By Leo Stevenson
In the immortal words of W. Axl Rose, "You're in the jungle baby, you're gonna die". More apt words I cannot find to better capture the essence of Tokyo Jungle, a PlayStation 3 exclusive. Tokyo Jungle sees humanity wiped from the sprawling metropolis that is Tokyo, and all manner of beast and bird ruling over the urban wasteland that remains.
It is an interesting and somewhat difficult affair to exactly describe what kind of game Tokyo Jungle is. To sum up the game's essential spirit in a few words does it a disservice, but for the sake simplicity and to the assistance of this review, I'll give it a shot. At its most basic, Tokyo Jungle is an action-platformer with elements of survival, stealth and a little bit of RPG for good measure.
As mentioned, Tokyo Jungle takes place in a deserted Tokyo. No explanation is given as to the absence of people (at first); it's simply the way things are. Without pesky humans around, animals of all types have been able to flourish. Household pets, wild native animals of Japan, and yes -- even more exotic creatures thanks to zoos and the like. The reason for dinosaurs is a little less clear -- at least initially -- but hey, they're dinosaurs, so just go with it.
In the beginning of the game, you are able to select from either a Pomeranian (predator class) or a Sika Deer (forager class) and learn the basics. Move, jump, attack, sneak, dodge and a context sensitive action button are all the controls you'll generally need to worry about. Whether a predator or forager class, the map and goal of the game are unchanged. Survive. Eat, breed and don't die. It's the differences between the classes -- and the animals within -- that make Tokyo Jungle so compelling.
No matter the animal you choose, you'll commence every run from the same central location on the map. The map never changes; it's the dynamic shifts within each region, and the complex changes in weather, food supply, enemies and items that drive the game forward -- not to mention the over-arching meta game. For each animal, there are a set of challenges to be completed before death finally catches up. Eat a certain amount of kilo-calories, defeat a certain number of enemies, mate with a female... it's within these challenges that additional animals are unlocked for purchase with in-game currency.
The Pomeranian and all predator classes must hunt and eat quite frequently to ensure their ever-decreasing hunger bar doesn't deplete and cause their life bar to quickly empty as well, resulting in death. For the forager class, only the scattered edible plants will sate their appetite and keep them going. The flesh of other animals will satisfy the predators so hunger is a constant, gnawing threat hanging overhead. However, hunger is not the only threat to survival. Disease, pollution, other predators and yes, even old age must be accounted for during play.
Disease and pollution are easily treatable if you have found and collected the right medicine or food. Throughout the world map you will occasionally come across a present -- a lovely white box tied with a red ribbon -- and inside you will find items to be used for that run, stat buffing clothes for your animals or archives and newspaper clippings which unlock chapters in story mode and provide a back story as to what really happened.
Depending on the size and strength of other predators, good stealth skills or mastering the simple combat commands will save you on more than one occasion. As the Pomeranian you are able to easily dispatch rabbits, chickens, cats and other small animals. I was even successful in defeating jackals and hyenas with sneak attacks, but anything larger becomes a greater challenge. I tried to take down a clydesdale horse with my cute puppy, and unfortunately one bite only served to make it very angry. Suffice to say, the horse ferociously stomped the life out of my dog and I haven't attempted that since. Likewise, I tried to take down a tiger with my pack of five pomeranians. The battle was short-lived and the tiger walked away supremely victorious. On these occasions, it's much better to sneak through nearby long grass and avoid conflict altogether, lest you feel like prematurely ending your run.
For old age, there is only one sure way to survive, and that's by passing on your genes.
Within each area of the map are four or five locations for you to "mark," and in doing so you take control of that territory. Once you own the area, you can seek out a female and mate. Depending on the quality of the female, (desperate, average etc) you sire a small or large group of offspring, which you then take control of and begin the cycle anew.
Managing hunger, health, age and a safe place to mate can be a frantic challenge, but therein lies the fun. As you survive for longer larger and more deadly creatures appear and eventually the struggle to survive becomes nigh on impossible, that is until you unlock an apex predator.
There are times when the game feels decidedly unfair and its as though everything that could go wrong does. These times often felt cheap and overly difficult to me, but these occurrences were infrequent enough so as to not ruin the fun. Also, until you come to grips with the mechanics and the flow of the game it does and will feel repetitive as you struggle and die over and over trying in vain to unlock more playable animals. The graphics, though serviceable would have been right at home on the PlayStation 2 and whilst it certainly doesn't detract from the experience, a little more graphical grunt wouldn't have hurt.
Tokyo Jungle is a bizarre combination of gameplay concepts and mechanics that somehow, surprisingly works and results in one of the most fun and addictive experiences found on the PlayStation Network. With near endless replay value, a bevy of unlockables, a progressive story line and leaderboards, expect to spend a lot of your time with Tokyo Jungle. Now I'm off to make a lion, tiger and velociraptor fight. See you in the jungle.