The set-up to Naughty Bear sounds like the kind of thing you come up with at 4 in the morning after a night of drinking. It's the kind of concept that sounds like pure genius when you've had a few shots, but in the morning you wonder what you were thinking. Alas, apparently the party never stopped over at Artificial Mind and Movement.
It's essentially Manhunt meets the Care Bears. No, really. You play Naughty Bear (that appears to be his name and not just a description), an ill-tempered loner. Together he and the rest of the build-a-bear community live on Perfection Island, a picturesque world full of lush forests and clear water. Today Naughty Bear is feeling especially left out, because he's the only guy on Perfection Island not invited to Daddle's birthday party. So what does he do? He decides to crash that birthday party ... and kill as many stuffed animals as possible along the way.
You do this in a variety of small, enclosed arenas masked as villages, factories and other areas on the island. You can hide in the brush and plan your attack, attempting to use all those years of stealth training to your advantage. In each stage you will have a checklist of tasks you need to do before moving on. Most of these tasks involve you earning a certain amount of points, performing a certain move or destroying some sort of object in the level. Even with these different objectives, you're constantly being asked to do the same thing throughout each of the game's seven areas.
You can go about your killing a number of different ways. There's the direct way, which involves you rushing around and beating up anybody and everybody that gets in your way. There are weapons for this, including everything from bats to axes to guns. But there's another way to dispose of these unfriendly teddy bears. You can always sabotage the world around you, damaging vehicles, putting down traps and breaking their arcade cabinets. Once they go to fix one of these things you can sneak up behind them and finish them off. These fatalities are no less graphic than what we saw in Manhunt, only with adorable bears and white stuffing instead of blood.
The game's intriguing premise sustains this game for at least an hour or two. After that, though, you're on your own. The problem with Naughty Bear is that once the novelty has worn off, all you're left with is a sub-par action game with poor controls and repetitive gameplay. And that's before you realize that the whole game is buggy and will make your system freeze dozens of times.
You'll notice the problems right away. Although this is intended to be a stealth action game, the control scheme feels like it was built for an incredibly shallow 2D brawler. There's no button that presses you up against a wall or helps you avoid being seen. You will never be mistaken for Solid Snake or Sam Fisher. Hell, you don't even have the moves found in Gears of War, let alone a stealth action game. The best you can do to hide is stick to the shrubbery, which masks you from the rest of the stuffed animals. There's nothing about the way the game controls that suggests it was meant to be a stealth action game, yet the finished product clearly fits into that genre.
Of course, I'm sure that some people would argue that this isn't a stealth action game at all. After all, it's not like you have to sneak up on anybody to take them out. The fun of Splinter Cell and Manhunt was knowing that your enemy was considerably stronger than you. This meant that you had to be careful not to get noticed; otherwise it's lights out for you. But that's not the case in Naughty Bear. In this game you can simply rush your enemy, punch him a few times and then finish the job. While a few of the missions require you to stay hidden, for the most part there's no penalty for not sneaking around.
Sadly, even if you accept this as nothing more than a 3D action game/brawler, it still has a lot of weird control problems. In most modern action games, the target/aim button is mapped to the left trigger. But not in Naughty Bear. Oh no, that would make too much sense. Instead if you want to aim, you will want to push the right bumper. What does the left trigger do, you ask? It turns out that this is your, ahem, "BOO!, Scare" button. This button unleashes your loudest, most obnoxious sound available. You are literally jumping up and down and waving your arms, it's possibly the least subtle thing you could do in the game. So imagine sneaking up on a guy and accidentally pushing this look at me button and screwing up your whole plan. It's annoying ... and something that happened far too often.
The game also has huge camera problems and the combat is a complete mess. I know I'll probably unleash the wrath of the Monster Hunter Tri fanbase, but like Capcom's recent RPG, Naughty Bear is in serious need of a target button. It's far too easy to get turned around and then suffer serious damage from a gun-toting bear. Thankfully there's more than enough health packs strewn about the level, but the poor combat only helps to highlight the significant problems with Naughty Bear.
And then there are the technical issues, which seems to be a widespread problem across all of the Naughty Bear community (based on what I've read on the various forums). The problems started for me the moment I put the game in the system, it froze while trying to download a required title update. From there I found the game crashing at least once every couple of hours. There are other bugs, including one where the game will go into a never ending loop of loading information. Every time I had to restart my system I had to convince myself to play the game again. I finally got to the point where I couldn't bring myself to push the start button, it always ends with disappointment.
These technical problems are not isolated to the offline mode only; you'll find yourself suffering through a whole new batch of problems when you decide to take the game online. What is explained in the instruction manual is intriguing. You get to have jelly fights, a cupcake competition and an all out assault using automatic weapons. How could this not be a great substitute to getting more kills in Modern Warfare 2? Who knows, maybe it is. I'm not sure how good the multiplayer modes are, because I was never able to complete a full match. Because of server issues, I was constantly being booted or resetting my system after it froze. After making several valiant attempts, I resigned myself to the understanding that Naughty Bear was not intended to be played online.
Naughty Bear is exactly the kind of game I should like. It has a wicked sense of humor, the whole thing is unabashedly politically incorrect (even though it retains the T-rating) and it's hard to resist those cute and cuddly teddy bears. Yet despite its great concept, Naughty Bear is a fatally flawed action game that suffers from far too many technical problems to overlook. Worse yet, it's a game that, with a little reworking, could have been a great alternative to Rockstar Games's ultra-violent titles. But alas, it this is yet another miss opportunity.
There are things I absolutely love about this game. No matter how bad the controls are, I'll never forget the finishing moves your character administers. I love using all of the weapons to slice and dice the "good" bears, and there's nothing better than using an arcade machine to rip the life out of somebody. It's worth your time to watch all of the gruesome/adorable fatalities. Sadly, I don't think that's enough of a reason to buy this game, but if somebody were to post it on YouTube, I would suggest checking it out.
What I'm left with is a game full of interesting (and morbid) ideas that never quite works the way it's supposed to. I'm not saying you can't have a good time with Naughty Bear, but the fun is short-lived the moment you realize how crummy the gameplay is. If it wasn't for the game's cute graphics and interesting concept, this game would have scored a much lower grade.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Naughty Bear works as a crazy idea, but not as a full-priced video game. The action is shallow and the controls are all wrong. Worse yet, the game is marred by technical difficulties that all but ruin the entire experience. If it wasn't for the adorable characters and compelling idea, this game would have scored much lower!