Watching a psychologically tortured teddy bear blow his brains out is somewhat less hilarious than Naughty Bear seems to think. The “toys turned evil” trope is pretty warmed-over to begin with, so for the story of an ostracized teddy tormenting his cutesy brethren to succeed, it would need to do something more imaginative than nudge the boundaries of good taste. That burst of imagination never comes, so this thin game ends up trying to coast on a surfeit of charm it doesn’t possess.
The quasi-tactical hack-and-slash missions begin promisingly enough, with a chipper British narrator who sets a Paddington Bear vibe before happily instructing Naughty Bear to “punish” the other teddies living on Perfection Island. (They didn’t invite Naughty to the big birthday bash, see.) You set out into town and wreak havoc, aiming to rack up Naughty Points in a system that rewards a variety of violent acts. Sticking with Naughty’s default machete isn’t effective, so players have to improvise and, say, grind a rival teddy’s face into a hotwired DJ turntable, or achieve the ultimate kill: driving a bear so mad with terror that he offs himself with whatever weapon he has in hand.
It’s a playground of mayhem at the start, but the developers exhaust most of their ideas in the first level or two. From there, Naughty Bear stretches the action with underwhelming variations like army bears, ray guns, and the obligatory bear zombies. New costumes can’t hide the fact that every mission plays the same way: Naughty exits his hut, slaughters a few bears, and goes home. Recognizing this monotony, the game provides a set of fitfully entertaining extra challenges for each stage, including time trials and stealth runs. The “replay value” goodies, though, also drive home the repetitious quality of Perfection Island, a realm that is literally colorful, yet still feels drab.
Naughty Bear has its share of technical nuisances, too. An aggressive auto-centering camera and fickle contextual controls wind up being more ferocious opponents than any of the stuffed animals you face. In a more polished title, design mistakes like these would stick out. But they feel just right in Naughty Bear, a game that barely limps into its second act—let alone its third.