Developer/Publisher: Exordium Games || Overall: 4.0/10
I “beared” with this game for nearly ten hours spread out over a year. What we got for a third and final episode was underwhelming at best. The last throws of the story went in a direction that took me by surprise — in a bad way. Three banana cookies later, I’m completely in awe of the lack of gameplay Bear With Me: Episode 3 has and how much of the creative capital went towards the boring, sappy, and superficially contrived story.
The story could have gone in a lot of different directions, and perhaps I could have guessed where the story was heading, but we are left with something limp and illogical. If it had to deal with subject matter that was going on, it might have actually been worthwhile. I may have even been able to sweep issues with the story under the rug if there had been more gameplay; the entire episode is a cycle of ten minutes of gameplay and then thirty minutes of story, until the last act where it’s about half story and half lazily-designed puzzles and dialogue trees. Why wasn’t it just a visual novel if they were so uninterested in having a game? There weren’t as many puzzles or extra objects to click on compared to previous episodes and the jokes were almost completely excised — quite a departure from the “selling points” touted for the title. There are multiple endings, but none of the choices you made throughout really seemed to have mattered, or at least they didn’t make it obvious that something was affected in any particular way.
Most importantly, the conclusion to this long story needed to bring worthwhile closure. There was no pay off from the creepy imagery portrayed in any of the three episodes. The antagonist doesn’t get brought to justice. Nothing really foreshadowed what the “point” of the story was until the last thirty minutes where you could instantly see where it was headed. There was never anything smart or worthwhile happening. The story hit a wall and since I couldn’t come to care for Amber’s character or the situation she is in due to the ridiculousness of the plot devices, I was left simply groaning. Amber still remained as emotionally detached as ever except for a pivotal moment just before the end sequence — I was frankly surprised they even bothered animating something new for her.
In my experience, the audio was buggy and dialogue cut off at the last word often. The time it took for the next line of dialogue was very short and didn’t sound natural (not exclusive to this episode, I might add). Oddly, this episode was noticeably littered with weird typos or grammar issues, unlike the first two episodes. The art is about equal to what has been seen before, and much of it re-used except for the new locales and a couple of new incidental characters. Only a couple of characters show up more than one time, but the majority of the characters you’ve ever met through the entirety of the three episodes ended up being throwaways; their fates are of no concern because you’re never given a reason to care for them.
There’s really not much more to say about the game without completely spoiling it.
Basically, the story doesn’t matter. The last thirty minutes of the game is the basis for the entire conflict, and we find the underlying reason we are in this mess is “banana cookies.”
Banana cookies??????????? Yes, that’s right folks.
Here’s the situation: if you are deathly allergic to bananas, yet your parents buy and bake cookies with them then only feed them to your brother, that is considered child endangerment. Your parents are playing with literal fire keeping bananas in the house to begin with. But these idiots are cooking them, having the fumes go everywhere, and also have to constantly worry how their ten-year old daughter might eat a banana product because she’s a dumb kid. Not to mention, feeding supposedly-tasty banana cookies to her brother exclusively while only giving the daughter shitty cookies to eat instead… What the fuck did they think was going to happen?
So, why did banana cookies play a pivotal role in this story? Amber eats a banana cookie, she’s about to die, choking on the floor, the parents call a cab to take her to the hospital, then decide its a good idea to leave their young son at home, alone, while they are dealing with this easily preventable, yet important issue. It just so happens while the son is at home, a fire happens in the apartment below and then he dies of carbon monoxide poisoning. …Banana cookies????? WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON???? Why are they calling a cab to go to the hospital with a choking child? CALL A DAMN AMBULANCE! PUT THESE PARENTS IN JAIL, TAKE THEIR CHILDREN AWAY FROM THEM. Why didn’t they just take their son with them???? I didn’t even know banana cookies existed until now!
So, the brother is dead; I could see that coming. What I didn’t see is how little any of the story of Bear With Me actually had to do with this seemingly important story point, which they used as the linchpin for our emotion in feeling sorry for Amber. However, that’s not what the story is about at all. It’s about her relationship with her teddy bear. Yet, there are also many other unexplained questions. Why is her imagined world rebelling against her? Why does Amber forget things? If this fire played such a big part in Amber’s life, why are fires used so sparingly in events throughout the story? Why does it seem like she has the pop culture knowledge of a 30-something year old? Most of all, why is she seeing crazy shit?
If the game were brave, it would have addressed these issues in a more serious way. I thought it was obvious this was all pointing towards some sort of serious domestic child abuse situation or a traumatic event that she actively witnessed which caused her imagination to show fucked up things to her, or something like that. Instead, we got banana cookies and being told that the antagonist of the game was Amber all along. Whatever the fuck that means. Also, why did Amber really even care about her brother? We see and know nothing about their relationship to make us care that this brother even existed. It would have been more interesting had he NEVER existed. I suppose the brother being dead could count as the “traumatic event” that I asked for, but again, we don’t see how it could be since we know N-O-T-H-I-N-G about their relationship, not to mention no outright hints or foreshadowing to this fact. Amber was the focus of the story throughout, and the brother was supposed to be a plot device, not the plot. We never find out why Amber is looking for her dead brother in the attic, either, when she should have known her brother was dead; this leads back to the question of why she forget things. There was never a concerted effort of actually finding the brother because we were too sidetracked with pop culture jokes.
The “red cloth” was supposed to be important, I guess, since it was actually colored red, as opposed to everything else that was in grayscale. Across three episodes, it ended up only taking up inventory space and was barely ever used. Of course this is an equally contrived plot device as it is ripped from a firefighter’s uniform by Amber on the day of the fire — first, how in the hell can a 10 year old girl rip a firefighter’s uniform, and second, I’ve never even heard of a red firefighter uniform, so that definitely shows a strange cultural divide despite supposedly taking place in America. It would seem to make sense since banana cookies must be more popular elsewhere in the world. It must also be another cultural thing where you don’t call an ambulance, but call a taxi to take you to the hospital, because we all know those get to your house faster than an ambulance.
I remember they had planned for five episodes, but it seems they cut those plans and dumped the rest of whatever they had in mind into Episode 3. The mystery fell flat after losing its way, and there was nothing that made me feel like it was worth the time investment when all was said and done. What really gets me is the lack of gameplay sections and how everything is just so… misplaced. The never-ending forest thing didn’t make much sense in its inclusion, nor did the trippy horror dungeon located within, since none of the horror-type imagery mattered. There’s also “gaps” in the story where it felt like I missed an entire act and no one was going to clue me in on any of what happened. It would seem important to have a complete story, but I guess I’m expecting too much.
So, I’m sad to see how this all ended up. It took nearly a year to figure out Bear With Me is not worth the time investment. The biggest pun of the game really was the title itself, after all.