Developers: Sony Interactive Entertainment, SIE Japan Studio
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Rating: T for Teen
Price: $14.99 on PSN with optional DLC
I typically don’t dabble in indy games. There is a very good chance that I’m missing out on a large realm of creative stories, beautiful visuals, captivating soundtracks, and unique gameplay, but more often than not I’ve found myself disappointed whenever I stray away from the tried and tested developers and “big name” franchises. My hesitation fades when I see something in the indy shelves that runs along the lines of things that I feel have been lacking in the mainstream. I am one of those kids that grew up on animal-based fiction like the The Owls of Ga’hoole and The Firebringer. I’ve always thought that it’s a crying shame that there’s just so few games that feature a beast as a protagonist when the books that were my bread and butter feature epic stories within the animal kingdom. I’ve tried sim games such as Lioden and I even work for a wolf-based sim site, but this just doesn’t provide the same experience as a full on game does.
When I discovered Tokyo Jungle I did not know what to expect. It is only available via download and only on PS3. Was it worth the time to check out?
There is a lot of content that references or directly implies evolution such as a playable “missing link” creature. Zoolatry and neopaganism—the worship of earth and animals over God runs strong. Humanity, beings created in the image of God, are seen as the enemy. In fact, the good ending is extremely misanthropic, prioritizing the lives of beasts over the creations that were brought forth to serve as their stewards.
The long and short of it is that Tokyo Jungle is a game where animals fight, kill, and eat each other to survive. While there’s nothing excessively gory, there is blood that sprays out when the animals bite or claw at each other. The victor will devour the loser, leaving behind a pile of bones. While this is nothing outright gross, it’s very hard to watch animals like cute little Pomeranians and kitty cats being killed.
While there’s no swearing (unless you count barks and grunts), there is frequent crude behavior but…again, these are animals.
One of the biggest mechanics in the game is breeding. Yes. Breeding. The animals age, and in order to continue forward, and earn additional “lives,” you will have to locate a mate and…well…do what they do on the Discovery Channel. The animals will sniff at each other’s back ends and you see the male mount the female. Thankfully, it fades to black right after that. It’s nothing that we don’t see our dogs do to our poor stuffed animal collections, but if you don’t want to explain the facts of life to the little ones, it’s best not let them play.
There’s nothing to mention.
While there’s nothing of substance in the free mode, the story mode has some genuinely touching moments in it. For example, there is a family of wolves that adopts a non-organic dog into their pack, and in turn robotic dog sees them as its family. There are a few scenarios in story mode that focus on an animal and its family or pack, so if anything loyalty is a factor.
The point of Tokyo Jungle is to survive for as long as you can and accomplish goals that unlock during specific times. Most missions will give you about ten in-game years to complete but given the maze-like terrain and the many obstacles, they are not easy tasks. On top of having to navigate hostile territory, you constantly have to hunt or forage for food and water. If that wasn’t enough, some areas will become toxic and taint the food and water supply as well as the air. Your toxicity will increase and if it reaches critical levels, your animal will slowly die. Your final opponent is the march of time. As your animal grows old, they grow more frail and will eventually start to take damage simply because their time is up. In order to continue on, your animal must raise their rank from “Rookie” to “Boss” by defeating foes and eating a certain amount of calories. Once your rank is high enough to impress a female, you have to seek out a mate, protect her long enough to get to a breeding nest and mate to make babies. Most animals will produce multiple offspring—each one acting as a “life” at this point. The higher quality mate you take and the higher your own level, the more offspring are produced. The parents will also pass on their stats so as you progress, your creatures become stronger. You can lose your “siblings” to hostiles or you can use them as fodder to slow down your enemies if you get desperate.
When you begin Tokyo Jungle, you are introduced to the Pomeranian, a former pet whose owner has gone missing. The dog remained in his apartment, waiting for his human, but they never returned. On the verge of starvation, the little dog ventures out into the ruin of Tokyo to seek out food and, eventually, a mate. In order to progress to the next chapter of the story, you must play in “free mode” and locate all the memory devices (which take the form of usb devices, disks, newspapers, or articles that you can read for further exposition into the backstory of the world), newspapers, etc. There’s a lot of back and forth, and at first it’s difficult as you are given very limited options in what kinds of animals that you can play—the first two being the Pomeranian and the sika deer. Both are extremely weak and will rely on stealth and speed to survive long enough to unlock stronger animals going forward, and the memories to unlock the next chapter in story mode.
Some of the later memories for unlocking the story mode are difficult to get to, so it’s almost mandatory that you spend some time unlocking stronger or faster animals in order to get out with all the memories alive. Most animals can be unlocked through accomplishing challenges when they become available during free mode. For example, when you start off with the Pomeranian, you’ll need to seek out the beagle boss and defeat it in order to unlock the beagle. You’ll also need a certain amount of points, which you gain through completion of challenges, surviving, and defeating other animals, in order to purchase the next animal. The beagle unlocks a bigger, stronger predator and so on and so forth. The sika deer is the root of the herbivore tree and will eventually unlock creatures like a horse or a hippo. It takes a lot of time and work to unlock all animals available, but unlocking different animals gives you different abilities, strengths, speed, and point values as you play.
The story itself isn’t anything new or impressive. The little sub-plots between different species are interesting, but all they build up to is “man bad, animal good” morality. The stories seem to serve as tutorials in how to accomplish challenges in free mode more than anything, and some don’t even provide closure.
The gameplay isn’t too difficult . There’s a jump, attack, dodge, and sneak action. You can combine sneak and attack to deal critical blows or one-shot kills which give you an advantage in combat and to more points. There isn’t a lot of variety in attacks, so it’s a matter of sizing up your opponent, getting in the critical strikes, dodging, countering, and making sure they don’t get to call the rest of their kin to aid them. Some animals are much faster than you, and won’t even engage in combat unless their back is to the wall. Animals like the deer aren’t great attackers, but they can out-run most predators and jump high and far enough to put some distance between hostile animals and themselves.
Visually, Tokyo Jungle isn’t anything spectacular. Some animals are animated beautifully while others have strides that don’t match their gaits—their limbs move in odd ways, or they just look awkward. The game’s environments have a dour and gray palette, but it adds well enough to the “fallout” feel that the game is trying to present. It’s not a masterpiece to behold, but it’s not horrible either.
The music isn’t anything groundbreaking. It’s a rhythm that repeats itself, just to fill the silence between growls, grunts, and howls.
One feature of note is that the game can be played in co-op, which can make it easier…or much harder. You can play a predator and your friend can play prey to help better stretch out the resources. You’ll have a reliable ally in combat, but you’ll also have a rival in mates (prey) and food (predator). Either way, this mode is a lot of fun and adds a level of challenge.
While there is DLC content, it’s nothing that you’ll need in order to do well in the game. You can purchase different species to play if the default critters don’t suit your fancy. Personally, I’m a fan of the fat cat and kangaroo—both being DLC critters, but even so, they weren’t expensive.
Overall, Tokyo Jungle presents a decent challenge. You have to know the strengths and weaknesses of the animals that you play and face in each area. You have to rely on both luck and tact to continue forward and survive. As the years tick on through the game, the challenge increases, and the world becomes more hostile. Food becomes scarce and the species that begin to dominate are more threatening and aggressive. It’s a game that, while straightforward, is easy to pick up and get sucked into for a few hours—given you’re an animal fan. It’s not anything ground breaking, but for the price it’s a good way to kill the time.
The Bottom Line
Tokyo Jungle is challenging, interesting, and has its own quirky sense of humor that's hard to resist, but none of this will take the world of gaming by storm. If you're a fan of animals, platformers, and survival, this game's certainly worth the price. If anything, it's a great game to pick up with a friend to have a few laughs or to burn off the stress of a long day with minimal thought required.