This summer's sleeper hit is called "Naughty Bear," a video game in which you portray a cute, stuffed teddy bear named Naughty who kills other cute stuffed animals -- and tortures them until they commit suicide.
To fans, the violent upheaval of stuffed animals is so comical, they are posting videos on YouTube, laughing about how funny it is.
Here's how Naughty goes psycho. The other bears in his life don't invite him to a birthday party. Then he hears a vengeful, British-sounding narrator-voice in his head, egging him on to murder.
"They are hiding the cake," the voice inside Naughty's head says cheerfully. "Do something about all this nonsense!"
For the rest of the game, you play as Naughty, jogging around a small island, using axes, knives, guns and baseball bats to shoot or beat the stuffing (literally) out of other teddy bears.
In a sense, "Naughty" is just another hack-and-slash game. But two elements make "Naughty" unique, not merely unusual:
A) You portray a protagonist terrorist, earning more points if you terrorize bears, watching them limp in agony before you slay them. The game's instructions read: "This is what we like to call 'stressing the meat.' ... Keep injured bears alive so everyone notices them."
B) You can press a button to scream "boo," which sometimes makes rivals shoot themselves in the head or club themselves to death.
Those are groundbreaking twists in hack-and-slash. I bet a subgenre of terrorist-torture games will emerge, and we'll say they're "Naughty."
However, this game's scope is too narrow, taking place on an island so tiny, a handful of bears barely moves on the thing. The island is drawn rudimentarily. Camera angles can stink. The online multiplayer is too choppy. To me, the killing is so repetitive, "Naughty Bear" is a rental.
Like the violent cartoon "Happy Tree Friends," the tone of "Naughty" is definitely meant to be funny. As in, isn't it funny how -- when you kill Bubbles, Pudding and Nibbles with a golf club -- you hold their heads on the ground and tee their skulls? Kill them all to earn the title, "Total Defluffication."
But if you want a serious point, I'll give you an option:
The psycho-narrator's lightheartedness ("How dreadful!") reminds me of: Daniel Franzese in "Mean Girls" ( "You go, Glenn Coco"); but mostly Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange" ("Naughty, naughty, naughty! You filthy old soomka!").
If you remember the truth of "Clockwork Orange" and "Mean Girls," it is that victims often become victimizers and vigilantes.
Likewise, "Naughty Bear" (like old gangsta rap) is a reflection of the society that produced it. That is, America has lived with terror for a decade, causing the tables to turn so that victimized America became the victimizer, torturing real-life POWs and now -- virtual teddy bears!
Then again, maybe the moral is simply: If you throw a birthday party, make sure you invite potential murderers, or else they might murder you.
("Naughty Bear" by 505 Games retails for $50 for Xbox 360 and PS 3 -- Plays mildly fun but too repetitive. Looks poor. Moderately challenging. Rated "T" for violence. Two stars out of four.)
Contact Doug Elfman at firstname.lastname@example.org. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.