Japan is home to some of the most unique and quirky games in the industry, many of which never make it to western shores. There are exceptions of course, one of which is Tokyo Jungle. We have to thank Sony straight away for giving new idea like this a chance.
Tokyo Jungle is a PlayStation 3-exclusive developed by Sony’s Japan Studio in conjunction with Crispy’s and PlayStation C.A.M.P! In Japan the game was released on both PSN and on Blu-ray but it is PSN only in NA/EU. The game sees you take control of a species of animals which have to survive in a world in which all human life has vanished for some reason.
The game has two modes, Survival and Story. Both of these modes contain pretty much the same gameplay aspects but with different scenarios. Survival mode is probably the mode you will play the most, since it’s the mode that enables you to unlock most of the content, even Story mode levels which I think is a bad way of doing things in that regard.
Survival mode sees you take on the dangers that the Tokyo Jungle brings head on. You start by selecting a species of animal; the starting ones are the Pomeranian dog (which is sort of the game’s cover star) and the Silka Deer. Every animal species has statistics relating to how good it is in regards to its Life, Attack, Speed, Hunger, Stamina and Defense. Each of these is attributed to the two categories of animal in the game, predators and grazers. This basically breaks down into carnivores and herbivores. Whether you choose to play as a grazer or predator can affect how you approach the game since they have different characteristics that have positive or negative effects depending on the situation you are in.
The game breaks down into four key mechanics which you need to learn about if you want to survive. These are: Stealth, Hunting, Combat and Mating and Territory. Stealth is all about hiding in the tall grass and avoiding (or killing) the other animals. Hunting is done by approaching your prey, and when close enough, a moving dull coloured teeth icon will appear prompting you to press R1 and kill the unsuspecting foe in one hit. You then have the opportunity to eat the dead animal. To do this you just go over to it and press circle. This helps to keep your chosen animal alive and also improves your animal’s rank. Yeah, your animal is ranked but more on that in a bit.
When you can’t stealth kill you have to fight. Combat in Tokyo Jungle is pretty simple: press square to win. As such, this means you only have one button in order to attack foes; however, if you hit R1 at the right time you’ll execute an instant kill. Enemies will of course fight back and can inflict major damage, so it’s best to keep moving and try to read what your foe will do next. The enemy can do a pouncing attack which can prove fatal, though you’ll get a brief warning before this happens. When you see this you can move the right analogue stick to evade the attack. If successful you can counter them by hitting R1 if you see the red teeth icon again and go from potential dinner to killing machine. It must be noted that grazers can’t fight or hunt. To feed, they must either consume the plants that are littered throughout the city or drink pools of water.
The final key mechanic is the Mating and Territory mechanic. This is important in Survival since nothing lives forever and you have to reproduce and keep the species going. The first part is to mark your territory. This is done by going to areas marked with flags and by pressing circle. In any given area of the game there are four flags to mark and once you have done that you are able to use what is referred to as a “lair” in the game, which is basically a pile of hay. In order to use the “lair” you have to find a mate.
A mate will appear on the mini-map at the bottom of the screen as a pink heart (the mates are female, all controllable animals are male). In order to attract the female you need to get your male to a certain rank, which is dependent on the rank of your potential mate. There are three types of female animal: Prime, Average and Desperate. There are three ranks for the males too: Rookie, Veteran and Boss. If your rank isn’t high enough then you have to hunt and take in the required number of calories to rank up, unless you attract a desperate mate then it doesn’t matter since she will just follow you regardless. Each female rank is indicated by the colour of love heart they have above them. Prime females have a vivid pink coloured heart above them, Average ones have a dull white-pink heart and Desperate females have a gloomy black heart. Desperate females also give you the added of bonus of fleas which you can only get rid of by finding a pool of water and bathing in it. Once you and your life partner have made it to the pile you can press circle and allow the magic to happen. Quick pointer: you don’t actually see anything happen bar the initial phase of the mating session, as the screen quickly goes black and the controller vibrates. Bow chika wow wow.
You then move on to control the offspring of the encounter. Depending on the rank of the mate, you will pass on stats to your offspring and produce more later on. This allows you to hunt with them as a pack and if you die you move on to control one of the siblings so it rewards you for not going with a desperate skank. Furthermore, when you change generations you keep them, so if you start a new game after breeding a species, you kick off with the newer generation, which is a nice touch.
All of these skills are key if you want to achieve a high score in Survival mode. To achieve this, you have to complete challenges. These are ranked by difficulty from E to A, although some of the higher ranked ones are actually easier than lower ranked ones. Challenges require you to do things such as kill a certain number of animals, mark your territory, reproduce, and visit a certain area of the map amongst others. These allow you to explore the map and discover new areas and learn the map, which will help in order to rack up the high scores. You also earn points for ranking up, surviving years and taking in calories. Unfortunately, the challenges do get repetitive as there is a distinct lack of variety to them.
The points you earn can be spent on unlocking other animals to use in survival. However, to actually enable the unlocking, you have to complete a challenge which is to kill the animal in Survival. This is strange because the animals get stronger as you play through the game, and the chances are the animal you want to play as will be stronger than the ones you have already. This makes things difficult since the challenge requires you to kill a “boss” version which is bigger and stronger than the standard ones. This is frustrating since it makes getting the better and more interesting animals more difficult than it should be. This doesn’t apply to the grazers but in truth, playing this type of creature isn’t particularly entertaining.
In fact, the entire unlock system is not what it should be. In order to unlock Story levels you have to find white present boxes which could also contain items like food, water, medicine or things like clothes for your animals or newspaper articles, which give a back story to the events leading up to the start of the game. In effect, the only way to unlock anything is by playing Survival mode, which shouldn’t be the case. I can’t see why Story chapters can’t unlock by playing and completing them. Same with animals; once you have played as them in a chapter they are unlocked to buy in Survival. This would make things less frustrating and allow a larger number of people to experience more of the game.
You can dress your animal up in clothes which can boost your stats or give you more space for items. You can be creative with this and make your animal look cool whilst ripping other animals apart. It’s definitely a sight to behold.
Story mode is basically the different aspects of Survival streamlined into a more linear and tighter affair. Completing chapters requires you to use the same skills to complete missions which are connected by a story regarding each animal. This is fine if it were not for the asinine way that the chapters are unlocked. There is also a multiplayer mode where you and a friend can play Survival as a team and make your mark on the global rankings, which as of writing, aren’t available.
When playing the game, the HUD gives you lots of information and can be a little daunting to begin with but you soon get used to it. It gives you your health, hunger, stamina, a mini-map and what year you’re up to in your Survival game – the latter doesn’t apply to Story mode, obviously. There is also a notification bar which tells you about which places are polluted, which proves especially useful if there is a location overwhelmed with toxic gas or example. Pause the game meanwhile and you’ll bring up a map that shows you what part of the game world you are in and details info such as how much potential food there is available.
Much has been said about the graphics of this game. True they aren’t great, some of the textures are god awful and the animal models look like they’ve been ripped from a PS2 game. However, the performance is solid with very little slowdown and hardly any load times at all. The music isn’t anything special though, which is compounded by the fact the game doesn’t support custom soundtracks. Tokyo Jungle will support the recently added PS Vita Remote Play but the Review code doesn’t unfortunately.
All in all, Tokyo Jungle is a refreshing unique game that I’m glad I got to experience. However, I think that with a bit more polish and a revised unlock structure could allow the game to reach the potential that there is here. It wouldn’t hurt to add some variety to the challenges and levels and maybe even put any potential sequel on a certain portable that is hungry for new games.