We Bare Bears is a Cartoon Network show about a trio of bears: the fun-loving Grizz, the nerdy romantic Panda, and the collected and capable Ice Bear. Together these brothers have to balance their lives as bears along with the same challenges we all face with living in the modern day. I’m quite fond of the show myself, and it’s more than a bit refreshing to see a cartoon that is willing to set itself in the present day instead of that nebulous frozen time period many cartoons exist in where smartphones and the internet have yet to be invented. None of this info is really necessary to enjoy or understand the game StirFry Stunts, but that little bit of background certainly doesn’t hurt to know and will at least help explain why the characters in the game behave the way they do.
StirFry Stunts puts you behind the grill as chef Ice Bear with your brothers Grizz and Panda ready to assist you once you’ve unlocked the appropriate upgrades. Your task is pretty simple: customers will come in and show an image of the food they wish to order. You pop the ingredients on the grill, wait a bit as it cooks, and then plate it and serve it to them. If you’re too slow, the customer will get fed up with waiting and leave, and if three customers leave, your current run will come to an end. The core gameplay never really evolves beyond this, and even the difficulty curve will remain the same as you continue to play the game and earn the cash to buy upgrades. Things start slow and simple, but strangely, the difficulty bottoms out pretty quickly at a somewhat hurried pace but with the recipes being requested of you never moving beyond two item or three item meals. Since there can only be four customers requesting a meal at any one time and the game is somewhat slow to replace them, you only feel the crunch of dealing with them early on in the game when you’re ill-equipped and just learning the basics of the game.
The big reason to keep playing StirFry Stunts once you’ve got down the cooking is the upgrade system. As you serve up food, you earn both points and coins, and the coins can be used to buy new types of food, new power-ups to make things easier, and some extremely overpriced backdrops for the restaurant that don’t effect the gameplay at all. Rather nicely, this game has no way to spend real world money on these coins, so they are all earned through in-game activity. This likely plays into the fact that this is a Cartoon Network game designed to appeal to kids, but it does play an ad after your runs sometimes as its way of earning its money as it is a free game. This game even seems in a pretty solid and consistent state, meaning I didn’t feel the need to put up the warning about the ever-changing nature of mobile games before this review. In fact, this game reminds me quite a lot of the old kind of free game you would find on something like Cartoon Network’s website. A simple game to play for a kid without much else to do on the internet besides look up games to play. Unfortunately, just like one of those games, StirFry Stunts starts strong but eventually reveals itself to have very little depth.
The game seems to have two things going for it to try and keep you playing. The first and simplest is of course the scoring system, but the problems with that play into the implementation of the other driving force in bringing you back: the shop. At first, the game doles out ingredients that raise the points and money earned and power-ups that help you with the cooking. You’ll get abilities that can call in your brothers to distract patrons, making them more patient or outright resetting their timers so you have more time to cook. At first, trying to balance making all the orders with economical use of the power-ups is really fun, even if the songs that play when Panda and Grizz pop in to help can get repetitive and potentially annoying. However, the shop’s implementation falls apart entirely when you break into the later half of the power-ups. Getting more plates to serve food on is a godsend, but when you get the larger and more powerful grill, suddenly… all the challenge dissolves away.
At first, my runs would come to a natural end when a slip-up cost me time. Burning food, cooking the wrong thing, plating things poorly… these were devastating to my progress and would lead to customers leaving if I didn’t have a power-up banked to save my bacon. There is the question of why I can’t move rice from one plate to another, but it’s not an uncommon trait in cooking video games to not let you go back after an error like that so that’s a fault we just might have to accept. I started to develop strategies to try and get myself ahead. Most meals will want rice, so I would cook rice and put it to the side in anticipation of upcoming orders, but the customers seem to be designed to know you have something waiting in the wings and order meals that don’t require it. The gameplay was simple, but it was addicting and I enjoyed coming back to StirFry Stunts to really sit down and try to keep going for longer runs. And then… I got the grill upgrades. Suddenly… nothing was hard anymore. More space meant I could have many meals cooking at once, so customers rarely had their waiting timers expire. Power-ups to slow down the timers became almost useless, and I continued to serve up the orders without any real challenge present. I hadn’t even bought the grill strength upgrade or the instant grill power-up yet, and just through persistence I was able to hit 17 million and some odd points when before even 1 million or 2 million had seemed high. I realized then the score would be a pointless meter for progress as it no longer required skill to keep going, just a lot of time to sit down and play this game.
Once I did purchase the grill that cooks things twice as fast and the momentary power-up that can cook them instantly, the game no longer posed any challenge. As long as I paid attention to the orders, I could dish them out and cook them up too quickly, and the customers never got harder to please. It’s definitely a weird thing I find myself saying because of this, but… I wanted to lose. I wanted the game to challenge me, or have a natural end point. Old video games had kill screens where the gameplay would be forced to end because you had clearly mastered the game and it had no more game to give, but StirFry Stunts runs out of challenge quickly and gives you too much to deal with what it delivers. Sure, younger children might still have a tough time with this game even with all the upgrades, but the simple gameplay also might not hold their attention beyond the fun early phase where the game is challenging.
I did try and consider what this low difficulty could mean. I certainly lost interest in my longer runs as they posed no challenge, but perhaps there would be people out there that would be fine just pausing the game and coming back to their same run later on. Only problem is… this app likes to crash. I believe it might tie to how this game tries to run ads, but quite often I’d try to come back to this game and it would crash, meaning I wasn’t able to flip over and do other things on my device. Unless you want your iPhone or iPad completely committed to StirFry Stunts, you’ll likely have to do your run all in one sitting since there is no way to save your run for later. If you quit, you don’t get any of the money from your current run. The larger grill is the last upgrade you’ll really need to buy though. The point multiplier and instant cooker are definitely good to have, but by that point they’re just gravy on a game you’ve likely mastered. The backdrops would be the only things left to purchase, and they’re just cosmetic and not really worth the time required to earn up the coin to occasionally see them in the background.
THE VERDICT: StirFry Stunts is simple, but it had a lot of potential. I wasn’t expecting anything too substantial from the game, but it had a nice artstyle, addicting gameplay, and as a fan of the show, I enjoyed the small touches like some of the customers being cameos and the moments where the bears showed off their personalities. Even without a knowledge of the show it seemed to have a solid base that anyone could enjoy, but what began as a potentially Good game suddenly lost its steam when its upgrades got too powerful for its own good. I was not on a particular tear or anything when I managed to suddenly break my score record by over ten times the previous amount. From then on, losing only came in the form of forcing myself to lose so I could see the store or because I wanted to quit the game. A few considerations were important here though. This is a game meant to be played casually, likely by kids, and there’s a fun game to be played before you reach those dooming grill upgrades that could have made it more fun if designed well but instead rob it of all its challenge.
And so, I give StirFry Stunts – We Bare Bears for iOS…
An AVERAGE rating. StirFry Stunts does not feel like it was made to be played as much as I played it, and it’s probably meant for a demographic I’m outside of despite enjoying the show it’s based on. Whether it be kids or just adults looking for a game to play really quick every now and then, StirFry Stunts has the pieces of a fine mobile game, it just kills the promise and longevity of its design by exposing how repetitive the gameplay can get when the challenge is stripped away by making you too competent as a player. Some video games will reward a player who has beaten the game by giving them an item that completely breaks the rules and eliminates the challenge of the game, so it feels a bit like StirFry Stunts accidentally put that item in a bit too early in its supposed progression. The fact the backdrops are such empty rewards for continuing to play after the grill upgrades only seems to support the idea that the end was basically reached by that point.
The time you spend with StirFry Stunts early on will still be enjoyable and perfect for a mobile gaming experience, but once you’ve begun to rub up against the point you can make your grill larger, perhaps do yourself a favor and instead click that “Reset Game” menu in the options. It may mean you’ll be doing the same thing over again, but it’s a lot more enjoyable than the endgame where the cooking feels more like a real job than a fun little game.