Developer: Playstation C.A.M.P./Crispy's
It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve played a game out of Japan that harkens back to some of the more oddball PS1 offerings, but Tokyo Jungle certainly feels like something Sony would have put out a decade or more ago. And I mean that in the best way possible, as it’s a pretty fresh experience that isn’t easily comparable to any other game available on the system. The initial release was a retail disc-based version in Japan, and while it might be a little disappointing for some that the U.S. release is digital only, it’s a small price to pay for the relatively low asking price and the fact that the game was even localized to begin with.
Tokyo Jungle sets its sights on the near future, when some sort of event or disaster has caused humanity to disappear. Household pets, zoo animals, and wild animals now populate empty cities like Tokyo, and you’ll be tasked with controlling a variety of these creatures as they attempt to survive, hunt, and procreate across a number of generations.
From the onset of the game you’ll have access to Survival mode only, but there is a more traditional story mode present that’ll unlock levels the more you play. This might feel a little backwards, but starts to make sense as you play more, and Survival certainly ends up as the central mode of the game.
When you begin, you’ll have the ability to choose from a Pomeranian and a Sika Deer, which represent the two animal classes, essentially carnivores and herbivores. As a Pomeranian you can hunt smaller prey and fight back against stronger foes in an effort to overpower them, while as a Sika Deer you’re more focused on avoiding fights, using large patches of high grass for cover, and just staying alive in general.
There’s a ton of other animals in the game to unlock via Survival mode, which are done by completing challenges for each animal. When survival mode begins, you’re placed on a map with some basic instructions, like consuming a couple creatures, seeking out plants for herbivores, marking territory, and finding a mate. The game has a built in timer that counts down the years you’ve managed to stay alive, and if you find a mate and procreate, you’ll then take control of your offspring, often giving you the option of controlling an entire pack or small herd that act a bit like extra lives.
Tokyo Jungle feels a bit like a rogue-like style of game, in that if you die you’re going to end up starting all over again at square one. There are a few conceits though, you’ll occasionally uncover items that can be equipped to your animals, which you’ll retain use of from one playthrough to the next. Other items, like food and medicine, can also be found but are less permanent. In addition to these items and gear, you’ll come across random entries that’ll unveil the event that led up to the disappearance of humans, and how animals came to rule the world once again.
The overall story and history behind the events isn’t really the selling point here, instead the simple yet addicting nature of Tokyo Jungle’s gameplay is what helps cement this as a memorable experience. It focuses a bit on stealth mechanics that are going to be familiar to those that enjoy games like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, especially since your starting animals are a bit more diminutive and prone to being killed easily. But the way you play the game certainly begins to change when you gain access to larger animals, and rarely does any one playthrough mimic another, even when controlling the same type of animal.
These sessions through Survival mode are also generally completed in one sitting, unless you’re particularly good at the game. I’m certainly not in that group yet, but I can manage to last for about 40 plus years before succumbing to hunger or packs of roaming hyenas, which I’m honestly proud of so far. I’ve got a ways to go according to the online leaderboards, which track across all players throughout the globe, but I figure I’m getting the hang of things at least. And overall, Tokyo Jungle is a pretty accessible experience, even for those that aren’t proficient at stealth like games, and the general controls and concepts are pretty easy to pick up on.
Tokyo Jungle also details its systems pretty well for new players, and the idea of needing to scavenge and consume food on a constant basis adds a certain level of urgency to the game. There’s little as tense as realizing that your hunger gauge, displayed on screen at all times along with a general life bar and stamina bar, is ticking down with little food in sight. And when the game begins to introduce pollution and smog as an element, which in turn raises a toxicity meter that can also eat away at precious life points, your situation can look pretty dire. This will lead to moments where you’ll need to decide to go ahead and mate with a mangy, desperate, flea-ridden partner, or try to head for new ground in the hope of finding food and clean air in order to stay alive.
It’s the need to make immediate life or death decisions for your selected animal that’ll keep you coming back for more, with a desire to improve on every subsequent playthrough. Learning from mistakes made on a previous attempt, lasting just a few more years, or successfully breeding generation after generation of healthy, viable offspring, is a surprisingly rewarding experience.
I definitely feel like if you own a PS3, then you owe it to yourself to check out Tokyo Jungle. It’s a game that is almost literally a diamond in the rough, with some so-so visuals and lackluster presentation that doesn’t instantly grab the casual observer, but if you manage to sit down with the game for a half hour or so, I think you’ll find yourself hooked.