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Bears In Space Review

A madcap Looney Tunes epic that deals in bots, bullets and bears

Lots of games aim to make you feel something. Some of them want to marinate you in raw emotions that might make you appreciate your regular life a little more, others will tickle your escapism with power fantasies so epic they would make Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson blush. Then there are those that want you to absorb all the powers of a loose unit bear and experience an unparalleled hunt for secrets.

At a glance or in screenshots, Bears in Space comes across as a cartoon-y pseudo-boomer shooter, employing that love-it-or-leave-it style of bullet-hell projectiles and breakneck speeds. I personally find these to be precisely my cup of tea, but I will also be the first to admit that it’s a niche genre that is quick to alienate some players. You need a strong hook to draw people in, and Bears’ hook has the weight of the ursine behind it. And it’s a roar-some good time.

The right to BEAR arms

Pulling one hell of a juggling act between FPS, platforming, and brawling mechanics, Bears also throws in a comedic tone that permeates every part of the game – jokes and references come at a rapid pace, lurking behind every corner and often waiting out in the open to be discovered. Where some games opt to add a splash of humour for a lighthearted experience, your time in Bears will be spent submerged in the funny juices, with set pieces and characters all playing their part to cook up punchlines of all kinds. In the quiet moments between gun battles, you are free to poke around the massive environments seeking riches – but the real money makers are in-game challenges that quite often involve some kind of micro-skit of silliness.

At one point as I leapt nimbly from platform to platform, I noticed a rock plateau within jumping distance. I landed and was greeted by a robot wearing a tank top who lived his life one quarter micron at a time. He explained we were racing for slips, the first to return from DEATH MOUNTAIN will be the winner – and the winner takes all. I climbed into my vehicle, and the clock ticked down. The race started, and my opponent immediately blasted into a rock face like a missile, spectacularly exploding and leaving me to awkwardly putter around death mountain and back to the starting grid. I exited my vehicle and was greeted by a robot in a stunning wig, who happened to be the wife of the apparently deceased ‘Vince’. She was looking for him, and sincerely hoped he wasn’t somewhere living his life one quarter micron at a time. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, so I quietly collected my prize money and slunk off.

This describes one of uncounted dozens of encounters within the game, all nestled away throughout the title outside of your eye-line. Gags and references to all manner of media – be it film, television or even other games – there really is nothing off limits with what Broadside Games has seen fit to implement. Looking behind every crate, shrub or waterfall will often reveal a breadcrumb to another mini adventure, enriching your experience (and your wallet for Vic-Bucks, the in-game dosh). This scratches a very particular secret-seeking itch in your gaming brain, the same part of your cortex that quickly turns when spawning into a level, just to see what might be nestled behind you for the keen observer. Only this sensation is cranked up to eleven, as the game revels in secrets and secrets-within-secrets every few feet. These gags come at you in such a rapid-fire way that if a punchline doesn’t quite land for you, who cares? You’ll quickly be onto the next oddball reference. In a beautiful example of foresight, the developers even saw fit to offer an optional in-game secret-finder for the sake of replayability, for when your studious eye fails you.

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This honestly looks like some kind of modern art piece

This is a precarious path to tread, given that such a care-free approach to the game and its narrative could leave it feeling disjointed and disconnected – but the re-use of characters and consistent callbacks all get channeled through our protagonists, Maxwell Atoms and the space-bear Beartana, to keep everything familiar and comfortable. To be clear, the narrative ticks exactly as many boxes as it needs to, introducing our titular heroes and providing their motivation, but that is where the heavy lifting really ends. This is a tale about problems, and how liberally applying bullets and bear paws can solve them, not life-changing lessons.

You’ll quickly forgive the lack of heart-wrenching emotional moments once you are squeezing the trigger though, because the true meat and potatoes of the game comes from the wide (WIIIDE) range of weapons and their devastating effect on your foes. You’ll start with a range of very standard retro-futuristic weapons, laser-chucking nifties that do the PEWPEW quite well – but once you move past them all hell breaks loose. The design document for guns in Bears must read like a fever dream – anvil launchers, a boomerang arm, a duck gun that weaponises breadcrumbs – and these are still on the tame end of the spectrum. Many of these guns then have the ability to level up and upgrade, simply through use, like the guns are earning XP. My humble pistol ended up levelling twice, if only because I was in love with its simple PEWPEW aesthetic – first becoming a set of dual-wielded pistols, and finally a set of three pistols all being held concurrently. Which makes logical sense of course.

Many of these boom-bringers are sold by your local slimy business bot, the legendary Vic Spendley. He will peddle weapons, ammo and armour – for a cost of course. As a prevalent scavenger in games, I initially scoffed at the idea of refilling my ammo for even a paltry sum, so I abandoned such a concept and went on my way. I quickly realised this was a fool’s errand, because the girthy range of weapons do not all see an ammo presence on the battleground – even when you are poking around every corner of the game’s impressive worlds. So a word to the wicked, make sure to SPENNND (Copyright, Vic Spendly, 2024)

Oh thank god, and here I was about to spend time spamming the USE button on random walls

The game also revels in traversal and platforming options, with a familiar standard of hovering platforms and precarious falls. Some of these will move, others might only be active for a short period of time, others will predictably fall after a period of time. With a double jump AND an air dash under your belt, getting around these is a fun time – but the developers at Broadside have been mindful to those that might not vibe with their time in the air up there. Implementing a unique difficulty option to actually opt-out of the challenging aspect of nimbly leaping around, additional platforms and surfaces will become available in the game world to reduce the gravity-borne anxiety. It’s a truly unique addition, and well worth seeing mainstream adoption for games moving forward. It means that all of the playspaces within the game are carefully curated to any who wish to inhabit them.

Many of the more arena-like spaces would look right at home in classic titles like Unreal Tournament or Quake 3 Arena, the clear inspiration put on display for any who remember the thrill of blasting across a battlefield via jump pad and raining hot death on whatever mook still had their feet planted on the floor. Even with the cartoonified proportions and style is unmistakable – and magnificent. This is similarly echoed in the run ’n’ gun sections of the game – though the inspiration clearly switches gears to feel more like Serious Sam – with your way forward now a stellar lightshow of ballistic orbs and rushing enemies. Pushing forward feels like running headlong into a garden hose set to JET (every bit as fun as those summer days as a kid), the deft understanding of what made old school titles fun beautifully captured and remade in Bear’s own image.

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When the game does throw down the gauntlet, you’ll often find yourself leaning forward in your chair to increase your power level. Bosses in the game follow the same formula of creating a swarm of bullets to dodge and hazards to leap over, but they have the added dynamic of a unique arena that comes with special gimmicks to utilise. In these spaces you will often leverage your latest gadget to impact the fight, giving your considerable firepower a short pause to massage your grey matter, solving a miniature puzzle to gain the upper hand.

I love getting feedback on my reviews

While Bears doesn’t take itself super seriously, it still has an immense amount of self respect. It would be incredibly easy for a developer to write off any real care for mechanics or pacing, leaning heavily on the immense supply of gags and skits (or memes, as the youth would say nowadays) to have the end product just get slapped with a label of MEME GAME and see some middling success as YouTuber content bait. This game has a funny Fast and the Furious Easter Egg! Johnny Knoxville is a robot in this indie game! The thumbnails make themselves. But the brains behind Bears have taken careful consideration to ensure that the title exists as a sum of many unique parts to make a glorious whole, while also working to make it brilliantly accessible to anyone. There is a sincerity behind the game that is commendable, and deserves recognition.

It is clearly not for everyone – the people who don’t vibe with Bears likely never cared for media such as this to begin with. But for those of us who love a gag, and maybe work a full time job with all manner of responsibilities and real work stresses, having a game offer nothing but entertainment and achievement is a welcome change of pace. No emotional overhead needed.

Final Thoughts

Broadside Games’ Bears In Space is an anomaly in the sense that it is like many things, but there is really nothing that is truly like it. As a first-person shooter, it is a chimera that gleefully gobbles up facets of so many other classic games – not just shooters – to create a girthy gameplay experience that can change at a moment’s notice to deliver something completely out of leftfield without giving the player mechanical whiplash. Yes, a moment ago you were casually shooting robots – but this is the Virtua Cop-esque shooting section. And a little later we will do the fishing minigame, okay? On paper it would read like the scribblings of a madman, but in execution it all ties together beautifully into a medley of frenetic fun.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Bears In Space Review
Like Mother Botbushka Said, The Secret Ingredient Is Love
Clearly an object of passion, Bears In Space is far more than a vehicle to deliver endless skits and gags. It’s a more than competent shooter that has been painstakingly put together to reflect the joy felt by individuals who clearly love classic gaming, oddball entertainment and most importantly – having fun.
The Good
Fast-paced shooter fun that just ‘gets it’
Thrillingly deep exploration and secret hunting
Weapons are beyond inventive, with far out upgrades
Bursting at the seams with clever jokes and deep cut references
Accessibility option for platforming is inspired
The Bad
Levels can get a bit vast in some portions
Make sure to buy ammo, scavenging for it will leave you under-gunned
8
GET AROUND IT
  • Broadside Games
  • Ravenscourt, Plaion
  • PC
  • March 23, 2024

Bears In Space Review
Like Mother Botbushka Said, The Secret Ingredient Is Love
Clearly an object of passion, Bears In Space is far more than a vehicle to deliver endless skits and gags. It’s a more than competent shooter that has been painstakingly put together to reflect the joy felt by individuals who clearly love classic gaming, oddball entertainment and most importantly – having fun.
The Good
Fast-paced shooter fun that just ‘gets it’
Thrillingly deep exploration and secret hunting
Weapons are beyond inventive, with far out upgrades
Bursting at the seams with clever jokes and deep cut references
Accessibility option for platforming is inspired
The Bad
Levels can get a bit vast in some portions
Make sure to buy ammo, scavenging for it will leave you under-gunned
8
GET AROUND IT
Written By Ash Wayling

Known throughout the interwebs simply as M0D3Rn, Ash is bad at video games. An old guard gamer who suffers from being generally opinionated, it comes as no surprise that he is both brutally loyal and yet, fiercely whimsical about all things electronic. On occasion will make a youtube video that actually gets views. Follow him on YouTube @Bad at Video Games

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