Review: Naughty Bear (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Naughty Bear
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Genre: Action/Beat-“Ëœem-Up
Release Date: 06/25/2010

Having never owned a Nintendo 64 until a few years ago, and the fact that the game is expensive nowadays, I never had the pleasure of owning Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Having played it with friends, though, I know that it was a great game, and perfect for multiplayer mayhem. This is what initially piqued my interest in Naughty Bear. From the first screenshots I saw of the game that had teddy bears with guns, I knew this was one game I wanted to play and hoped that it would capture some of the fun and charm of the Conker series.

Artificial Mind and Movement, during the Playstation 2/Xbox/Gamecube era, made a living out of developing licensed games aimed at children with titles like Happy Feet, The Ant Bully and Scooby Doo: Mystery Mayhem. When the current generation of consoles landed, Artificial Mind and Movement started focusing on more titles aimed at teens and adults, with releases like Iron Man for the Nintendo Wii and Playstation Portable, as well as WET for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. What better company to make a game that, on the surface, looks like a children’s game, but is actually aimed at more mature audiences – a game like Naughty Bear?

They may seem like the perfect company for such a game, but how did they pull it off? Read on to find out.

Story/Modes

In Naughty Bear, the player assumes the role of Naughty Bear – or Naughty for short – who is a psychopathic killer bear on the ironically named Island of Perfection. Naughty is sick and tired of being blamed for everything that goes wrong on the island, and for being left out of all the parties, so he decides to extract revenge on the other bears. From here, the gamer proceeds to kill as many bears on the island as possible. Then the player kills some more. Finally, the player kills even more bears; ruthlessly killing countless bears that always seem to find a way back to life once the next chapter begins.

That is the entire story, and the whole point of Naughty Bear. Not deep, but it still manages a bit of fun.

The back of the box, the instruction manual, and even the in-game menu claims there is a multiplayer mode, but I think someone forgot that they also needed to make this mode WORK, not just display it everywhere. I’ll be damned if I ever got to play one full match in multiplayer without the game losing connection to the other players ten seconds in, or the game moving so slowly that I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was hard enough to find two-four other people to play with, but once that happened, most of the time we would get ten-thirty seconds in, and the game would disconnect us. The one time I was able to get in a game and get a kill/be killed, the game started slowing down so much that it was basically unplayable. Though there are multiple sources claiming to have a multiplayer mode, I am unable to review it because it is absolutely broken. I hope that Artificial Mind and Movement release a patch for this game, and stat. Otherwise, and as of this writing, there is only one functioning mode in Naughty Bear, and that is the story mode mentioned above.

Even though this part of the game was inaccessible for me, the different game types that were present made it sound like it could be a fun experience, and one I will return to if there is a patch released. There are four different types of multiplayer matches: Cake Walk (hold the golden cupcake the longest to win), Golden Oozy (only score points while using the one golden oozy), Jelly Wars (work together to collect Jellies while trying to avoid Naughty Bear), and Assault (destroy the other team’s Unistatue, then defend home base for two minutes). These are all playable by up to four people, but there are only three different maps to choose from. The game creator can also select which weapon type to use and whether or not to play with badges. Speaking of multiplayer badges, these are there to give the player a special boost, be it +25% range damage, or +75 life points. These are unlocked as the player progresses through the chapters, unlocking different medals.

With only a lackluster story mode and a broken multiplayer mode, Naughty Bear has some major problems. The story given is just an excuse to go around killing other bears and, though there is progression, it is only seen in the final episode and is dull. With each new episode, a new theme is given and a short cutscene plays to set the scene. I am able to forgive the uninspiring storytelling of Naughty Bear due to the fact that the game is really just about beating the stuffing out of other bears. What I cannot forgive is the abysmal effort put forth in terms of the multiplayer mode.

Story Rating: Very Bad

Graphics

Bright environments, adorable teddy bear character models, and brutal violence mix well together in Naughty Bear. Though the environments are not that varied or large, what Artificial Mind and Movement does have here is nicely drawn, and looks excellent when things are still.

Set the game into motion, and the problems begin.

There are a ton of clipping issues with Naughty Bear that range from a minor annoyance to a game-freezing disaster. The first one of these problems I noticed, which would fall into the first category, is when the player advances to the next level of a chapter. In order to show that the player is advancing, Naughty either opens a blue door or pushes down and crosses a wooden bridge. Although these may seem like simple enough loading screens, the game hiccups through each one, every single time. Again, this was not a huge deal as it is just a loading screen, but it had me paying closer attention for other, bigger glitches.

Hell, I could have been falling asleep while playing and still noticed some of the graphical glitches in Naughty Bear.

Every once in a while, as I would start a new chapter, I would notice something missing: the massive heads-up display that is normally taking up three/fifths of the screen was gone. This happened on multiple occasions, and in a game where score is the most important aspect, this was crippling and forced me to restart my system completely.

From the minor loading screen glitches to the major missing heads-up display glitch, and everything in between – bears sitting on air next to a car they were supposedly trying to escape in, weapons not swapping, random characters going in to slow motion for no reason – Naughty Bear has a ton of graphical problems. When everything is working as it should, however, Naughty Bear’s charm stems from the graphics. These are adorable characters, and the world is straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon show. The fact that these bears are running around with knives, axes, clubs, bats, guns, lasers, and the like is in stark contrast to the look of the world. Much like in Conker’s Bad Fur Day – the obvious inspiration for games like Naughty Bear or Fairytale Fights – the player feels a perverse joy in destroying the cute, cuddly and seemingly harmless creatures that roam the island. It’s just too bad that the glitches have a tendency to ruin the fun.

Graphics Rating: Poor

Sound

Like the graphics, Naughty Bear sports an upbeat, cartoon-like soundtrack. There is also a voice-over that talks to Naughty throughout the chapters (it acts as the voice in his psychopathic head); this voice tells when every other bear has been killed, states what type of challenge, if any, the player is trying to complete, and delivers some random phrases when Naughty earns a combo. I enjoyed the voice-over work, and thought it added to the Saturday morning cartoon feel that Artificial Mind and Movement were undoubtedly going for.

The music gets repetitive after a while because it is all so similar. When Naughty is being chased by other bears, there is a dark, tense orchestral music playing in the background. Often there is a dance party happening that the player interrupts, as well as zombie based chapters, which all use the same sounding music. Essentially, there are only a few different times when the music sounds noticeably different, and it tends to get tiresome rather quickly.

As far as the sound effects go, Artificial Mind and Movement did a nice job with having unique sounds for when a bear steps into a trap, when a gun is fired as opposed to a laser, when a robo-bear was being killed as opposed to a normal bear, and so on. There were a lot of variation with the sound effects, and I thought this stood out as a positive aspect in Naughty Bear.

Sound Rating: Good

Control and Gameplay

If I were asked to some up Naughty Bear using one word I would have to use “glitched”. Not only are there graphical problems, but there are gameplay glitches as well, and these are the most troubling. Before I get into detail about those, however, let me explain what Naughty Bear is all about gameplay-wise.

This game is essentially about high score chasing in order to win one of four medals, and open up more chapters. To earn points, the player does naughty things such as sabotaging and/or destroying property, setting traps and scaring other bears, or – best yet – killing other bears. The scoring system is not that simple, however, and different types of kills/scares give the player a different amount of points. Points are also based on who else is near Naughty as he kills or traps another bear, or as he breaks down equipment. If the player uses different weapons on each kill, this can help to maximize the amount of points earned. There are a lot of different variables that come in when the computer is deciding how many points each naughty act is worth. It was nice to see this complexity here because the rest of the game was very basic.

Another way the player earns points is through special challenge chapters. For example, a Friendly Challenge is one in which Naughty is not allowed to attack other bears physically. If he does, the challenge is failed and the player is forced to restart. Instead of attacking a bear first hand in Friendly Challenges, the player needs to set up traps and scare the other bears into killing themselves, and earn points by destroying property. Another special challenge is the (usually frustrating) Untouchable Challenge. In this, Naughty is supposed to earn the points required of him without getting hit by one fist, one weapon, stuck in any traps, or – the hardest part – not getting hit by any bullets. I found these challenges to be the hardest simply because of how difficult it was to avoid getting struck by bullets, but anyone looking for a challenge will thrive in these chapters. One last example would be the Speed-Run Challenges, where the player needs to earn the points required of him/her and proceed through the chapter before a timer expires.

Here is a breakdown of the different stages in Naughty Bear: there are seven episodes with five chapters each. Each chapter contains, on average, three levels that the player must complete. In the final level of each chapter, there is a certain bear (always wearing some sort of hat) that Naughty must punish in order to clear that chapter. Usually these bears are not any more difficult to kill than the other bears, but may have a gun as opposed to a melee weapon, or be quicker than the rest. In all, that makes for 35 different chapters for the player to complete. After a chapter is finished, the points the player earns get them either a bronze, silver, gold, or platinum medal which is used to unlock more chapters, playable skins for Naughty, and multiplayer badges. In order to open the final chapter in episode seven – the hardest chapter to unlock – the player is tasked with earning 25 gold medals, which means that most players will be going back to chapters they may have previously beaten in order to get more points and better medals. This is fun for a while, but doing the same thing over and over again usually grows tiresome, and Naughty Bear is no exception: there are only so many ways to trap, scare, and kill another bear.

I found nothing wrong with the controls in Naughty Bear and thought they were implemented well. The right trigger and “X” attack, “Y” defends, “A” picks up new weapons or traps, “B” sets out that trap, and the left trigger scares other bears. The controls proved simple, allowing for a great pick-up-and-play experience. The player will be hitting the “X” button more times than they can imagine, but that is part of Naughty Bear’s charm: its simplicity.

Another positive is the quality assortment of weapons available to Naughty, and these get better as more chapters are unlocked. Each different weapon has a special final kill attack that Naughty will perform when another bear is close to death. These were unique from one another, tended to be brutal, and looked good, but once the player has seen them all a hundred times the appeal is lost. That is not to say that these are not well done and worthy of a positive mention. I enjoyed the different types of kills available, and hope to see more through downloadable content.

Naughty Bear is plagued by glitches and game freezing bugs and is hard to recommend based on that fact alone. I will say, though, that fans of the beat-“Ëœem-up genre would otherwise enjoy Naughty Bear, and most of these problems are ones that can be fixed through a patch, should Artificial Mind and Movement decide to release one. Aside from the glitching, Naughty Bear stands up as a cute, sadistic beat-“Ëœem-up that is fun in spurts. High score chasers will find the most fun with this title, though, as they try to top the internet leaderboards. The pick-up-and-play gameplay is good for casual gamers, but the lack of offline multiplayer means fewer of these casual gamers will be playing. There is a mixed bag with Naughty Bear, but if the gamer knows what type of game this is and enjoys it, they could have a great time if not for the glitches. These problems, though, cannot be overstated.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Very Bad

Replayability

Naughty Bear has built in replayability because of the type of game it is: a high score chasing beat-“Ëœem-up where the player is forced to replay levels in order to open more chapters. This plays in the game’s favor, but the lack of a stable multiplayer experience online, and absolutely zero offline multiplayer, really hurts Naughty Bear’s replayability. There are also a lot of unlockables, including multiplayer badges and different skins (which all have different strengths and weaknesses) to add to the length of the game.

There will come a time when all the unlockables have been achieved and all chapters have platinum medals, and that is when the game will end for most gamers. If the player has no desire to see their name on the top of an internet leaderboard, once all things have been unlocked (which would come with clearing all the chapters) there is nothing else to do because of the broken multiplayer.

Replayability Rating: Poor

Balance

Naughty Bear is not a difficult game, and most experienced gamers will have few problems completing everything in no more than 10-15 hours. Though the game does get gradually more difficult with each new episode, I found that the only truly tough chapters were the Untouchable Challenges where Naughty was forced to beat each level while taking no damage. These were difficult because of the fact that the other bears sometimes had guns, and bullets are not easy to dodge. This is one of the few challenges that provide a high level of difficulty and because of that become some of the most exciting in the game. I wish there were more attention paid to the difficulty of each chapter so that there was a bigger jump between at least each episode, if not between each chapter.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

Originality

Naughty Bear is a beat-“Ëœem-up/action hybrid that uses the “deadly cute” style seen in Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Though this style is not used often, it has been done before, and the beat-“Ëœem-up and high score chasing elements are as old as gaming itself. Naughty Bear combines a lot of elements that have been seen in the past (including some negative things), doesn’t bring many new ones to the table, and fails to improve on any of them.

Originality Rating: Dreadful

Addictiveness

I admit it: for everything negative about Naughty Bear, I still found myself wanting to come back to it and unlock more chapters and skins. There is something about kicking the stuffing out of teddy bears that had me giving it another shot even after the third freeze of the day. Since Naughty Bear is about replaying levels to better the player’s score, it naturally latches on to the “one more try” gene that most gamers have, and keeps them coming back for more. After some time, however, when the player has killed teddy bears in more ways than they could have ever imagined, this addictiveness wears off. Naughty Bear is a game that works well in short spurts, which is how I ended up playing it, and why I imagine I found this more addictive than some other games I have played recently.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

Appeal Factor

Any time I mention Naughty Bear in front of someone around my age or a bit older, the first thing they bring up is Conker’s Bad Fur Day. A lot of people who played the Conker series remember it fondly, and see Naughty Bear as an updated version of that game. Though this isn’t the case, that doesn’t change the fact that Naughty Bear will appeal to gamers who played Conker’s Bad Fur Day (or its sequel, Conker: Live and Reloaded), and to fans of repetitive beat-“Ëœem-ups. This leads to me conclude that Naughty Bear is for a specific niche audience – nostalgic beat-“Ëœem-up fans – and this can hurt sales. Once that specific gamer puts the title into the system and watches it freeze up a few times, that audience grows even slimmer.

Appeal Factor Rating: Below Average

Miscellaneous

Naughty Bear takes place on an island, and it appears to be quite small, with almost identical areas. There were no levels that really stood out from another, and it felt like I played the entire game in about two different spaces. If these spaces were bigger, this may not have been such a big deal, but because they were such small areas, they got old quickly. I would have liked to see unique levels throughout each chapter that were fun to explore and had secrets thrown in, but this was not the case. Instead, there were the same few spaces repeated throughout every chapter and episode.

Something that surprised me with Naughty Bear, and a fact that I didn’t realize until late into my playing of the game, was the amount of strategy involved when replaying chapters to earn points. If Naughty just kills every bear in sight, there is no way he will achieve a gold or platinum medal. The same can be said for someone who drives all the bears insane (in which they then kill themselves). There has to be a perfect combination of the two, as well as knowing when to destroy property, when to set traps, etc., in order for Naughty and the player to earn the medals desired. Once I discovered this, I was a bit more excited to play each level. That is not to say that this game cannot be played like a standard beat-“Ëœem-up and enjoyed, but for someone looking for something more than the standard affair, this is a nice variation.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Story/Modes: Very Bad
Graphics: Poor
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Very Bad
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: BELOW AVERAGE

Short Attention Span Summary
As of this writing, Naughty Bear is a buggy mess that is difficult to recommend to anyone. If a patch is released that fixes the broken online multiplayer, and the constant freezes, then I would recommend Naughty Bear only to those gamers that enjoy chasing high scores and beat-“Ëœem-ups. I am not sure if Naughty Bear was a victim of neglect, a rushed production schedule, or both, but something is missing, which is disappointing because there can be a fun game underneath the problems, if only for a limited time. The lack of an offline multiplayer also has me scratching my head: Naughty Bear seems made for drunken nights with friends thanks to the easy-to-master control system and violently cute gameplay. Why this feature was left out is beyond me. I have no doubt that Artificial Mind and Movement wanted to bring something enjoyable to the table, but Naughty Bear freezes just below mediocre.

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