Naughty Bear: Panic in Paradise |
We all have our own gaming guilty pleasures – whether it is playing a ruthless thug in Grand Theft Auto or a buxom blood-spiller in Bloodrayne, there’s something fun about being bad once in a while. We have seen franchises like Saints Row, Destroy all Humans, Stubbs the Zombie, and scores more putting gamers in the shoes of the anti-hero and giving them free reign to do what they will.
That is the concept behind the Naughty Bear franchise, in which the main character – Naughty (original, eh?) – is a deranged teddy bear bent on wrecking the fun for all of the other teddies on his home turf of Perfection Island. He does so by hunting down his fellow bears, and then dispatching them with an array of gruesome attacks. Like any deranged psychopath would have you believe, in Naughty’s eyes, these actions do not come unprovoked; Naughty really wants to be a nice bear, but the other bears just keep forgetting to invite him to their parties – and that makes him really, really mad.
In the first title it was Daddle’s birthday party that Naughty was left out on. This time around, Panic in Paradise, the bears seem to have once again forgotten to invite Naughty along on their vacation to Paradise Island. If it all seems like a lame premise to try to pull two games in a row, it is. In fact, when the opening scene says nothing more than “Not Again…” you know that even the developers realize it too.
The gameplay is about as simple as it get – employing elements of stealth, gamers control Naughty as he attempts to sneak up on unsuspecting enemies. Once within range, Naughty can be triggered to either perform a variety of close-combat melee attacks, or go for an Enemy Grab. The melee attacks are your typical hack-n-slash fare, typically resulting in the enemy countering, causing damage to Naughty while simultaneously signaling for local “bear” support.
Performing the stealth grab is a much cleaner way to dispatch of enemies. While it is still possible to attract attention from neighboring bears (who are all aware of Naughty’s reputation), the Enemy Grab allows gamers one of three possible actions once they get the bear in Naughty’s grip. Gamers can decide to either scare or kill the enemy (with a pull of the Left or Right shoulder button, respectively), or they can drag the enemy off to the woods to steal their costume for disguise purposes. These disguises allow Naughty to slip unnoticed into areas to search for his main target for each level.
Paradise Island is designed with a series of levels bordering a central hub area for each Island location – there are 36 in all. Each level has its own gate, and passing into the gate will introduce the gamer to the respective targets and level challenges. The game might require gamers to “Kill Cuddles” and then in the course “make four bears commit suicide’ or a similar requirement. The killings range from mundane pummeling and shooting, to the more violent and disturbing acts like beheading, and impaling. All of this looks really stylized, as the enemies spew their fuzzy stuffing just as you would expect from a teddy bear in the process of dismemberment.
I must admit, as I write it all down on paper, Naughty Bear sounds like one hell of a game. Sadly, this is not the case when it comes to the actual execution. Naughty is clumsy and cumbersome to navigate. He is too easy to spot, and too difficult to hide once noticed. The action buttons seem unresponsive in certain situations, and too many of Naughty’s actions are context sensitive, meaning gamers must be at precise locations for certain actions to be possible and it is not always clear what determines what when it comes to the availability.
I haven’t felt this much frustration since my last run through of Ninja Gaiden – and at least that game was worth the trouble. Granted, as Naughty levels-up killing becomes infinitely easier – but that requires far too much investment in the difficult awkward stages to warrant the trouble it takes to get there. Games like Crackdown and Borderlands have perfected the art of leveling-up, Naughty Bear has not.
The overall presentation has its fine points; the ubiquitous narrator does a stand-up job delivering his lines in the vein of the Teletubbies’ Tim Whitnall (I do have kids, is that OK?) and Little Big Planet’s Steven Fry (I have a PS3 as well – is that OK?). Having this soft-spoken narrator relaying the onscreen actions is an interesting dichotomy to the game’s violent ambiance.
But while the narration is top-notch, the overall visuals are not on par with the current generation of games. The character might exhibit a surprising amount of detail, but the environments do not. Most of the levels look exceedingly similar to each other, and the overall appearance is bland and washed-out. Too many set pieces are repeated throughout each environment, and the game is mired with clipping and collision errors. These are all issues I have not had to write in a game review since the early days of the Xbox 360 – Naughty Bear is really behind the times in this.
I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the folks at 505 Games and beHavior have a good concept with Naughty Bear. It sounds great on paper – if they would just work a little more on the storyline and execution they could have a winner. But as it stands, even at $15, Naughty Bear Panic in Paradise might have needed a little more hibernation time.