Naughty Bear is the most disappointing game that I’ve played this year; on almost every level of game design, the developers failed. Armed with an excellent premise, Naughty Bear could easily have become a classic, an unexpected gem of this generation in the way that Katamari Damacy was a generation ago. But somehow, despite a laundry list of issues, a fun, occasionally satisfying game that you can’t help but smile at is in there, somewhere. Naughty Bear is far from perfect, but the developers are at least on to something here.
Naughty Bear is a bad teddy bear. He lives in exile from the other bears in his community, cast aside and ridiculed by his peers. And you can’t blame them, really. He’s a psychopath. After another bear refuses to allow him to attend a birthday party, he decides to go on a murderous rampage. Armed with axes, machetes, sticks and his squishy, fluffy fists, Naughty Bear is an ass-kicking machine, brutally executing his enemies with vicious savagery. The premise is awesome.
But it doesn’t play out so well. Your first frustration will undoubtedly come from the load times. Given how small each area of the game is and how poor the graphics are, there’s just no obvious reason why we’re subjected to load screens at almost every turn. Even the menus take a while to navigate. This problem is amplified by how often you’ll have to reload challenges. Naughty Bear plays out across a handful of stages, offering a few challenges that advance the plot and a handful that demand the player complete the same mission again but with different rules of engagement. But there are no checkpoints or in-game saves, so if you’re stuck on the very last portion of a mission and die, you have to do all the previous stuff over again. It feels antiquated, especially when Saint’s Row 2, released almost two years ago, offered mid-mission checkpoints.
And sadly, the combat, which should be the best part of the game, suffers as well. Though I had a blast chasing bears down, sneaking up on them and beating them down, it’s too simple. You’ll hammer one button over and over as you smack at them. The only things that keep the combat challenging at all were the crappy camera and the lack of a lock-on button. I became frequently disoriented as I tried to figure out where enemies ran off to, but fortunately, they’re all brain dead so at least they never got too far. For inexplicable reasons, fleeing enemies will often run a short distance and become fatigued, stopping for a breather that allows you to catch up and resume the pummeling.
The camera often freaks out indoors, not knowing where to go or what to focus on. You can move it with the analog stick, but it often gets stuck on environmental objects. It gets really frustrating as you try to work your way through some of the really bland, unimaginative, repetitive indoor environments that populate the game world and have to fight with the camera. Naughty Bear heavily utilizes context-sensitive interaction with objects in the environment, which is fine on its own, but when combined with a crappy camera, it can make lining up to trigger an interaction difficult, especially when you’re under attack and trying to do something mundane like opening a door to escape a pack of angry bears.
And the list goes on. The graphics just aren’t very good. While certainly serviceable, there’s a noticeable amount of pop-up. The developers also only bothered to include one kill animation for each weapon, taking all of the fun out of doing ultra kills on your foes. Collision detection is occasionally problematic, the game froze my system twice while playing and there isn’t a ton of depth to the experience. The list continues, but I think you get the point – the game just isn’t very good.
All that said, I promise, there is some fun to be had here. Naughty Bear is a bad game, but you can’t help but enjoy it. It is poorly made but despite it all, when you get a series of rapid kills, when the camera actually keeps up, when the collision detection registers your dodge and you land that satisfying killing blow with just a sliver of health left, it is a blast. Though you’ll often be angry at it, Naughty Bear finds a way to make you smile at least once each level, even if you are reloading it for the third or fourth time. It’s an example for every game design classroom of what not to do, but almost in spite of the developers, somehow, there’s an entertaining game here that you’ll inexplicably come back to. I certainly can’t recommend the game, but I’d definitely give a sequel a shot if the developers can work out some of the kinks.