GAME NAME: Tokyo Jungle
GENRE(S): Action, beat ’em up
RELEASE DATE(S): 9/25/2012
Ridiculous, depressing, goofy, addictive, frustrating. Tokyo Jungle, released in Japan in June and recently localized to the Western world, is all these things. The people of Tokyo (and, it is implied, the rest of the world) have all mysteriously vanished, leaving pets, farm animals, and zoo creatures to fend for themselves. Broken into two separate but related modes, the story is told over the course of hundreds of years, by dozens of different animals that you get to play. It’s a unique, bizarre take on a score-attack and story game that’s very Japanese – have fun figuring everything out by yourself.
The game is divided into two main sections: survival and story. They have the exact same tutorial, which reveals next to nothing, so here’s a quick primer on Tokyo Jungle. Survival mode unlocks story missions when you pick up the little blue SD cards. But then you have to play the story mission it unlocked to make more SD cards spawn. Also, you can’t quit, you have to die. If you quit, you’ll lose all your progress, points, and unlocks – so don’t do that. There are over 50 different animals you can be, but you’ll only start with two – a Pomeranian and a Sika deer. To unlock more, you need to achieve challenges and then take over the territory, and sometimes kill (as the predator) or touch (as the grazer) the boss by year 10 – don’t worry, ten years only takes about 15 minutes. But you’ll need your points to buy the animal you just unlocked, so you may want to play on a bit to raise your score. Watch for bears, and most ungulates can double-jump, which will get you out of so much trouble that you should thank me for letting you know that.
The balls-out insanity comes when you realize what’s going on, though. You will, as a beagle, size up attacking and eating a horse. A news ticker on the top of the screen will tell you events happening, such as when BuJin, the Chimp King, is in Shibuya. As a sheep, you can kick a hyena to death. This game needs a screenshot function, just to show your victorious housecat lording over a recently-deceased giraffe. Huge flocks of tiny Pomeranians mauling everything in their path, like a video game Spontaneo. It plays as a mostly side-scrolling beat ’em up style game, with the added pressures of stamina and hunger. You’ll need to eat constantly, which becomes the singlemost nerve-wracking bar to watch. There’s only a certain amount of food in a section of Tokyo at a time, so you’ll need to travel constantly. Also, you need to take over territory and find a mate before you die, so your bloodline can live on and you can continue playing. It’s a desperate struggle that has players making sometimes tough, pessimistic decisions about who lives and who dies – or how fast you can get through poisonous smog. Every step is a cost-benefit analysis: should you go through the toxic rain, knowing it’ll ravage your health, on the chance that there’s a large herbavore you can catch unawares? As these tough, potentially game-ending choices weigh on you, you’ll find a neatly-wrapped present. Inside is a silly hat for your crocodile. It’s just that kind of game. Bring a friend to sit on the couch with you in survival mode, so the two of you can share the craziness of Tokyo in the future.
That’s all survival mode, which can be played endlessly without even one story stage to explain the narrative. As before, those SD cards reveal bits of information about what has happened, and the story stages fill in certain gaps. They’re scenario-style, so only a few at a time are connected. You’ll start as a Pomeranian who has finally run out of food, with concurrent storylines running you as a beagle, lion, deer, and eventually a robot. The story has those same tints of depression and silliness as the survival mode, but if you just want to charge around as a bear wearing a trash bag and red booties, this part of the game isn’t for you.
The graphics present everything well, although some serious hiccups arise when you have packs of enemies or friends with you. Everyone starts flashing, like Tecmo Bowl 22 years ago. Sometimes, your pack will just up and leave you, although if you’re killed you’ll hop over to one of them as usual. There’s also a lot of animal mating, which fades to black after a moment… but still. At least the layout of the city is easy to navigate, and the graphics, while dated, show everything well enough. Some interesting choices in lighting also help to alert you if you’re in a toxic area, or if that dead pigeon you just found is actually poisonous – but you’ll eat it anyway if you’re hungry enough.
Tokyo Jungle’s music is mostly techno, with some techno thrown in for variety. It’s a little drum-n-bass, which if that’s to your taste, more power to you. It doesn’t entirely fit with the game, but really, what does fit into a game where you can eventually unlock dinosaurs that you can dress up? All the animals sound basically as they should, and since there are no humans, there’s not much in the way of voicework. Everything is a bit subdued and quiet.
There’s a lot to get through, but the end result is definitely worth it. Though it seriously lacks in some areas, Tokyo Jungle is a game you can really sink your teeth into. And at $15 on PSN, it’s completely, unhesitatingly worth it. Although it lacks online multiplayer aside from leaderboards, the multiplayer it does have is good fun. Just do yourself a favor and take a weekend off to figure out what the hell is going on.