At one point in PSN exclusive Tokyo Jungle, I was playing as a gazelle sneaking past a group of hungry velociraptors by hiding in a box, Solid Snake-style. It’s a ridiculous moment that perfectly exemplifies the experience you’ll have with the game, but the fanciful trappings disguise challenging gameplay that combines stealth and strategy elements to create something strange and addicting.
Tokyo Jungle takes place after humanity has vanished, leaving the pets, zoo beasts, and wild animals to scrounge as best they can for food. In Survival Mode, where you’ll spend the most time, you play as an assortment of creatures, both carnivores and herbivores, leading them through different Tokyo neighborhoods in a bid to extend your bloodline through as many years as possible. You will face many enemies as you prowl the streets and rooftops, everything from hyenas to crocodiles to silky terriers (don’t laugh, when those things gang up they are wicked mean), but your greatest enemy is the ever-present hunger that gnaws at your belly. To keep it from chipping away at your life meter, you’ll have to stay full by constantly seeking out your next meal, which is where the core challenge of Tokyo Jungle lies.
You’ll navigate the streets of Tokyo in search of nutritious plants if you’re a grazer, or other animals if you’re a predator. Though occasionally you’ll find a carcass just waiting for you, in most cases you’ll have to bring down your prey by attacking them first, with either a sneak assault or an up front paw to the face. The collision detection can be a bit iffy, but for the most part the combat is swift and satisfying. The supply of food waxes and wanes from neighborhood to neighborhood as time passes, and if you find yourself stuck in a barren part of town, you’ll have to move on to new territory. Disease and smog roll through areas regularly, potentially poisoning available food sources or just raising your personal toxicity level, adding another drain on your physical resources. Some neighborhoods can be run through quickly, but others are massive, sprawling affairs requiring deft navigation – if you’re slow and hungry, simply getting across a toxic part of town can spell your demise.
Eating not only keeps you alive, it also helps you level up and become more appealing to potential mates. Shagging the desperate retriever might seem like a good idea at the time, but the better your mate, the better stats you’ll pass along to your offspring, thus increasing your bloodline’s overall chances of survival. Beggars can’t always be choosers, however, especially if you’re rushing to complete one of Tokyo Jungle‘s many challenges. Each time you play in Survival Mode, you’ll be given a new set of challenges to complete, such as eating a certain number of kilocalories, changing generations (mating) a proscribed number of times, or finding a specific geographic location. You only have so many years to finish each challenge, but ticking them off will net you Survival Points and stat-boosting items like hats and scarves.
Defeating boss animals unlocks them for survival play, which is a smart enough system, but a bit tedious at first. You start with just the Pomeranian and the Sika Deer, but Tokyo Jungle doesn’t really feel like it’s in full swing until you’ve unlocked about a dozen different animals, like the pig, porcupine, cow, chimpanzee, and beagle. The more exotic an animal, the more animals you have to unlock before it becomes available, so there is a certain correlation between effort and reward. You’ll also uncover more and more archives as you play, as well as unlock new chapters in the Story Mode, slowly learning both the events that led up to the current day situation and how individual animals learned to cope with it.
What makes Tokyo Jungle so absorbing is how subtly it masks its difficulty. More dangerous animals move into Tokyo as the years pass, so what was a band of bunnies the last time you passed that street is now a crocodile or a pride of lions. Simply not getting eaten becomes such a large focus that it’s easy to forget the other mechanics of survival, let alone completing the challenges before time runs out. What begins as a relatively simple pattern of eating and mating suddenly becomes a frantic search for claimable territory and desperate stealth operations. (Please don’t let the tiger wake up, please don’t let the tiger–aw crap!) Of course, the extreme ridiculousness helps the atmosphere from ever becoming too oppressive. It’s hard to be tense when you receive alerts like “The great bunny of legend has come to Shibuya Shop District,” “Monkey-dog relations have broken down in Shibuya Suburbs” or “A dinosaur has awakened in Yamanote Line East.” (Yes, there are dinos in Tokyo Jungle, but I won’t give away why.)
With its numerous unlockables and challenges, Tokyo Jungle is a game that’s meant to be played over and over and over again, which is what ultimately may turn off many players. The core gameplay doesn’t change that much whether you’re a rabbit or a dairy cow, and the rewards are doled out so slowly that players used to more immediate gratification may find themselves frustrated by the pace. In order to get at the story, or even just more animals, you’ll have to play round upon round of Survival Mode, and making it through an entire roster of challenges will take many hours of practice. It’s satisfying if you’re in the right frame of mind, but can feel like a grind if you’re not.
Bottom Line: Tokyo Jungle is utterly ridiculous but wholly unique, blending challenging gameplay with goofy trappings. Putting a track suit on a housecat to increase its attack stat is a pretty silly thing to do, but the kind of attention to detail you’ll need if you want to survive in the urban chaos. The mixture of absurd and serious is addictive and surprising.
Recommendation: Tokyo Jungle is perfect if you’re looking for something fresh and engaging, and don’t mind putting in some time before things really pick up speed. Also, if you don’t see the appeal in roaming the streets of post-apocalyptic Tokyo with an attack crew of angry baby chicks, I’m not sure we can be friends.[rating=4.5]
This review as based upon the PlayStation Network version of the game.
Game: Tokyo Jungle
Genre: Action Adventure
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment