Game Review Hub: Tokyo Jungle
Platform: PSN for PS3
Developer: Crispy's!, SCE Japan Studio, Playstation C.A.M.P.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Estimated Length: 20+ hours
Rating: 4 out of 5
Modern video games saw their rebirth in Japan in the late 80's and early 90's. Since then American developers have slowly been gaining popularity and Japanese games, at least in the west, have become less popular. Most people would attribute that shift to the fact that Japanese games are typically characterized by crazy and over the top action, with little respect for realism. Popular western games, like Call of Duty, are very gritty and more concerned with graphical prowess. But every once in a while a Japanese game comes out that reminds us that when they do it right, Japanese games can be really great. Tokyo Jungle is one such game...
Tokyo Jungle has a ridiculous premise that had me concerned at first. In the game, you play as a wild animal, in an abandoned future version of Tokyo. The goal is to stay alive by hunting other animals, eating plants and even mating with others of your species. All of this sounded crazy to me, but it turns out that it is crazy in exactly the right way. Once I booted up the game, I found tight controls, dozens of different animals to choose from and an interesting progression system which all kept me coming back for more.
The game itself is broken up into two sections; survival and story. The story mode chapters are unlocked by playing survival, and consists of about a dozen chapters. The first few chapters serve as a tutorial and introduce some of the game mechanics. The story is not very deep or fun to play, until you get to the last few chapters. That is when the game really gets crazy and starts to explain why all of the humans are missing from Tokyo and even explains why you will fight a few dinosaurs along the way. See what I mean about the craziness?
Story mode serves as a cool distraction, but the meat of this game is in the survival mode. Survival mode first has you pick the animal that you want to play as. At first you can only choose a few animals, such as a Pomeranian or a rabbit. After finishing the appropriate challenges with any given animal, you unlock the ability to play as a different animal. There are about 50 animals total, ranging from deer and sheep, up to elephant, lions and yes, dinosaurs. The unlock system is designed well and had me constantly playing as different animals in order to unlock bigger and better ones.
The game itself consists of your animal roaming around Tokyo trying to survive. If you are an herbivore that means finding plants to eat and avoiding predators. If you are a carnivore, that means eating lots of other animals. Early in the game you will encounter small dogs, deer and chickens to hunt, but later on you will find yourself matched against cheetahs, horses and bulls. Any size animal can take down a bigger animal, but it will require patience, skill and a bit of luck.
The combat controls are pretty clever. You have a basic attack that is performed by hitting square. This does very little damage and will only take down the weakest of prey animals. The way you will deliver most of your killing blows is using the counter attack system. When you are in a fight, enemies will lunge at you from time to time. If they land the attack, it can mean a one hit kill, but if you quickly dodge using the right stick, you can then counter attack them using the R1 button, causing a one hit kill against them. Dinner is served. Alternatively, if you use your regular attack a few times in quick succession, you may stun an animal. You can then use R1 to deliver a killing blow to that animal. This is useful against medium sized animals, but it is very difficult to stun a bigger animal.
Now as you might suspect, if you go too long without eating, you die. In addition, if you live 15 years, you die of old age. You can avoid this by mating. Once you have taken over an area of the world map, potential mates will appear. These mates come in three different “quality” types, with the better mates bearing more children than the lower quality ones. However you will not be able to attract the better quality mates if you have not survived long enough and eaten enough to attract her attention. Oh also, low quality mates will give you fleas. I'm not making that up.
Once you have mated, you start playing as the next generation. If there were more than one offspring, your siblings will follow you around the world and serve as extra lives. This is very handy, because there are many way to die in Tokyo Jungle, sometimes suddenly and surprisingly. For example, one of the less fun parts of the game are the random world events. As you play, certain randomly occurring events can happen and will make your progress more difficult. Some of these events consists of powerful animals appearing in certain areas of the world, but more commonly they cause all of the food in an area to die. Other times fog will roll in and limit your ability to find food that is there. The worst is when an area becomes toxic. That means that a toxicity bar will begin to fill up, and once it reaches the end you start to die of poison. Eating any food from that area will cause the toxicity bar to jump up, killing you faster, but if you don't eat, you will starve. See what I mean?
Most of the time any of these problems can be averted by running far away and finding healthier or more plentiful food. In some cases several of these things will happen at once and you will have no way to survive. One time while trying to escape the poison and find food, I ran into an unsuspecting lion, who was glad to eat me for dinner. It was very sad.
One way that the game tries to balance these things out is through random item drops. During the game you may come across random packages which contain items that you can use to help you survive. Some of these items are one time use, and do things like fill your hunger gauge, or lower your toxicity level. If you are lucky, you will find clothing. Clothes items can be equipped and give your animal stat boosts, such as stronger attack or faster running speed. These items can even be used in other survival games, and can really come in handy. You have to be careful though, because most of them have a limited durability and can break if you get beat up too much.
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Even after playing Tokyo Jungle for 20 hours I find it hard to believe that such a crazy idea could translate into such an enjoyable game. Most of the time I spent with the game was spent trying to unlock the most powerful animals available, a goal which I still have not completed. Late in the game some of the challenges become very difficult, but they have kept me coming back to play more. This game is a great example of how character can sometimes be more important to a game than graphics or realism. Anyone who is looking for a unique gaming experience should definitely check this game out. Now there are still a few slots on the character select screen that have not been filled in. Rumor has it that there will soon be some DLC available that will allow us to play as a human. I cant wait to see him get eaten by a bear.