What happens when you take one part Conker's Bad Fur Day, another part Happy Tree Friends and mix in a bit of Metal Gear Solid? You get Naughty Bear, A2M's upcoming game in the severely underrepresented "cute torture porn" genre. If you're like me, you've been waiting a long time for a game like this.
Check out any of the game's pre-release media and it's easy to understand Naughty Bear's mission -- and exactly why he must wreak vengeance on his cuddly neighbors. It may seem overly cruel, but there's a creepy Stepford Wives–esque vibe about the entire gameworld. The rest of the bears are a bit too cute, and a bit too clean -- in a very sinister way. The true face of the town is revealed when Naughty Bear starts his quest. The town's response is no less violent than any of Naughty Bear's actions, and the residents will use pistols, shotguns and even ninjas to make sure Naughty Bear is dead.
Naughty Bear has an incredibly gruesome repertoire of moves at his disposal. He can use a wire to choke another teddy bear to death, slam a bear's head into a fire or kick a bear down and shoot its head wide open with a shotgun. If it weren't for the soft side of the game's characters -- they're stuffed animals, after all -- Naughty Bear would probably outdo Rockstar's Manhunt in terms of over-the-top, gratuitous violence.
It's easy to just focus on the violence, simply because it's so unnervingly visceral. But Naughty Bear isn't all about violence per se. The game is a fun arcade-style adventure that rewards stealth and mischief -- the player is supposed to be a naughty bear, not necessarily a murderous one. Each of the game's scenarios offers a playground for players to explore. While there are specific goals, such as infiltrating a certain building, or "taking care" of a specific character, the primary objective is to obtain as high a score as possible. Points are measured not by your number of kills, but by the level of fear you instill in the virtual populace.
Naughty Bear rewards stealth and subtlety. You can hide in the grass, break through a window, and then hide in a locker, watching as the bears respond in different ways. Some will become cautious, others will become scared and some will even get aggressive. The HUD features scrolling text that indicates mood changes in the various NPCs, and a helpful PIP video will appear near the top of the screen to show exactly how the bears are responding. The AI is adorably responsive: in one scene, I saw a bear run into a house, and then push a dresser in front of the door to block intruders. (Call it the "bearicade" reaction.)
Once Naughty Bear starts being naughty, the pressure is on. As with any good score-based game, Naughty Bear features an all-important score multiplier that increases with every naughty act the player commits in rapid succession. To keep the multiplier building, players must risk flashier moves as enemy bears increase their resistance. Bears can and will fight back, usually with a variety of weapons. Some bears can even call for reinforcements -- and police bears are a rather dangerous foe, wielding guns that blast right through your fabric.
When the odds seem overwhelmingly against you, it might seem best to just fight back with a murderous rampage. Killing lots of bears will certainly maintain your score multiplier, but to reach the top of the online leaderboards, you'll have to squeeze every possible point out of your victims. If you can scare a bear beyond its maximum threshold, it becomes vulnerable to one of the greatest finishing attacks I've ever witnessed in a game: Instead of murdering a bear, you can push it to the point of suicide. Yes, bears that are completely drained of "scare" points will kill themselves with whatever weapon they're wielding. Gruesome? Of course. Hilarious? You bet! Adorable? That too.
Naughty Bear's gameplay is refreshing, and the game's presentation is absolutely spot-on. However, I am concerned that the game will get old quick. While there's obviously a lot of planning involved in executing a "perfect" run, you might get desensitized to the hyper-violence pretty fast, and then the game loses much of its appeal.
My preview, however, offered hints of added depth to Naughty Bear that might counteract my chief concern: as players progress through the game, they'll unlock costumes, which grant Naughty Bear some additional powers. (For example, he can wear a ninja suit and be granted stealthy powers.) Playing to climb the leaderboards, though, is definitely going to be the true attraction for those that become addicted to Naughty Bear. You'll be able to go for that high score on PS3 and Xbox 360 this June.