The truly tragic thing about Naughty Bear – and there’s no shortage of tragedies here – is that if you were to sit down with a buddy who’s never had the misfortune of reading anything about Naughty Bear, let alone playing it, you’d probably end up convincing him that it’s actually pretty damn good.
“You play as a bear who murders other teddy bears.” Oh yeah? “You ram Sunshine’s face into a burning barbeque.” Nice. “You terrify the other bears until they go insane. You smash windows to frighten them, sabotage their vehicles so they can’t escape, crash their parties and, if you scare them enough, they go mad and kill themselves.” So why aren’t we playing this game?
To which you answer: because we’d have more fun if we slit our wrists with rusty scissors and jumped into the shark pool at the local aquarium.
The mess begins when the bears of Perfection Island have a party but choose not to invite Naughty Bear, which may or may not have something to do with his violent temperament and the fact that he’s a gigantic twat. While all the other bears are content milling around Perfection Island without a care in the world, Naughty Bear prefers to start fights, vandalise cars, smash statues and hide in wardrobes like the sex offender he so undoubtedly is. Not even Gary Glitter would bother inviting him and there are plenty of advantages to having a giant teddy bear at your party.
Ultimately it’s a vengeance story with no air of vengeance. And it’s not really a story either. Although maybe that’s expecting a little too much from a game that weighs in at around 500MB on install.
Unlike the install size, Naughty Bear’s problems are seemingly infinite and bad story is just the start of a long-drawn-out list of foibles that spell out in big bold capital letters: SHOULD NOT HAVE BOTHERED.
The core gameplay mechanic revolves around a points and combo system that increase with each naughty act Naughty Bear performs. Smash a window and your combo count jumps from x1 to x2. Sabotage a boat so the bears can’t escape and it might jump to x10. Run around the outside of a bear’s house brandishing a machete and you’ll score points because “Pudding has spotted Naughty”. Just like in real life when I run around my flat naked with a meat cleaver.
In theory the system itself isn’t half bad. You could – again in theory – kill a bear and leave the corpse for a passing bear to spot and you’d be rewarded. Firstly for killing the bear, secondly because another bear will discover the dead bear and then again because the bear that stumbled upon the corpse becomes a “worried bear”. The game tells you this, “Sunshine is a worried bear.” Aww.
But it doesn’t really work like that. The moment you enter a level the bears become suspicious. This means if you start running around sabotaging barbeques the bears barricade themselves in a room together and wait for you to Jack Nicholson your way through the nearest door or window. There’s a stealth mechanic where if you’re stood beneath a tree Naughty holds a giant leaf in front of him and the bears all suffer from temporary blindness. This works even if the bears are within a yard of Naughty or staring right at him. So if nothing else Naughty Bear is quite definitely the quintessential stealth experience. Better than Splinter Cell Conviction anyway.
Even Naughty’s curious invisibility is useless though because once the bears are suspicious they band together. After a while they might emerge from their barricaded room but if they spot you tinkering with a car or hear you smashing teapots on the other side of Perfection Island they’ll weather the storm until you convince them to leave with a fire axe.
So the game resorts to a customary formula. You stomp in, sabotage the car and then the boats. Then you smash some stuff to jumpstart the combo meter, find a combo-freeze power up and start bludgeoning the bears. To earn a gold medal you need the bears to self-murder so you can’t just run in and slash away at stitching and fluff. But you probably will because there’s literally no point in bothering with the high scores. There are leaderboards, but the game is so tragic bragging about being fifth in the world is tantamount to winning the Guinness World Record for most bogies eaten in ten minutes. I smashed every teapot, sabotaged every toilet and whacked every bird in Perfection Island! Seek psychological help.
And the combo system counteracts the supposedly arbitrary, stealthy nature of the gameplay anyway. You’re rewarded for sabotaging the world and abusing handily placed features like the barbeques or a fuse box thus turning them into weapons. But your combo meter falls so rapidly that you need to be doing naughty things continually to get the highest scores. And wanking in the closet somehow doesn’t constitute naughty. So you’re left with smashing teacups.
And then there’s the third person camera with the attention span of a crack-fiend at Pete Docherty’s flat. It tracks Naughty Bear begrudgingly when he’s outside, but enter a building and it starts leaping around like the cameraman’s being tickled with an invisible feather duster. And somehow, despite boasting the graphical prowess of middling last-generation titles, there’s clipping in the cut scenes.
But it’s not all doom and gloom; when all is said and done there is one hilarious aspect to Naughty Bear. Bewilderingly there are two pieces of DLC currently available, so once you’ve endured the masochistic agony of playing the same clumsy level forty-odd times, you can PAY EVEN MORE MONEY to do it all again. Fuck you Naughty Bear.