The Bear Essentials (C64)

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Summary

Simple yet satisfying gameplay that is endearing and elevates the solid gameplay to that worthy of the accolades it received.

Overall
83%
83%
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User Review
33.67 (3 votes)

The Bear Essentials, developed by Graham Axten and Pond Software, has yet to receive any coverage from RGN and, given the recent superb re-release of the game by poly.play, we thought it would be best to right this wrong once and for all.

Our hero, Bear, has been extremely lazy and not prepared food for hibernation. Ordered by the wife to collect 350 apples to see them through the winter months, Bear must outmanoeuvre the other foraging wildlife and successfully return home with the stash. It’s a simple set-up but no-one came here for story time.

Loading this the game up, a jovial intro sequence with our dancing bear sets the tone for some cartoon capers. The bright and vibrant colour scheme really pops, with the sprite work wearing its influences proudly. If this reminds you of Apex Games and Thalamus’ Creatures, you’d be right with our titular hero being a rework of fan favourite, Clyde Radcliffe. Characters from the Thalamus catalogue turn up as collectable extra lives, with Clyde being joined by some fellow label mates such as Nobby and Maximus. It’s a nice touch that only serves to reinforce The Bear Essentials as a love letter to some of the most endearing Commodore classics. 

There’s a great variety of enemies on offer, from the most miserable frog you’ve even seen to a faeces-flinging chimp, all with some smooth animation cycles, showing they’ve been crafted with as much care as Bear. Backgrounds are basic and colourful but Due to the single-screen nature of action, you won’t find any advanced graphical effects such as parallax. There’s also a good number of differing environments to traverse, with 6 in total, including a trip into the clouds and one into the depths of the mines. This really helps in keeping the game feeling fresh, giving a keen sense of exploration to the cutsey world.

The in-game interface is clean and uncluttered, with lives and apple counts being displayed at the bottom of the screen, along with each of the 64 screens being aptly named. In short, all of the elements feel organic and form a cohesive whole.

As this is a one-man show, Axten even composed all of the SID tunes. You won’t find any complex chord structures but it’s extremely catchy, complementing the graphical style. The toe-tapping theme is backed up by a variety chirpy in-game music that changes based on what area you inhabit. Some perfunctory sound effects round out the audio but all-in-all, it’s a bright and breezy set of sounds that only adds to the games charm.

During your travels, one piece of music you will probably hear a lot is this. You will, die, die and die again, with The Bear Essentials proving to have a little fiendish streak behind its furry visage. The gameplay mechanics are extremely simple in this single-screen run and jump collectorthon. So it’s a good job that the platforming is pixel-perfect. This presents a challenge within itself, as failure to time or judge a jump correctly will either lead to death or set you back a few screens. 

Some canny level design will have you pausing while you work out the best route in the hub like world, as it’s really up to the player to decide which area to tackle, apart from the mining portion which unlocks later in the game. Most of the action in the The Bear Essentials can be described as a thinking man’s platformer as opposed to reaction based meaning the pace of gameplay never becomes too intense, with careful study of enemy pathing required to navigate around the hostile wildlife.

Once the mining area unlocks, the Manic Miner inspired levels bring a welcome dynamic to the extremely satisfying but occasionally plodding platforming of the previous sections. Conveyer belts and disintegrating platforms mix things up, bringing a more reactionary style of play to the running and jumping. On the whole, the difficulty curve is pretty fair, with a password system helping in avoiding too many set backs.

The Bear Essentials is brimming with a nostalgic charm. It’s simple yet satisfying gameplay is endearing, conjuring up memories of our time with Apex Games creations. It’s this that elevates the solid gameplay to that worthy of the accolades it received. And if you haven’t been down to the woods today, Bear might have left you a pleasant surprise.

Game Credits
Code, graphics, music and sound effects by Graham Axten

Game Links
Itch.Io
poly.play

This review by Bored Dog Games is based off his script for his Youtube review of Bear Essentials and is published by RGN with permission. The overall score has been adjusted by RGN to ensure relative consistency with the site’s scoring methodology.

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