Reviews

Can 'Naughty Bear' Kill the Cult of Cute?

"Cute" is calculated and engineered to stir us to coo on sight and buy a product. As someone cynical about manufactured cuteness, I was looking forward to playing Naughty Bear.


Naughty Bear

Publisher: 505 Games
Format: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
Price: $59.99
Players: 1-4
ESRB Rating: Mature
Developer: Artificial Mind and Movement
Release Date: 2010-06-29
URL

There’s something almost perverse about the way that marketers and toymakers exploit a certain aesthetic many of us have an impossible time resisting -- cute.

From doe-eyed Precious Moment figurines to cartoon breakfast cereal mascots, cute is calculated and engineered to stir us to coo on sight and buy a product. The more exaggerated the eyes, the shorter the proportions, and the more pastel the colors are the better.

One of the most insidious perpetrators of the Cult of Cute were the Care Bears, an 80’s toy brand empire created (ironically enough) by a company already experienced in manipulating emotion, American Greetings. The Care Bears pushed cute to almost pornographic levels. They were small, cuddly brightly colored teddy bears with names like Funshine and Love-A-Lot Bear -- so sickeningly precious, you’d half expect them to shit Lucky Charms.

As someone cynical about manufactured cuteness, I was looking forward to playing 505 Games’s Naughty Bear. It looked like an amusing parody of cute overload by juxtaposing Care Bear-style kids toys with the over the top, hack n’slash violence of many M-rated video games. It’s something that the infamous Nintendo 64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day achieved to a small degree.

The good news? Naughty partially succeeds as satire. The bad news? It doesn’t really succeed as a $60 video game.

The best part of the game is the first 10 minutes or so, where you first take on the role of Naughty Bear himself, a social outcast who lives alone in the shiny, happy domain of Perfection Island. In comparison to the Care Bear lookalikes of the the island’s other inhabitants, Naughty has a little gruff to him, a rip to his fur here and a chewed off ear there to give you a visual cue of Naughty’s dark heart. He’s a little like a violent (and stuffed) version of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

As the game begins, Naughty flies into a murderous rage after not being invited to fellow bear Daddle’s birthday party and getting laughed at by his peers for the size of his birthday present. And thus, the cuddly psycho begins his campaign of maiming, murdering, and terrorizing all of the denizens of Perfection Island.

This is all narrated cleverly by an omnipresent British narrator (who sounds like actor Jim Dale), who heightens the atmosphere with an element of kindly childhood nostalgia at the beginning of the game with comments like, “Hey, Naughty Bear, why don’t you give Daddles a nice birthday present?”

Soon, however, the lilting tones of the narrator turn from the sounds of comfort something more like the tone of an Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, adding to the inappropriateness of the proceedings by constantly egging on Naughty Bear to commit random acts of violence and mayhem. He calmly asks, “Hey, Naughty Bear, I wonder what Daddles’ head would look like on a sharp stick?”

In other words, don’t expect a happily ever after ending here.

After the set up, Naughty Bear must leave his lonely hut and cause death and destruction in a number of ways to rack up “Naughty Points.” The system is set up to reward utilizing a number of different ways to kill or destroy things. You could choose to hide in the forest or sneak up behind an unsuspecting teddy bear and hack at them with a machete like something out of a slasher movie. You might also steal a ninja sword to set them on fire, shoot them in the face with a pistol, or use bear traps to capture and torture them. If you’re feeling particularly sadistic, you could use psychological warfare and slowly terrorize them until they go insane and commit teddy bear suicide with whatever weapon they happen to be holding.

The violence is pretty brutal, but it’s mitigated by the cartoonish nature of it. There’s no blood or guts or dismemberment, just fluff flies. It’s actually just a bit less tame than your standard Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote cartoon.

Things fall apart for Naughty Bear when you realize how shallow the game actually is. Instead of a singular narrative, the game has seven episodes that must be unlocked by collecting a number of trophies given out for high scores in the previous episodes. In other words, to continue on with the game, you might have to rehash the level that you just played several times. This seems like a pretty big no-no for video game design in 2010.

To make matters worse, each level doesn’t feel that much different from one another. They often follow the same path. Naughty Bear leave his cabin, goes to the village, and creates chaos. The combat is also flawed in it’s repetitiveness. There’s one button for hitting and another button to dodge. If your victim has been hurt enough, you can commit a Mortal Kombat -style “ultra kill” execution. These are funny the first time, but there is one specific animation per weapon. It gets tired after the second or third time.

Toss in an iffy third person camera and throwaway multiplayer, and you get a pretty shoddy overall game.

In theory, Naughty Bear could have been a vicious send up of the Cute Industry and a refreshing break from a video game world cluttered with war-based first person shooters and "me too" licensed titles. In the end, however, it appears it was the game developers themselves who were the naughty ones.

4
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Featured: Top of Home Page

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Music

The Charlatans' 'Between 10th and 11th' Gets a Deluxe Edition

Not even a "deluxe" version of Between 10th and 11th from the Charlatans can quite set the record straight about the maligned-but-brilliant 1992 sophomore album.

Reviews

'High Cotton' Is Culturally Astute and Progressive

Kristie Robin Johnson's collection of essays in High Cotton dismantle linear thinking with shrewdness and empathy.

Reviews

Lianne La Havas Is Reborn After a Long Layoff

British soul artist Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself on her self-titled new album. It's a mesmerizing mix of spirituality and sensuality.

Reviews

PC Nackt Deconstructs the Classics with 'Plunderphonia'

PC Nackt kicks off a unique series of recordings dedicated to creating new music by "plundering" unexpected historical sources such as classical piano pieces or chamber orchestra music.

Music

Counterbalance 24: The Doors - 'The Doors'

Before you slip into unconsciousness, Counterbalance has put together a few thoughts on the Doors' 1967 debut album. It's number 24 on the Big List.

Reading Pandemics

Parable Pandemics: Octavia E. Butler and Racialized Labor

Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, informed by a deep understanding of the intersectionality of dying ecologies, disease, and structural racism, exposes the ways capitalism's insatiable hunger for profit eclipses humanitarian responses to pandemics.

Television

'Tiger King' and the Post-Truth Culture War

Tiger King -- released during and dominating the streaming-in-lockdown era -- exemplifies in real-time the feedback loop between entertainment and ideology.

Books

Ivy Mix's 'Spirits of Latin America' Evokes the Ancestors

A common thread unites Ivy Mix's engaging Spirits of Latin America; "the chaotic intermixture between indigenous and European traditions" is still an inextricable facet of life for everyone who inhabits the "New World".

Film

Contemporary Urbanity and Blackness in 'New Jack City'

Hood films are a jarring eviction notice for traditional Civil Rights rhetoric and, possibly, leadership -- in other words, "What has the Civil Rights movement done for me lately?"

Books

'How to Handle a Crowd' Goes to the Moderators

Anika Gupta's How to Handle a Crowd casts a long-overdue spotlight on the work that goes into making online communities enjoyable and rewarding.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.