It’s a dark and rainy night. You can’t get that dame out of your head. You know, the one all wide-eyed and innocent, but she’s hiding something. You can tell because you’re the best damn teddy bear detective there is. That’s right, a teddy bear. In Bear With Me, a traditional point-and-click adventure from Exordium Games, Ted, the hard-boiled (he’s been shot at by the prime minister of Denmark!), world-weary teddy bear detective comes out of retirement to help out a bright-eyed ingenue, Amber, look for her missing brother. Players will help these two unlikely partners try to piece together a very meta but at-times incoherent story in a stylishly designed black-and-white mystery while solving a variety of inventory puzzles. Thought it’s just the beginning of the tale, and the narrative setup for the larger story arc can be confusingly clumsy, I found plenty of fun to be had helping Amber and Ted poke around a quirky house full of character.
Amber, a precocious child in a black shirt and a floral maxi skirt, is experiencing what appears to be a disturbing dream: dark smoke wafting against blood-red buildings, sirens screaming in the distance, and a mysterious hooded figure flitting back and forth in the background. As the picture fades to black, a voice calls out, imploring Amber to wake up. When the screen comes back into view, you find yourself in the young girl’s room rendered in clean monochromatic tones.
As you start to examine items in her room, you soon discover that Amber still hasn’t unpacked from a recent move. And you learn that she has quite the imagination. Click on an apparently empty glass, and you’re rewarded with an odd monologue: “The dried up milk on its edges now serve only as a reminder of the once full and meaningful life it had.” There’s also an old lady giraffe named Millie wearing a stately string of pearls. Clicking on Millie to chat with her provides a teensy bit more insight, letting you know that things are not right in Paper City.
And thus you’re dropped into the middle of a strange world that seems to be populated by Amber’s imagination. It turns out that some folks fleeing Paper City, including Millie herself, were able to find an escape route that exits directly into Amber’s brother Flint’s room – but now Flint is nowhere to be found. After convincing Ted, who has set up detective shop in her closet, to help her find her brother, Amber and Ted spend the rest of the game interviewing a variety of oddball characters, apparently all exiles from Paper City. What exactly is causing everyone to flee? There are some vague descriptions of fires and cover-ups, everything starting when the hooded figure, the Red Man, came to town, but nothing that really helped me understand why these particular characters needed to escape or why they all made their way to Amber’s house.
Everyone seems to have a backstory and history with each other, and Amber seems to be well acquainted with them, but we, as players, aren’t given much background into their relationships so far. Millie, the giraffe, has managed to escape Paper City with the help of some bunnies called the Mugshot brothers. But it’s never really clear who exactly the Mugshot brothers are, or why they are helping Millie. Rusty is a man made out of metal who happened to work at a steel mill in Paper City. I still don’t know who he is or why he wants to protect Amber and is hanging out in her hallway. At some point, Amber asks him about the “yellow king.” Rusty says he knows nothing and vaguely alludes to things being made up, but I don’t even understand why Amber was asking about this yellow king in the first place. It really seemed to come out of nowhere. Given so little backstory, Rusty seems to exist only to push forward a particular puzzle. He gets into a little detail about the mill’s boss, Deetz, but again, it’s an introduction to yet another character that we learn nothing more about. It’s likely these characters will all factor into future episodes if the series continues, but for now it’s easy to feel left out and confused.
We do learn a bit more about Amber and Ted’s relationship, at least. According to Ted, they have gone down the damsel-in-distress route many, many times. In a study in character contrast, Ted narrates wearily over a series of comic panels about how Amber always comes to him for help, how he always declines her requests but eventually comes around. Just as he’s trailing off about the hypnotic powers of autumn rain and booze, Amber pragmatically reminds him that his office is in her closet and he owes her rent.
There is a story somewhere in here, and I started to piece together little bits of it as I talked to various characters and clicked on more hotspots. But we don’t learn much about Amber or why she’s just moved, though we do discover a bit more about Ted (in a somber voice-over, Ted notes that he’s retired and had grown tired of pulling bloated dead toys out of Dredge river). Explore the house a little more, and we also learn that Amber’s dad is a photographer. Seems like a random thing to suddenly learn about her parents, but we know this because there’s a camera on his bedroom settee and a dark room set up right next to his bedroom. These little bits of environmental storytelling are nice, but they all seem a bit disconnected. I suppose this makes sense if you’re viewing the world from the point of view of a child using her imagination to bring her toys and stuffed animals to life, but it doesn’t do much to help a player follow the storyline through the game.
Much of the story is revealed as you click on anything and everything. There is so much interaction and plenty of little details, like a ticket stub you click on at the opening of the game to begin (are we watching a movie?). In every scene, you can interact with almost everything. Like the many, many signs that Amber is creative, from colored pencils (“The tools I use to transfer my genius on to paper”) to the art boxes on her desk. Hover the cursor over a gigantic shoelace that appears to be holding two walls together, and the caption reads: “Weird decoration.” Everything has an entertaining description, many of them humorous and sometimes even rewarding your inquisitive click with a pop culture nod. Click on a window in Ted’s office and Amber notes that since it’s in a closet it’s just decorative…but, why is there light coming through it?