Trotting out of a narrow Tokyo alleyway, four Pomeranians make their way through the darkness searching for their next meal. To the left, a few rabbits sleep, unaware of the approaching danger. With a quick leap, one is dead, the other alerted and leaping away frantically. Sounds of chaos unfortunately alert a nearby pack of wolves, against whom the pack of tiny canines stand no chance. They find themselves fleeing as the rabbit did, and for two blocks they succeed, only to be jumped by an unnoticed tiger. One by one the Pomeranians are easily dispatched, and I have to start all over again, my bloodline lost. This is the absurdity of Tokyo Jungle.
Brought to us by the folks at Japan Studio, this first party-Sony release is an odd concept to take at first glance. The world presented is a post-apocalyptic one, in which humans have completely disappeared. Some years have passed, and animals have since taken over the abandoned ruins of Japan, and it’s this savage wasteland the player explores.
Tokyo Jungle is essentially a 3D rogue-like with heaps of weirdness piled on top, reminiscent of the glory days of PS1 Japanese imports. In the main Survival mode, players choose one of the two starting animals, and are dropped into the ruined landscape. You must eat, mark territory, mate, and kill everything that gets in the way of this goal. Scattered about are challenges and collectables that range from consumables and wearable items, to news articles which provide back story. But, once you die, the game is over. The multiple animals in the packs you develop over the generations provide some semblance of “lives,” but death is still quick, easy, and permanent.
This, as with most games which share this quality, is Tokyo Jungle’s greatest strength and weakness. The environments explored are always the same, but the items and animals that populate them are random. Inevitably, this leads to deaths, not unlike the one described earlier, to which there’s no real solution. You can be an hour into one playthrough, having meticulously planned each step, only to startle a predator ten times your size in the dead of night, and in an instant it’s over. A good number of failures will have no solution, no real escape, it’ll just be how the dice rolled that time. And the initial build-up each game requires can get tiresome, as the beginning steps are mostly universal.
But it’s this randomness that makes success that much sweeter. And you aren’t without any means of defense. Combat takes a little bit to get used to, but once the timing is understood, it’s becomes tight and easy to manage. With the right maneuvering, a pack of small animals can take down something much larger with the right preparation.
A story mode also exists, which presents you with a series of animals, each with their own narrative. Although, the gameplay breaks down with this structure. When presented with linear experiences, which have one solution, all of the magic of the game is lost. It ends up being a dated third-person adventure game with passable controls. The stories have flavor, and are rightly absurd, but actually playing the scenarios aren’t that fun.
The visuals are nothing spectacular. With environments that look slightly above last generations norm, and simple uniform models for each type of animal, it all just comes across as dated. Blurry textures and and constantly repeated animations make for a noticeably budget appearance, but what matters is that this doesn’t hinder the experience too much. The game doesn’t look great, but this never gets in the way of progression.
Musically, Tokyo Jungle is extremely repetitive. The same few techno tracks make their way into each play session, and I found myself simply muting my T.V. in favor of anything else. As mentioned before, the wrapping of the game just seems sub par. But, unlike the visuals, the music becomes offensive after a short time.
Tokyo Jungle is a hard sell to people who don’t already know what it is. The style of game attracts a certain type of gamer, and the absurdness of the concept and story narrows this audience even more. That being said, it’s still a fun romp with a quirky style that fewer and fewer developers have been willing to make. With a minimal $14.99 price tag, fans of the weird, and those willing to take a risk, should definitely check it out.
Tokyo Jungle was developed by Crispy’s and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. A PSN copy was purchased by the editor the for the purposes of review.