then yelp in despair when you break the window open and crawl through, or quietly open the window on the opposite side and sneak up behind them). They’ll call for help, try to escape, root around camp fires and toolboxes for a weapon to defend themselves, and even repair sabotaged objects. At the same time, the moment you run into a wooded area, you’re practically invisible. They’ll look around for you, but they won’t find you (save for certain types of enemies later in the game). It’s just an arbitrary safe zone, like in Word Muncher or Phantom Hourglass–nonsensical from a logical standpoint, but fitting for the game’s mechanics.

Naughty automatically crouches and camouflages himself when he enters the woods.

Naughty automatically crouches and camouflages himself when he enters the woods.

For example, there was one situation where I severed the power lines to one of the buildings, set a bear trap outside the window, and hid in the woods. One of the bears came out of the house, saw the power lines, and started repairing them. With his back turned, I was able to sneak up behind him and ram him into the fuse box, electrocuting him. I then ran back into the woods. Another bear came out to check out the commotion, saw the body, and immediately ran back inside, scaring the others. I yelled out “BOO!” from the woods, freaking the bears out even more. One climbed out the window and landed on the bear trap. Another bear tried to help him out. I snuck up behind them, scared the helper off, then killed the trapped one by snapping its neck. The result? A chain reaction of mass hysteria, and a lot of points added to my score.

Situations like these are what make Naughty Bear fun. Despite the simplistic base mechanics, the game has some depth. The main goal is to earn points; with the exception of one or two sectional objectives per episode, level progress is built on racking up enough points to unlock the next segment. The most straightforward means of increasing your score (or your “naughtiness”) is to break things and beat the living hell out of the other bears, but the game encourages you to experiment. In addition to beating bears up, you can also slowly build unease and tension. In fact, you can actually drive the bears insane with fear, to the point where they’ll attack each other or even commit suicide. If you keep the momentum up, you can build up the score multiplier and rake in ridiculous points, which tally up with a satisfying flare on the top left corner of the HUD. Learning the balance between covert dread and unbridled mayhem is essential to getting high scores, and it helps spice up what would otherwise be a droll one-trick-bear of a beat ’em up.

Imma get u, u lil shit.

Imma get u, u lil shit.

Of course, the A.I. isn’t perfect. Each episode has a basic “earn points, kill this guy” challenge as well as several other challenges. These secondary challenges have objectives which require significant tweaking to your play style–with varying degrees of success. Some challenges, like the speed runs or the “invisible” challenges (where you can only be spotted a certain amount of times), are fun. Others, like the “dodging” challenges (where you can’t get let the enemy hurt you) or the “friendly” challenges (where you have to kill the bears without attacking them), can suffer from unpredictable A.I. and some less-than-stellar dodge mechanics.

Where the game suffers most is its production values. It’s not the execution–the cutscenes, voice work, and execution animations are all as stellar as they are funny. In fact, humor is one of the game’s greatest strengths; Naughty Bear manages to be dark and twisted without being disturbing, tasteless, or even all that offensive. It’s not even in the game’s presentation; the art style is easy on the eyes, and the graphics, while not spectacular, are at least competent. The musical pieces are usually laughably off-key and warped-sounding versions of the generic triangles and xylophones you hear in cutesy early-childhood programs. While there are only a few tracks in the game, they’re just background noise to the mayhem anyway, so the pieces never get on your nerves.

Just like middle school.

Just like middle school.

No, Naughty Bear‘s biggest issue is polish. Levels are small and repetitive, reusing the same art assets, character models, and set pieces with little variation. It’s forgivable, but later levels start to toss enemies at you that, in addition to being harder to kill or scare, can spot and attack you in the woods. There are also usually more characters per level in later episodes, which starts to make the already small areas feel even more cramped. The combat works early on, but its clunkiness becomes more and more apparent the further you get in the game. With no proper lock-on mechanic, it can get difficult to hit a vital target when there are five or six other bears crowded all around you. Actually hitting enemies is satisfying but slow and clumsy, so enemies and victims occasionally run away in the delay between hits. With the initial targets, that just means you spend time chasing them down. With later enemies, however, it means they have a chance to turn around and shoot you–or call in reinforcements. Later enemies are also harder to scare, harder to avoid, and take a lot more hits. It’s not awful, but it can be frustrating.

Still, the more crowded or chaotic an area, the more apparent the game’s flaws. You can control the camera at all times, but it’s very fidgety and prone to zooming in too close to the action. It also tends to get a bit unstable indoors, but it’s never more than a minor frustration. Using the guns you can pick up is only recommended if the weapon’s automatic, you haven’t been spotted, and you’re trying to take out a group of more powerful enemies. Gun controls are stiff and awkward, and clearly their inclusion is more for the novelty of seeing a teddy bear holding a shotgun. Again, annoying, but forgivable.

True terror.

True terror.

Slightly less forgivable are the inexplicable drops in the frame rate, the odd typo every now and again, and the clipping issues. Frame rate drops are rare during gameplay, but it’s consistently jittery when loading the next segment of a level. Clipping problems are most apparent when performing Ultra Kills in tight spaces or strange camera positions. You might pull out a sword and hop around while slicing up an enemy, even though that enemy is on the other side of a wall. I wouldn’t be so finicky about the frame rate, but this isn’t a resource-intensive game, so I have to wonder why there’s an issue at all. As for the clipping, well…I don’t know what to say. Many games have it, it’s just more apparent here because the camera’s so close to the actionFinally, Naughty Bear, despite its unlockables, multiple challenges, and different levels, doesn’t feel like a fleshed out experience. Had the game released episodically on XBLA, it might have fared better in its reviews. Maybe instead of “boring,” it would have been labeled as a Hitman-meets-Streets of Rage gem meant to be enjoyed in short bursts.

There’s a lot to enjoy about Naughty Bear. There are silly costumes to unlock which can alter your base stats or grants perks like extra starting weapons or the ability to walk around unnoticed. There are a bunch of sub-episodic challenges. There’s a downright cruel incentive to increase your score–the game actually charts your score in comparison to other players’ and displays the player with the next highest score after you. At the end of the day, Naughty Bear isn’t a bad game. It’s a little rough around the edges, and its arcade-y gameplay might wear thin on a lot of players, but that doesn’t make it bad. Just a little…naughty.

/fin.

/fin.

Written by Nerd Bacon

Nerd Bacon

 
 

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One Comment

  1. Alec Trevelyan says:

    Awesome review. I had my doubts about the game, but I am def gonna check it out!

     

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