Naughty Bear (XBOX 360) Review

Naughty Bear is a game. It’s not a good game, or even a particularly bad game. It’s simply a game, in the same way that Minesweeper, Solitaire, and Tetris are simply games. Unfortunately, Naughty Bear aspires to be a modern video game, and in that regard, it falls well short of contemporary standards.

Allow me to explain. Most AAA video games display a certain polish evident in advanced graphics, tight combat controls, or lengthy narratives. Naughty Bear has none of that. The graphics are cute but cheap, the controls are finicky and unresponsive, and the story could be scrawled across the chalkboard in a first grade classroom. All that’s left is a dolled up flash game resembling the end product of a Winnie the Pooh snuff film featuring the Care Bears.

In Naughty Bear, your mission is to punish all of the other bears for failing to invite you to their birthday parties, but that story is merely a façade. Your real goal is to get the highest score. You’ll receive points for killing and scaring bears, points for sabotaging and destroying equipment, and points for generally causing a ruckus, with bonuses rewarded for misbehaving while other bears are watching.

The game is divided into seven chapters, each with four different sub-chapters corresponding to one of the challenge modes added to artificially extend play time. Killer challenges, insanity challenges, invisibility challenges, and speed challenges all force you to fulfill obvious secondary requirements in order to proceed. Earning gold, silver, and bronze trophies unlocks more stages, as well as a variety of party hats that boost Naughty’s stats and change his appearance.

Sadly, all of those extra features prove to be insubstantial surface with no real impact on gameplay. Every kill in every mode is executed in exactly the same way. First, you’ll sabotage an appliance. Then you’ll wait for a bear to come fix that appliance. Then you sneak up behind the bear and press a button. Rinse and repeat.

That repetition becomes onerous once you start pushing for higher scores, as merely defluffing bears will not garner the points necessary for better prizes. Instead, you’ll have to continuously scare the bears to push them towards insanity, meaning that you’ll have to go through the same motions a dozen times to maximize your point total with each victim.

The achievement demands strip Naughty Bear of a lot of its charm. Shoving a bear into a campfire is far more visceral and satisfying than walking up and saying, “Boo!” and you’ll quickly tire of the one copy-pasted scare animation. At least the fatalities are context-sensitive.

Perhaps because of the familiar redundancy, Naughty Bear does manage to foster the “one more try” gamer mentality. It can be strangely absorbing – even fun - on a lazy afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do. You just have to be the kind of obsessive person willing to pursue pointless tasks in the search for a better score because the morbid sense of humor offers little beyond a casual appeal.

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To that end, Naughty Bear is occasionally genuinely funny. The British storybook voiceover that introduces every chapter drips with ironic cuteness and there’s something sickeningly sweet about dumping a teddy bear into a giant cake mixer. It’s just that the retread action rapidly desensitizes you to the comedic nature of your behavior.

Each of the seven scenarios resets the status quo as if the previous rampage never happened. The resident bears that you’ll kill in act one – creatures with lovable names like Daddles, Cozy, and Stardust – are the same critters that you’ll kill in act seven. The elimination of cause and effect defuses the more disturbing implications of the homicidal things you’ll be asked to do, turning Naughty Bear into an unusually depraved Looney Tunes short.

Naughty Bear is further filled with minor glitches that are impossible to ignore. Bear traps placed outside a window will frequently phase through the wall and snare a bear inside the building. The inconsistent AI has a weird habit of shutting off and leaving bears stuck behind picnic tables until you trigger a reaction. There are also some visual bugs, demonstrated when bears get stuck in movement loops and start flickering in place.

Poor design leads to some other, more frustrating concerns. After each scare, the camera always wrests itself into the most inconvenient position possible, making it difficult to escape or string attacks together. Your quarry is also highly unpredictable. You’ll tamper with every item you can, only to spend minutes waiting for one of the bears to decide to investigate. It makes the game tedious, and there’s often not a whole lot you can do to force the action.

None of the problems break the game, but it’s all indicative of a product that’s been haphazardly completed. The pitifully thin level design is similarly lazy. Perfection Island only features four tiny maps, each with the same cabins, the same traps, and the same green background flora. Fighting games have more robust stages and more variety in the ways you can use them.

Naughty Bear is a quintessential example of how a price tag can influence a review score. At $15, the flaws would be easy to overlook and you’d be getting many hours worth of gameplay for a perfectly reasonable price. At $50, you’ll start wondering how the developers could possibly have spent that much money making something so rudimentary.

So once again, Naughty Bear is a game. It’s fun in the same absorbing way that quests for high scores will always be fun and it’s a fine way to waste some time. That said, I couldn’t give you a single reason to purchase the game, and I certainly won’t recommend parting with your hard earned $50. You’d be better off saving that money for the real video games that will be coming out later in the fall.