On paper, Naughty Bear is the closest thing to an unofficial Friday the 13th game that us gamers had at the time. It’s playful visuals, hilariously simplistic central narrative, and clever marketing campaign garnered some interest, but developer 505 Games’ execution could have used a little more time in the Build-A-Bear factory.
Naughty Bear is my favourite – ehem, guilty pleasure – game out on the market based solely on its unabashedly campy vibe and utter devotion to delivering a fun, albeit flawed, overall experience. The stealth mechanics are horrible, the core combat is clunky and unintuitive thanks to a rogue camera, and the level design is about as repetitive as Tom Hanks’ life in Groundhog Day. Naughty Bear received abysmal scores across the board from nearly every accredited media entity, with its lowest score being a 3/10 given by IGN. Well-known video game icon Greg Miller reviewed the game back in June of 2010 for IGN, where he expressed his distaste immediately: “I’ve only played a few hours of Naughty Bear, but I don’t need to waste any more of my time to tell you that this game is a waste of yours. Naughty Bear is an embarrassment and shouldn’t be purchased by anyone anywhere.”
I guess it’s safe to say that I’m in the minority when I confess that I purchased the 2011 Gold Edition and the subsequent sequel, Panic in Paradise, which was released on Xbox Live Arcade.
Video games have admittedly made huge strides recently in their ability to blur the lines between themselves and cinema. Characters are no longer one-dimensional, and the stories built around them are created with love and personality. Santa Monica Studios’ God of War tells the tumultuous story of a father caught in an internal battle as he tries to raise his son, while moving beyond his past self. Game Director Cory Barlog used his own relationship between himself and his son as inspiration. Games are becoming much more personal experiences that both compel and challenge the player physically and ethically. Maybe the ethicality part is a little dramatic, but we’re getting there – I still feel like an a-hole for shooting Harper in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, okay?!
Naughty Bear is none of this – not even slightly. You play as an estranged teddy bear who goes on a psychotic, murderous rampage after he was left off of the guest list for Daddles’ birthday party. Yeah, I know – riveting. It’s set in the 1980s on Perfection Island – for those of you who required more on-the-nose irony in your games. Your objective is to kill those responsible by… hiding behind a leaf, peeking out, stabbing a bear, and then… running back into the brush. The thrill of it all comes in the execution animations cleverly abridged for the younger T for teen audiences by replacing blood and gore with teddy bear fluff and adorable cries for help. There is nothing better than sticking a revolver in a crying teddy bear’s mouth before blowing the fluff out of his noggin. After about three levels, this thrill kind of wears off as I realized the little variation in kill animations for each weapon. It’s a simple murder simulator with a bunch of challenges to snag and many teddy bears to maim and mutilate. What more could you ask for?
Though its story and gameplay feel half-baked, 505 Games’ clever marketing campaign greatly added to my initial hype. Most of the trailers relied heavily on the spoofing of beloved horror movies – Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Alien – without covering too much gameplay. The game knew exactly what it wanted to be, as well as its targeted demographic.
Naughty Bear is unapologetically mediocre – the kind of game you could reasonably pick up and put down at any time. The overall level structure encourages multiple playthroughs on higher difficulties, all at the unfortunate sacrifice of core gameplay. I had mentioned previously that a typical run through any level involves hiding, setting traps, attacking a single bear before being overrun and forced back into hiding. All of your naughtiness is represented by “Naughty Points”. Points are not only awarded through the volume of kills, but also partially for the creativity and complexity of the kills themselves.
The game’s fear-based multiplier system is essentially its most creative mechanic. Multipliers are earned through any act of naughtiness, such as vandalism, setting traps, or cutting the power to another bear’s house. If you truly are a Naughty Bear professional, using terror tactics amongst your unwitting victims can lead to multiple outcomes. Bears who are completely aware of the murder spree going on around them could either make a break for the nearest vehicle or attempt to call in the police. These escape tactics are represented by various indicators in the UI and through the narrator. Some bears who are unfortunate enough to witness the deaths of their fluffy friends around them will be driven into episodes of extended physical and psychological torture that inevitably end in them exploding into fluff. It’s good fun to bait and maim your enemies, but gameplay never truly evolves outside of earning skins and new melee or long-ranged weaponry that differ from the others in only cosmetics.
Other than the brilliant executions, the levels offered at launch and the additions via DLC are both varied and completely believable in this fictional teddy bear world. The 2011 Gold Edition failed to improve anything from the original aside from adding more content for the campaign and multiplayer modes.
The core loop at the heart of Naughty Bear is inherently flawed and lacklustre, but I do applaud the inclusion of multiplayer. When the game launched back in the summer of 2010, players had the option of four multiplayer modes: Cake Walk, Golden Oozy, Jelly Wars and Assault. Cake Walk serves mostly as a free-for-all mode, whereas Golden Oozy was Naughty Bear’s iteration of Halo’s popular Infection mode. Jelly Wars took on the asymmetrical Dead by Daylight method by pitting Naughty Bear against three other players, tasked with delivering jelly into various mixers around the map. Assault saw two teams of two fighting against each other in an attempt to destroy the opposing side’s golden teddy bear statue. This mode tried to encourage stealth, but it doesn’t help that you could spot any bear hiding behind one giant leaf from a mile away.
Dumb AI in the campaign mode doesn’t translate properly over to competent human players. However, I do appreciate the time put into delivering several multiplayer modes that served other purposes than a typical deathmatch structure. Unfortunately, not many people played the multiplayer, and your chances of finding an online match now are virtually nonexistent.
All criticism aside, Naughty Bear is a unique experience that I find myself coming back to time and time again. At its launch, Naughty Bear was seemingly overshadowed by E3 a couple of weeks prior. Major releases like Fallout: New Vegas and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty grabbed gamers’ attention months prior, whereas Naughty Bear, comparable to its terrible stealth mechanics, released on a whimper. The overwhelming influx of poor reviews didn’t help its case either. Yet, a decade later and here I am – writing about a game that continues to serve as a stress reliever or a rainy day substitute. That has to count for something, as I can’t say the same for most triple-A releases.