Naughty Bear is an awful, awful video game that was produced by Artificial Mind and Movement for 505 Games. It was released onto the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
I'd call it an action game, but I don't want to tar the action genre with the Naughty Bear brush.
Naughty Bear takes place on an island populated by living teddy bears. Most of these teddy bears are happy, law-abiding teddy bears, but they all have one thing in common: they fear and hate Naughty Bear. Naughty Bear is the protagonist of the game. The player takes him through a variety of levels where Naughty Bear is tasked to punish the other teddy bears for offenses against him such as failing to invite him to a birthday party or running in the teddy bear election with a campaign promise to kill Naughty Bear. The world that Naughty Bear lives in is saccharine and the game's narrator takes a kind of sadistic delight in exhorting Naughty to violence against the island's other residents.
Naughty Bear doesn't do very many things compared to the protagonists of most 2010 video games. He can walk, hide, pick up small objects, push heavy objects to barricade or unbarricade doors and windows, sabotage various fixed objects, break shit, set traps, attack other bears either with his bare hands or with a variety of weapons, and yell
BOO! very loudly. This is less than most other bears on the island can do. The only playable character I can think of in any modern video game with less agency than Naughty Bear is the living whirlwind that the player controls in the Xbox Live Arcade game From Dust.
The level design is very limited. Naughty Bear has a house by himself at the center of the island; there's a cake factory on one side of the island and a small bear village with cabins and picnic areas on the other side of the island. Every level starts and ends with Naughty in his house, and has him terrorizing bears in one or both of the other two locales. The other bears can contact the police bears, who arrive by boat. The bears can also escape the island by boat or car; when they do, Naughty cannot follow.
These small maps are re-used in every single level, but are decorated differently each time. The village area might be draped in camouflage and netting and heaped with sandbags to double as a military encampment, for example. Sometimes the level takes place at night.
The bears that Naughty terrorizes are different from level to level. Sometimes they're ordinary bears, sometimes they're ninja bears, sometimes they're pirate bears, sometimes they're zombie bears, sometimes they're military bears, sometimes they're robot bears or alien bears. Different bears have different capabilities: some can see Naughty when he's hiding in the woods, some can't. Some can see through his disguises, some can't. Some are stronger fighters than others. Some are more fearless than others.
The goal of the levels is generally for Naughty to either kill the other bears or drive them insane. Killing them is straightforward: attack them with weapons, attack them with bare hands, set traps for them, kill them using the environment in various ways such as slamming bear heads in car doors, shoving bears into ovens and freezers, electrocuting them with sabotaged wiring, and so on. Bears can take quite a lot of damage before dying, leaking stuffing as they flee from Naughty into other parts of the island, shoving furniture in front of doors and windows, etc. When the inevitable murder comes, each weapon has its own unique "fatality" animation.
Driving bears insane is done by terrifying them in various ways: Shouting BOO! at the bears is a good start; from there Naughty can progress to cutting phone lines, sabotaging escape routes, laying non-lethal traps such as bear-traps, vandalizing the island and various ways, and so on; the most effective ways to madden the other bears with fear are to allow them to find the other bears insane or dead. Sufficiently terrified bears will eventually commit suicide to escape the continuing horror. Often in the early levels the last surviving bear will escape and call the police, who arrive before Naughty is able to complete the mission objectives; as the police bears investigate the island they will sometimes go immediately mad with horror at the various sights which greet them. This is worth a lot of points when it happens.
Naughty must repeat each level many times, with different challenges: sometimes he must kill every bear on the island with weapons, sometimes he must kill all the bears without being seen, sometimes he must drive them all insane. Often there is a reward for defeating one specific bear in the level in a particularly poetic way. In addition to these objectives, there are often point thresholds and time-attack thresholds for Naughty to meet.
When I say that Naughty Bear must repeat the levels, I mean it: you have to complete a certain number of missions on each existing level before the next level and missions will unlock. The other primary unlockable feature of the game is costumes for Naughty Bear. These have in-game benefits: improving his statistics, changing his starting weapon, even disguising him as a bear that most of the other bears will find friendly.
The developer eventually released a couple of extra levels as downloadable content but it's hard to imagine why anyone would bother checking them out.
This game is really not very good. The designers focused most of their development effort on diverse objects in the environment for Naughty and his victims to interact with. There are a good variety of different weapons, in-level objects, and characters, and some complex AI scripting for Naughty's enemies, but this is a low-budget came and so the investment in those things came at a trade-off: too few levels, too much repetition within the levels. The Katamari games suffer from a simpler problem, as did Tenchu Z. Where those games succeed and Naughty Bear fails is in the gameplay itself: playing the slasher flick villain isn't all that fun after a while.
In all, the entire structure of the game left me feeling like the game designers were so proud of the gimmick they'd thought up that they forgot they needed to deliver compelling gameplay underneath it.
The art isn't very good, either; it's rendered in 3D but the tile-based level design is so fixed that you aren't getting much better than an isometric perspective most of the time. It reminds me a lot of Animal Crossing in some ways, but that game had some touching sentiment to it that is just completely absent in this game.
I found some of the later levels and specialized mission objectives to be almost comically hard. High difficulty in a game is normally something that wins my praise, but here it just felt like I was being punished for my bad decisions.
I have to admit, I fell for the press release with this one. Naughty Bear sounded like a hilarious concept and a cool game on paper, and even reading the description of it above made it sound like more fun than it really is.
The thing is, there really was some promise in there: I had a lot of fun with this game for the first few hours I played it, and probably got about 20 hours in before I just gave up in disgust. Because we're dealing with teddy bears, we can get away with portrayals of much more graphic violence than we could in a more realistic game. I think the title's aim was probably to be a spiritual successor to the Postal franchise in a gaming world that has really started to outgrow such open-ended and gratuitous violence. Naughty Bear lets you be generally sick in your treatment of the other teddy bears on the island, but putting a point system on the whole thing and forcing you to do it over and over again just to unlock the later levels really wrung a lot of the fun out of the game for me.
I don't know why I expected more; the studio that made the game, Artificial Mind and Movement (now renamed to Behaviour Interactive, possibly to get the stink of older games off them) specializes in the mass production of games focused around tie-in licenses for kid-oriented movies TV shows. Their last major title before Naughty Bear, WET, was just alright, and was itself very derivative of Stranglehold, simply substituting one pulp style (Hong Kong action film) for another pulp style (grindhouse exploitation film). WET deserves sequels, barely. Naughty Bear deserves a spot on year's-worst lists. Curiously, it now sounds like Naughty Bear is more likely to get a sequel than WET is.
Great concept, lousy execution. I hope they get it right someday, but I won't even go near a sequel unless the game gets great reviews.