It would be wise of anyone who reviews Tokyo Jungle to set the tone by opening with a bizarre occurrence they experienced during their time with the game. Who wouldn’t be immediately hooked or, at the least, intrigued when they hear you can play as a baby chick and stealthily kill a rabbit while it sleeps? Or what about the time I was a gazelle just trying to search for food—I ran into a pack of beagles who wanted to eat me for food, so I double-jumped to safety onto the tops of buildings where I immediately ran into a saber-toothed cat that took a couple swipes and killed me. These happened to me less than an hour into playing Tokyo Jungle. I haven’t even mentioned the moments you experience as a lion or a pig or even a raptor (yes, a raptor). The simple possibility that any of these things can happen should be enough to pique your interest. If not, then read on and maybe I will make a believer out of you.
Stated plainly, Tokyo Jungle places you in the lives of one of dozens of different animals trying to survive a version of Tokyo that has been devoid of humans for years. You won’t immediately know what happened to all of the people, but the game does a good job at slowly revealing details over time. The lack of people has caused all domesticated animals to roam free; even zoo animals have broken free and escaped into the streets. As each animal has its own unique place on the food chain, it is up to you adapt and survive—and surviving is the name of the game in Tokyo Jungle.
Perhaps one of the best things about the game is how intuitive it is to just pick up and play. A brief tutorial introduces the concepts of eating, fighting, sneaking, and mating which all can be accomplished through a few presses of the face buttons. Whether you are a predator that eats other animals or a plant-eating grazer, you must never go hungry or you will slowly lose life and eventually die. However, you must always be on guard because other animals are hunting for food whether it is for your own prey or you. By keeping your distance and hiding in tall grass you will be able to avoid detection and keep safe. Since your animal only has a lifespan of 15 years (each year is about a minute in real-time) you must continue your legacy and gameplay by mating. By eating and leveling up enough you can impress the prime female which will net more children and, in turn, more lives. When starting a new generation some of stats will pass on so you won’t feel completely underpowered. Seem like a lot? It isn’t, especially when you spend some time in survival mode.
Survival mode is where you are going to spend the bulk of your time in Tokyo Jungle. In this mode your task is to survive as long as possible racking up survival points. Though you get points for ever year you survive and the amount you eat, the most points will come from challenges. Every time you start a game you are given a certain amount of tasks to complete whether it is to mark multiple territories, start a new generation, or enter a new area. The only way to expand your collection of playable animals is to complete certain challenges in survival mode, giving you plenty of reason to come back and improve. I was surprised at how difficult surviving in this game is—especially when you play as something like a baby chick—because the game doesn’t throw the same challenges or scenarios at you all the time. The map of Tokyo never changes which helps you get acclimated with the world and where the best places are to hide and eat. While you must adapt to the fact that an area that used to be populated with chickens is now full of hyenas, you have the previous knowledge from all your past playthroughs to assist you in the best course of action. You get this sense that with each new death you are getting better and that’s never a bad feeling.
Since no one wants to play the entirety of Tokyo Jungle as a small animal, survival points are used to unlock new animals that you have opened up by completing challenges. All this creates a chain of progression where you build upon your own experience to open up new parts of the game. If that isn’t enough incentive then you can play for high scores so your name will be at the top of online leaderboards; bask in glory as your porcupine did the best out of everyone else’s. One thing I thought would get on my nerves after long periods of play was the music. As it turns out, I began to enjoy it. It shifts between Nine Inch Nails-esque industrial music to some slightly more vibrant electronic/techno beats. There’s going to be people who downright hate it but it truly does fit the atmosphere of a ruined Tokyo.
My biggest complaint about survival mode is that you must play it a lot to unlock every chapter in the story. You do that by finding various archives that slowly explain how and why humans are no longer around. In a way, seeing the story to its end is completely dependent upon how much time you want to invest in going through all the animals and completing a lot of challenges; which in its own right is very time consuming. When digging into the story, however, you are given a charming and hilarious tale from the perspective of different species. There is a lot of fun to be had in experiencing the tale of a pampered dog as it acclimates to a new world. Even a pack’s bloody quest to retake stolen territory is handled with an appropriate amount of care. It is a great strength when the game can not only be funny but sincere without going too overboard in an experience that is inherently over the top. And just in case seeing animals tear each other apart seems a bit too gritty for you, then just dress them up in a tuxedo or straw hat. Yes, there are costumes and pieces of equipment for your animal that not only provide laughs but boosts to your base stats as well. It is a detail like that which makes the game that much better and layered (it’s just too bad the equipment degrades if you take too much damage).
Technically speaking, the game does have some flaws—none of which take away from the experience at all. Let’s just get it out of the way: the graphics aren’t great. They really do look straight out of a PS2 release especially when it comes to the animal models. Yes, the graphics are lacking by today’s standards but it is one of those things that only becomes noticeable close up and is immediately forgotten because you are too busy trying not to become food. Occasionally there will be issues with sneaking due to the somewhat dated and untrustworthy mechanic. Sometimes sleeping enemies will be alerted to your presence when you were sneaking from a distance and they might also be really skilled at detecting you in the cover of grass. Other times a member of your pack might get stuck or a random object or animal will block your way. Despite all this I never encountered anything that broke my game. However there is a particularly annoying loading/saving screen that you have to see whenever you start a new game, die, or even save during survival mode; actually, saving during survival mode will take you right back to the main screen which is puzzling.
Tokyo Jungle is one of the more unique games to come out on PSN in recent memory. For that reason alone it is worth checking out. It excels in all the right places that a game should. It is challenging, but fun with plenty of reason to come back for more. Its dated look could have signaled a disaster but instead PSN users have a game that is intuitive from the start and only gets better. Whether “animal survival” becomes a new genre or not remains to be seen, but anyone who treats themselves to Tokyo Jungle will be in for something great.
Tokyo Jungle is out exclusively on the Playstation Network on September 25th for $14.99