Naughty Bear is an unpleasant forest animal. Naughty Bear is his equally unpleasant game, a title (available for Xbox 360 or PS3) whose cutie-pie premise isn’t the least bit cute and whose execution leaves everything to be desired. Arriving on the heels of advanced clips that indicated an amusing Sesame Street-gone-awry vibe, SOS Games’s latest—in which you make Naughty scare other forest bears, or simply hack, bludgeon, or shoot them in gratuitously violent ways—promised inventively vile, delinquent action wrapped up in a cuddly stuffed-animal façade. Such a discordant form-content scenario always seemed a tad too on-the-nose (see, Naughty looks like a toddler’s toy! But he acts like Reservoir Dogs’s Mr. Blonde!), but as with all art forms, games deserve the benefit of the doubt. Alas, to actually attempt to make it through this dud’s myriad levels is to know the meaning of frustration: From graphics to audio to level structure and basic gameplay mechanics, Naughty Bear is unendurable.
As stated above, you play as Naughty, a prickish bear that the forest’s other bears despise. At start, Naughty isn’t invited to a birthday party, leading to a task in which you have to scare and/or kill those who left him out of the fun. Except that’s not really the case—because, in truth, all you really have to do is kill them. By using one of the trigger buttons, you can have Naughty roar at others in an intimidating fashion in order to rack up points. However, with the exception of those missions that specifically require you to scare and not harm, there’s no reason to frighten anyone. Roaring is one-note and audibly irritating (the accompanying sound effect quickly becomes a virtual version of nails on a chalkboard), and setting up more elaborate environmental traps to alarm or unsettle is equally tedious. Murder always gets the job done quicker, and because no tangible value is placed on acquiring points in the first place (they’re random, save for the need to acquire a certain amount to complete each stage), simply slashing your way through levels is the more inherently efficient way of going about things.
Unfortunately, combat amounts to pushing one button repeatedly, which in turn makes killing bears (which often ends with a Fallout 3-style killshot cutscene, executed by following an on-screen prompt) a lesson in repetition. Your enemies like to run away from you, meaning you spend the majority of your time chasing them around, waiting for them to finally stumble so you can finish them off. Stealth supposedly factors into the game, as Naughty is invisible from others when hiding in the many spots of foliage that mark the playing field. Yet this too is clunkily handled; sometimes you’re invisible in these areas, other times you’re not, leaving any sense of internal logic by the wayside. Compounding matters is that the camera is a nightmare, constantly shifting unexpectedly or not accurately following Naughty’s POV, so that one is incessantly spinning around unsure of Naughty’s relationship to potential victims. If this sounds awful enough, the levels are so similar as to be more or less indistinguishable from each other; a series of houses, all of which feature identical interiors to those that came before them, spread out on a nondescript stretch of waterfront land.
Consequently, Naughty Bear—with only the slightest degree of variation (don’t get hurt in this level, don’t kill anyone in that level, etc.)—simply has one do the same things over and over again in the same surroundings. Such monotony predictably becomes overwhelming and enervating, sapping any interest in collecting the trophies—attained when one completes a stage with enough points—that help unlock harder levels. Of course, things might have been slightly more tolerable were the game a looker, but no, the graphics are of a dreadfully unfinished sort: clipping abounds, textures are flat even for a work that’s deliberately aiming for PBS Kids-style two-dimensionality, and the map that helps you locate your adversaries is a useless distraction. Sealing the game’s fate is a narrator whose cheery English accent is one of many faux-ironic touches that aggravate almost upon introduction, though ultimately, it’s unfair to damn Naughty Bear by singling out merely one aspect, given the perfect way its imperfect elements combine to produce one of the year’s lamest, lousiest titles.