Review: Bear With Me

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It’s perhaps the most familiar plot in hard-boiled crime fiction: the burned out, on-the-sauce gumshoe is ready to retire until one day a lady in distress comes in and lures the private dick back for “just one last case” with her tale of woe. Bear With Me, a new episodic point-and-click adventure from Exordium Games, takes this classic setup and spins it into a noir detective mystery starring a young girl, a grizzled teddy bear, and a houseful of plush animals come to life.

“Miss, wake up… Please wake up…” 10-year-old girl Amber is startled from her sleep to learn from her beloved stuffed animal giraffe, Millie, that her brother has gone missing and may have been kidnapped. Reluctantly, Amber pays a visit to the offices (aka her bedroom closet) of Ted E. Bear, the quintessential gravely-voiced stuffed bear private investigator who’s drowning in a bottle of carrot juice liquor and has a habit for calling the ladies doll or broad, to help in her search for her brother and, as events unfold, get to the bottom of shady events taking place in Paper City linked to the appearance of a mystery figure known as the “Red Man.”

Bear With Me is noir through and through, only with a lighter touch of parody applied to the genre’s typical thick layers of cynicism and sarcasm. The black and white presentation strikes the perfect mood to go along with the classical 2D animation, endearing character designs, effective voice acting, and jazzy soundtrack. The storytelling is aided further by the occasional cinematic in which Mr. Bear narrates scenes contained within graphic novel panels, all linked together with yarn work like photos pinned up on a detective’s investigation board. Of course it’s also stormy outside, with flashes of lightning, cracks of thunder, and the sound of rain pitter-pattering on the roof further enhancing the gloomy atmosphere.

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Even though everything’s in shades of black and white and gray, the environments are richly detailed and well defined. Every interactive element is clearly visible, so there shouldn’t be any issues with identifying the hotspots–though there are plenty of optional things to pixel hunt for, purely for achievements and uncovering the game’s abundant puns, references, and fourth wall breakers. Gags abound with one-liners and dialogues referring to everything from True Detective, Full Metal Jacket, and The Big Lebowski to Half-Life 3, Resident Evil, and Friday the 13th. The constant play for laughs verges on feeling forced at times, so the jokes are more likely to draw a wry smile with maybe a light chuckle than have you rolling on the floor laughing out loud with a busted gut. Fortunately, the characters have enough personality to deliver the constant wise-cracking in a likeable fashion.

The plush-noir narrative is driven by a conventional point-and-click interface. Hovering the cursor across the screen reveals points of interaction. Left-clicking a hotspot calls up a circular menu with different icons depending on the situation, including a magnifying glass for basic inspection, a pointing finger for using or collecting an item, or a speech bubble for opening a conversation tree with an NPC. Object-based puzzles, managed primarily through Amber’s inventory accessed from a toy chest icon at the top-right corner of the screen, revolve around making simple yet logical item combinations by dragging and dropping items together within the inventory screen or directly on top of characters or hotspots in the environment. The puzzle-solving logic is solid, but experienced adventure game players should not expect much resistance. There’s a lone exception that had me stumped for a bit–and when I finally stumbled upon the somewhat obtuse solution the game joked about the skewed logic. It’s more annoying than funny when gag/parody games joke about poor puzzle logic or game design clich├ęs after just committing said faux pas themselves. That’s a real pet peeve of mine; thankfully it’s only a one-time issue here.

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Exordium Games has plans to release the full story of Bear With Me over five episodes, each episode tentatively slated to come out two to three months apart. This first episode, currently sold standalone with a season pass option to be made available later on, takes only an hour or two complete, but does offer some optional item collecting/inspecting, conversations, and side objectives for additional achievement-hunting replay value. The game is said to follow a non-linear storyline driven by player choices, but the ramifications of this structure are not evident at this point. So far, I’ve encountered one main point of choice-and-consequence in determining the fate of a character, but there was no moral ambiguity to the choice, and the only thing that really changed thereafter was a panel in one of the later cutscenes.

Bear With Me is off to a very promising start, and $5 for the first part is a low barrier to entry that’s worth considering for adventure game fans who don’t mind playing in bite-sized chunks, waiting months at a time between episode releases. I love the whole setup of a noir mystery played out from the perspective of a young girl playing with stuffed animals turned imaginary friends. Although lacking complexity, the puzzles make sense both in terms of real world and videogame logic. The point-and-click interface is accessible and intuitively designed while the atmospheric black-and-white artwork presents a visually engaging world to interact with and explore without getting bogged down in tedious hotspot hunting.

However, as is often the case with episodic games, I need to see how the gameplay evolves in complexity and the story and characters develop–as well as how impactful choices truly become–over the course of the whole series before I’m able to fully commit to a recommendation, because naturally, for an episodic debut, the gameplay starts simple to ease you in while the plot merely sets the stage for what’s to come without leading to meaningful resolution. The story kind of left me hanging right when it felt like things were about to go somewhere, but by the end I had grown to like the charming cast of characters strongly enough that I’m eager to see where the investigations of Amber and Ted E. Bear take them in the next episode. Exordium Games, you have my interest piqued.

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Pros:
+ Fun plush-noir storyline with likeable characters
+ Atmospheric black-and-white art and animation
+ Barrage of silly puns and references
+ Intuitive point-and-click interface

Cons:
– Impact of choices and non-linear story not yet fully evident
– Joke delivery feels a little forced at times
– A bit light on content and complexity even for an episodic

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Exordium Games
Developer: Exordium Games
Release Date: 8/8/2016
Genre: Adventure
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: The first episode is on Steam for $4.99 (plus a 10% discount for launch week)

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!