Review: The Lost Bear

When PlayStation VR came out last October, there was plenty of concern that the initial launch titles would be the only real support from Sony and third party developers. Flash forward to a month away from the one year anniversary and there are over 100 titles available, with plenty of releases on the horizon. With new games trickling out every month, buying a PSVR has proven that the investment was worthwhile. What has made my purchase of the Sony tech so enjoyable hasn’t been the big releases where developers attempt to shoehorn traditional first-person shooting into VR, but rather the games from smaller studios that explore the medium in interesting ways to offer a unique experience. Oddbug Studio and Fabrik Games have done just that with The Lost Bear, adding a wonderful new gem to the PSVR catalog.

Framed as if players are watching a stage play, The Lost Bear is a side-scrolling puzzle platformer similar to Limbo and Inside.  Players control a young girl named Walnut, who is chasing after a creature that looks like a headcrab from Half-Life and has managed to steal her stuffed teddy bear. Hence the title. Sitting in front of a proscenium where mechanical curtains open and close (upon death or level changes), action is played out by moving Walnut back and forth on what could be described as one of the most expensive sets ever contrived for a live play. Adding to the atmosphere is the simple fact that the game is presented in VR so players can look completely around–above, left and right, and behind–to see the surrounding space change as the story progresses.

Walnut has a slingshot that can be used by pulling the R2 button and aiming with the Dualshock 4’s underutilized light bar. Aiming is very precise and accurate, but I often found myself having to reign in how far I would tilt the controller so that the reticle would actually show up on screen. A little movement goes a long way with regards to shooting the slingshot.

As Walnut ventures deeper into the world chasing after her stuffed bear, the levels change from a serene forest to a dangerous junkyard and finally into what seems like an abandoned factory. Of course the environmental obstacles aren’t the only dangers that Walnut faces. Giant pack rats are on the search for anything to bring back to the factory in order to appease a monstrosity of a cyborg rat. Along the way, Walnut befriends a giant real bear, who provides assistance during certain areas by smashing through large piles of garbage.

Jumping feels mostly good, however several times I did die because either I missed the last possible frame of animation to successfully jump, or there was somehow input lag that threw off the timing (the former is more likely the truth). Unfortunately, death doesn’t feel as inconsequential compared to a game like Limbo, where respawning occurs almost instantly. Instead, The Lost Bear has a slight delay in loads to reset the stage and placement of Walnut. Fortunately, the game has generous hidden checkpoints so progress through the environmental puzzles doesn’t need to be repeated constantly.

In addition to the jumping and slingshot mechanics, several different moments require physical manipulation of the Dualshock 4. For example, valves that need to be cranked open require the L2 and R2 buttons to be held down while rotating the controller as if actually going hands on with the valve wheel. Another puzzle interaction pits players against a large magnet on a crane where “socketing” the Dualshock 4 into either an up and down slider or a left to right slider, and then moving the controller in the required direction, allows players to guide a magnet to pick up rusted out vehicles.

One of my favorite “ah ha!” moments in the game played out during the abandoned factory. Yellow lights can be shot out with the slingshot, in turn making the game world dark. In this scenario the Dualshock 4 light bar acts as a flashlight of sorts for Walnut, allowing players to point the controller gently left, right, up or down to illuminate the way ahead in the darkened level while guiding the girl through the environment. This is one really nice touch that many developers seem to overlook, yet OddBug took the time to fully incorporate it into the game.

The Lost Bear has a superbly designed soundscape as well. The music is melodic and beautiful and adds a wonderful layer to the overall experience. Environmental sound cues also play a critical role in submerging players into the VR world. In the last part of the game, I kept finding myself turning to look left and right (and even behind me) because of how the sound kept hinting at dangers all around me. These little audio cues add to the experience and elevate the time within the world to more than sitting passively by, watching a stage play being performed.

Like many VR games that have come before, The Lost Bear isn’t a particularly long adventure. I was able to complete the game in a little over an hour. Reviewing the trophy list, there are some additional challenges available to make repeat playthroughs worthwhile for completionists. Although I can safely say that I personally don’t see myself being able to play to completion without dying, so that trophy will forever be unearned on my account.

The Lost Bear is a charming game that takes advantage of being presented in VR without feeling gimmicky or too one note. The world in which the game takes place is dark and foreboding yet beautiful at the same time. Fun controller mechanics and great sound design come together for a well-crafted platforming experience.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Great sound and music design
+ Fun use of interactive controller features
+ Beautiful and immersive VR environment

Cons:
– Load times can be a bit long

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation VR
Publisher: Fabrik Games
Developer: OddBug Studio, Fabrik Games
Release Date: 9/5/2017
Genre: Adventure Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: PlayStation Store for $12.99 (plus 10% discount for PS Plus members)

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.