Developer: PlayStation C.A.M.P., Crispy’s, SCE Japan Studio / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played on: PlayStation 3 / Price: $14.99 / ESRB: Teen [Suggestive Themes, Violence, Blood, Crude Humor]
From Enslaved to I Am Alive, to AMY and The Last of Us, the urban dystopia has certainly found a place in today’s gaming market. Leave it to Sony’s Japan Studio to craft one of the more eccentric takes on the setting and kicking it up a notch by not having human characters at all. Tokyo Jungle is a near literal take on an actual urban jungle, populated with free roaming animals where it’s not survival of the fittest so much as it is you-versus-everyone else.
Tokyo Jungle starts off as a mystery, issuing no information as to how or why the humans disappeared. As an animal, you’re not really interested in solving the mystery; you’re more interested in eating and mating. As a gamer, you use the animal of your choice to seek out memory cards that provide clues as to what happened to the humans.
As dystopian games go, Tokyo Jungle is definitely on the lighthearted sides. Simply check out some of the Story Mode missions where rabbits laugh at your expense and sibling beagles vie to succeed a retired leader. And pardon the spoiler, but you might notice creatures of a more Jurassic persuasion.
Someone really should arrange a meeting between Japan Studio and the business development folks behind the Nat Geo games. Tokyo Jungle does not accurately depict mammal kingdom circles of life, but it’s way more entertaining than say, Natsume’s Afrika. You can stalk prey, especially the sleeping ones, and mating plays a major part in continuing your progress.
Mating has its own welcomed challenges. Potential partners won’t appear until you’ve marked a territory and they won’t be interested until you’ve eaten a lot, proving your ability to hunt and provide for your family. If you’re resourceful enough, you can attract the prime level mate. This leads to a substantial litter and while you only control one mammal at a time, the siblings who follow you act as your extra lives, in case you fall in battle.
Exploring, marking, and mating is all well and good, but you obviously can’t sustain it without food, which is where combat and eating mechanics are required. You choose your animal at the beginning of the Survival Mode and your target is anyone who doesn’t resemble you. That is unless you’re a herbivore, in which case you eat plants while avoiding those who want to eat you. Stalking prey with care can lead to an efficient one-motion kill or you can stun an enemy in the midst of battle, leaving him open to a fatal attack. Those smaller than you are easy pickings and you might even want to experiment taking on those slightly above your weight class; you might be surprised. Not having the human comfort makes even the most domesticated animal vicious, nearly leveling the playing field.
Survival modes traditionally aren’t long play sessions, but when it’s a zoological free-for-all, you can expect a major time commitment in Tokyo Jungle. Just the very design of the game and its premise makes Survival Mode the primary feature. We’re talking about mating generation after generation, lasting even 100 years! It does help that one year in the game takes about five minutes in real time.
The killing controls are simple and addicting enough that it’s easy to fall into some extended play sessions. You’d be surprised what a tiny Pomeranian can slaughter, often with a single application of the R1 button. Group fights are bit more complex, but you can stay alive with a solid series of attacks and the occasional dodge.
The replay value is increased through Tokyo Jungle’s regular stream of pickups and collectible items. Aside from memory cards, health-based consumables are littered throughout the levels along with accessories to personalize your animal.
There’s even a two-player cooperative version of Survival Mode. It makes for a dicey and often amusing exercise since Player 1 dictates the camera movement and not all animal pairings are created equal. Just imagine the challenge of pairing a deer with a tweety bird.
Knowing the basic layout of Tokyo won’t be of much help, but then again, has there ever been a videogame with an urban setting that was truly accurate? Former and current Tokyo residents will recognize districts such as Dogenzaka, Yoyoji Park, and the Yamanote railroad lines. For a city that’s normally more suited to open world game experiences, the levels in Tokyo Jungle feature a predominantly 2D design but with enough access along the Z axis that you’re not moving left and right all the time. Add a generous degree of verticality, and you have a deceptively large city to explore. It’s an unusual design that has worked in other games like the Mystical Ninja Goemon series and it works equally well for Tokyo Jungle.
Tokyo Jungle has a one-generation-ago retro charm reminiscent of eccentric Japanese-developed PlayStation 2 games. This is most evident in the game’s low resolution graphics that would be a turn-off if not for Tokyo Jungle’s $14.99 PlayStation Network price tag. At least the studio also took the time to construct real-time cutscenes to go along with the still image exposition. Furthermore, the lack of visual detail helps maintain a fluid framerate.
The budget-level production values are also evident in the audio, or lack thereof. A Richard Attenborough sound-alike narration would have made this game superb; instead there’s no voice over and we have to rely on text exposition. The music is the generic standard issue Japanese adventure game soundtrack, hardly intrusive but totally unremarkable.
Tokyo Jungle is a positive throwback to the previous gaming generation when it seemed we were hearing about unique Japanese games a couple times a month. Some of us would import a seemingly mundane bus driving simulation and we’d applaud U.S. publishers for bringing over games that let us conduct symphonies and fly around as a blood-sucking mosquito. Yet novelty alone doesn’t cut it, and we’re pleased that Tokyo Jungle has the addicting gameplay to complement this rare animal takeover premise.
8 / 10