I'd like to report that A2M's Naughty Bear delivers on the hype of its off-kilter premise, and that its twisted tale of serial-killer-teddy-bear-run-amok is full of wildly inventive gameplay and irreverent, subversive humor.
Unfortunately, I can't. Like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches unskillfully bloated into feature film length, Naughty Bear is a 'high'-concept, one-joke idea that begins to run out of steam and outstay its welcome approximately 15 minutes into the game.
To be fair, the setup is kind of funny: Mocked and shunned by his friends, Naughty Bear snaps and begins a murderous rampage, slicing and dicing his way through the environment, kicking (and ripping, and shooting) the stuffing out of his teddy bear kin like Travis Bickle made from plush and cotton batting (note to developers: Lego Taxi Driver would be awesome). Naughty Bear's premise and back story are paper thin, but then so are a lot of popular shooters. And, while ascribing human motivations and emotions (especially violent or twisted ones) to “innocent” toys has been done before, the riff is still fresh enough to be intriguing. Who knows, there might even be room for some sort of meta-commentary on videogame violence hidden in the premise.
Where it all goes completely, utterly to hell is in the execution. Vaguely reminiscent of GTA and its ilk, Naughty Bear consists of a series of short chapters, each with a brief story setup and series of objectives, nearly all of which are to kill or frighten the other residents of the island using an escalating cache of weapons: sticks, hatchets, firearms, etc. Kills earn points, and points unlock new areas of the map (which have to be unlocked again in the next mission). While there is some small variety in the enemy types (ninja bears, zombie bears, military bears), environments, and objectives, it gets old almost immediately.
Killing, maiming, and traumatizing other bears is really all there is to do in Naughty Bear. Thanks to some flatline AI, non-existent targeting, and unsatisfying weapons, even that minimalist feature set is deficient. Most of the time, the player is running around chasing other bears, flailing weapons lamely through the air, unsuccessfully sneaking through the bushes, or watching one of a handful of death animations (admittedly, some quite alarmingly twisted) play out for the umpteenth time.
The brightly colored, woodsy island world in which all this mayhem takes place feels claustrophobic and lacking in richness and texture. Despite unlocking new areas, there is very little variety to the environments—in fact, there are only three that are continually recycled. To a point, the bears are effectively modeled and can be amusing and expressive, but since they don't speak and there isn't really any kind of character or story developed, this feels like yet another area where Naughty Bear comes up short.
Good music, voice acting, and outstanding sound design can often elevate an otherwise mediocre game. Unfortunately, Naughty Bear boasts none of them. Mirroring the visuals, the music in particular is repetitive and grating.
After this depressing description of the single-player game, you might be forgiven for assuming the multiplayer modes to be equally disappointing. Well, you're correct: they are just as unsatisfying as the main story. The novelty of a death match with teddy bears wears off in about the length of time it takes to read this sentence. Cakewalk, Golden Oozy, and Jelly Wars round out the multiplayer options. None of them are much fun.
I have no idea as to what demographic Naughty Bear is targeted. Mature adults might chuckle at the premise but be appalled by the lack of story, content, and abysmal execution. The ultra-violent content rules out young children. The Call of Duty crowd? The GTA fanboys? Doubtful.
Had Naughty Bear been a free or inexpensive indie game or XBLA title, and really taken its absurdist, twisted premise and wicked theme in a more extreme direction, we might praise it for being a hip, ironic commentary on videogame violence...or something. As it stands, Naughty Bear is overpriced and undercooked. Thanks to poor execution and a lack of wit and imagination, the game doesn't even deliver fully on its one-joke premise.
Who would win the fight: Teddy Bear vs. Tickle Me Elmo? Have a favorite childhood toy you'd like to see exploited in a videogame of ultra-violence? Send us thoughts on Twitter @Gamers_Hell