Well-tuned, imaginative challenges keep Naughty Bear fresher than you'd expect in parts, but it's still undermined by recycled levels and a very dopey premise.
- Chainable kill sprees are fun
- Antihero eventually rises above revenge
- Imaginative challenges can extend play
- Very corny premise
- Too many recycled levels
- Frustrating camera issues
A2M's Naughty Bear relies on the kind of remedial revisionism that only 12-year-old boys and the perpetually stoned find clever. What if the saccharine innocence of a children’s show was shattered by over-the-top violence and depravity? The answer remains the same. Cuddly teddy bears choke, scream and die just like we do.
Once the novelty of beating a purple mascot to death with a baseball bat wears off, Naughty Bear has a saving grace or two, and while it never totally rises above its hokey premise (and the levels wear out their welcome over a few hours) it’s designed with a surprising amount of replay value in mind. The player is continually asked to tackle challenges from different angles, gunning for higher scores while adhering to different rules. Chasing these goals is genuinely fun. And the satisfaction of a high-scoring kill, strung together in a single bonus bumping chain of mayhem, is supreme.
Unfortunately, these challenges can’t hide the fact that Naughty Bear is a wafer-thin slice of revenge -- a tiny sandbox crammed with tons of deadly toys, if you will.
Naughty By Nature
Let’s get this out of the way. Titular character Naughty is a product of his environment. He’s not inherently evil. The world (especially all the nattering, two-faced teddy bears in it) made him this way. His ultra-violent reaction to snubs, mistreatment and straight-up jerkitude is over-the-top. But as Naughty Bear’s plot progresses we learn that his psychotic behavior makes him the perfect toy to save his fellow bears and the world as we know it.
At first this means infiltrating a birthday party he wasn’t invited to and killing, maiming and driving the revelers insane with as much variety as possible. But soon Naughty finds himself button eye-to-button eye with ninjas, zombies, robots and evil invading aliens. The game’s plot, just like any Metal Gear Solid sequel, quickly goes off the rails. It’s a good thing too. Because revenge, as sweet as it is, gets old quick.
Close Quarters Cuddling
Naughty Bear plays a bit like your average stealthy actioner. Players can crouch in the bushes, unseen, then sneak up and murder their prey with a single-brutal contextual kill.
Every evil deed you commit poisons the world around you. Teddies will freak out and eventually go insane if they witness enough violence. Quarries that get a little too wigged out will run for a telephone and call in the authorities. Let that happen and squads of teddy bear cops and commandos will sweep the area, hunting the player down and making life that much more difficult. Silencing the snitch is always the best idea. And, like all the contextual kills in Naughty Bear, it’s just a matter of sneaking up behind the target, squeezing the trigger and watching as Naughty crams the phone receiver down the loudmouth’s throat.
Unlike most third-person stealth games, time is not on Naughty’s side. Players earn more points for stringing their dirty deeds together. Take a time out in the safety of the shrubs and your bonus multiplier will bleed away. Naughty Bear rewards players for tackling assignments with speed, precision, creativity and ruthlessness. Once you’ve nailed that goal to the wall, the game ups the ante, asking you to torture your enemies without resorting to physical violence, without being seen or with out taking damage.
Naughty Bear’s achievements and trophies add another diabolical layer of challenge to the game, tasking the player with punishing particular bears in very precise ways or to pull off specific kills while wearing special, statistic boosting costumes.
There’s a surprising amount of depth to Naughty Bear, especially for those who rise to difficult challenges. But as I've mentioned before, the game isn’t without its flaws.
Most of Naughty Bear’s action goes off without a hitch. But the camera goes a little crazy when you’re chasing your victims in and out of doorways. The issue is minor, but maddening especially when you’re going after one of the game’s less forgiving challenges.
But ultimately, Naughty Bear’s biggest problem is that its island setting gets old very quickly. Through the game’s seven episodes, players find themselves prowling the same locales over and over again. Most changes to scenery are superficial -- maps gain new enemies, weapons and decorations on the building. But the fact remains that you’re murdering in the same place over and over again. A game that relies so heavily on replay value needs much more variety.
And while the numerous contextual kills are gleefully gory, the game lacks when it comes to driving teddies crazy. Naughty Bear makes his fragile enemies go mad by screaming “Boo!” in their faces. The game really could use just as much variety in the way that Naughty scares the bejeezus out of fools than there is to end their lives.
Naughty Bear would have been much better served if it ditched its online multiplayer (sure to be sparsely played by the end of the summer) and put a little more effort into changing up the scenery now and then. But the game sticks, stubbornly, to its frugal guns. In the game’s final battle against invading aliens, it recycles the same well-worn setting even though the game suggests that you’re finally taking the fight to the mother ship.
Despite a rather cliché premise, Naughty Bear has some surprisingly fun moments that encourage you to invest lots of time in it. The clever challenge modes, at their best, can be quite satisfying, and eventually, the premise rises above its hackneyed beginnings. But ultimately, while the challenges encourage replay, the environments don’t. They’re recycled far too often, and the lack of diverse places to slay becomes glaring after a few hours. Naughty Bear’s greatest irony isn’t that it goes too far with its anti-social violence, but that it doesn’t go far enough when it comes to giving you places to cheerfully pick off enemies. Stingy bears deserve punishment too.