Version tested: Xbox 360
Naughty Bear is a 12, according to PEGI.
In it, you can grill faces, eviscerate with swords, fatally electrocute, detonate with land mines and drive animals insane with fear to the point where they'll commit suicide. Thing is, you're not doing it to people, but bears - and cuddly toy ones rather than actual flesh and blood ursines, so it's presumably OK for 12-year-old kids.
It's not something I want to focus on here, and actually it's not something I'm really sure where I stand on, but it's an interesting point that changing the skins on the models which you torture and murder in games makes such a difference to the perceived emotional impact. If you're in any doubt about that, maybe read a few of the more heated responses to Modern Warfare 2's airport outing.
Naughty Bear is a tremendously violent game. You play as the titular teddy, hell-bent on revenge after he's labelled as the Lindsay Lohan of the bears' island - a dangerous social embarrassment who needs to be kept out of the loop for the good of everybody else. Oh, and eventually hunted down and killed. His revenge takes the form of murder, naturally, earning points as he slaughters his fellow picnickers in new and interesting ways.
For example, Naughty can grab a number of melee weapons, from sticks to ninja swords, and set about the island's inhabitants with them, beating them to death by hammering the attack button, or exercising a little more 'subtlety' by sneaking up behind them to break out the weapon's unique finishing move. If you're feeling particularly elaborate you can let them limp away when you're nearly done, allowing the other bears to see what happens to your enemies and gradually raising their levels of terror and paranoia.
You can also destroy or sabotage items such as barbecues or power supplies for extra points, smashing them for a bigger short-term gain or disabling them so you lie in wait for a hapless bear to come and fix them. When they're busy doing so, you can sneak out of the woods, where Naughty is inexplicably completely invisible to anyone but ninja bears, and perform either a contextual kill using the object they're fixing or scaring them with a boo, which will up their tension levels until they finally reach breaking point and commit suicide.
Bears can also escape the island using a boat or a car (unless you destroy them), or use one of the island's phones to call the cops. Let either of these things happen and back-up will soon arrive, upping the risk but also increasing the potential for point-scoring - cops are viable targets for terror and eventual 'defluffification', too.
More suffering equals more score, with a multiplier building alongside the carnage and gradually ticking down over time. For example, all of the bears on a level can be wiped out pretty quickly by setting a few mantraps on paths, waiting for targets to stumble into them and finishing them off with a one-hit kill: efficient, but not particularly stylish. If you want the big points then you'll need to toy with your victims for a while, using scares, destruction and other bears to unravel their tiny, fluffy minds and force them into suicide. Sadism, it turns out, returns more than just its own reward.
When a level's objectives are completed or Naughty fails irrevocably, the score is banked (albeit with a 70 per cent penalty for failure), counting towards a grand total which unlocks various costumes, achievements, episodes and levels. Costumes and hats affect Naughty's stats, or give him a starting weapon or special ability, like blending in with the otherwise instantly hostile bears. New levels open up new parts of bear island to explore and frolic dangerously in.
Except they don't, really. There are only three environments in Naughty Bear, each of which consists of two fairly small sections and Naughty's hut. These three environments are stretched out to seven episodes, each of which features a violence-ripe sitcom like a mayoral election or the invention of a race of android-bears, with a ring-leader who's usually the ultimate target for 'punishment'.
New levels are actually usually just new challenges set in each environment, with occasional batches of new enemies added to spice things up. Because these areas are small, and not particularly interesting, they quickly become as predictable as chip-sick on a seafront Saturday morning.
There are seven different challenge types: speed, kill, insanity, invisible, untouchable, friendly and top hat, meaning that Naughty must be as fast, violent, mentally cruel, stealthy, careful, friendly or, er, hatist as possible. They're an attempt to stretch an already paper-thin concept way beyond its natural breaking point, but serve only to highlight the incredibly one-dimensional nature of the game. All that most of these modes really offer is a chance to perform the same incredibly repetitive set of tasks again, with a few restrictions on what you're able to do to entertain yourself as you slog through them.
Once you've played Naughty Bear for an hour or so, you'll have seen pretty much everything it's got to offer. Sure, there's some sniggering amusement to be had the first time you tip a squealing teddy into a giant cake-mixer, or grind his face into a turntable, but the next 400 times? Not so much.
But hey! Here are some zombie bears, no, wait... zombears, who are a bit tougher, and immune to insanity! It's a whole new game! No, it's really not. It's the same, puerile, shallow, shonky effort it always was, except now the bears are a bit green and have stuff missing.
Developer Artificial Mind and Movement, who also made the teen-targeted Wet, tries to keep things interesting by having live leaderboards, but it's really only of use as an indicator of who has the highest boredom threshold or borderline psychotic tendencies. I wouldn't be surprised if the top 10 each month were interviewed under very bright lights by Scotland Yard and questioned about whether they've killed many cats with hammers recently.
Multiplayer is present, but is again so formulaic and poorly executed as to not be worth its own while. A few thinly-veiled modes masquerade as teddy-themed excitement, basically encompassing capture the flag, oddball and juggernaut rip-offs, as well as a weird jelly-collecting shenanigans which pits one player as Naughty against the rest as they try to make the most delicious jelly. Never has gelatinous desert predicated so much gratuitous violence. Or boredom.
Please don't misunderstand me, I'm not remotely prudish about videogame violence. I'll spend as many hours gleefully attaching limpet mines to pensioners in Bad Day at Eastbourne III as the next man, but only if it's actually enjoyable to do so. Naughty Bear is frustrating, boring and intensely annoying, from the suicidal-sounding 'comedy' announcer to the game-breaking crash bugs, which apparently affect both platforms, and took all of 15 minutes of play to lock our office Xbox 360 into a hard reset.
Naughty Bear sold itself to a lot of customers by pretending to be adult, gritty and brutal. In fact, it's childish, facile and more pointless than manning the phone-lines for the Rob Green retirement fund. Avoid at all costs, or at least wait until it's inevitably slashed in price if you're really desperate for some sledgehammer humour and cheap Gamerscore. Until then, play a little bit of this or this, for free, far more enjoyable executions of what this game was presumably trying to achieve.
4 / 10
505 Games has told Eurogamer that it's aware of the crash bugs and is working with developer A2M on a solution. "A title update has already been prepared and is going through QA submission as we speak. We are urgently working with the console manufacturers to expedite the release of the update," we were told.