Set amongst the now deserted streets of a near-future Japanese capital, Tokyo Jungle is, at it’s core, a survival game; Humankind has vanished and all manner of animal now litter the once bustling streets of the city.
From the domesticated Pomeranian or Beagle pups, to the more exotic Pandas and Crocodiles you would normally only expect to find in a Zoo, they’re all here – roaming free and fighting for survival.
Upon loading Tokyo Jungle for the first time, after helpfully being reminded this lunacy is merely a work of fiction – just incase any of us thought otherwise- you’ll be led into a tutorial mode teaching the basics of life in the Jungle. You’ll almost instantly forget that you’re playing as a dog.
Tokyo Jungle plays out like a training mission from any number of stealth based Triple A titles. Think overly-tense Metal Gear Solid VR Mission. You’ll learn how to fight nose-to-nose as well as the more favoured combat technique of using the cover of tall grass to perform a clean kill from safety, and how to flee the game’s larger predators.
Attacking is a basic yet tactile affair, combining strikes and evasion manoeuvres before landing the fatal blow with a carefully timed press of R1.
Your defense, however, relies more on the game’s kill-or-be-killed nature. If you come across an animal stronger than yourself, you really only have two options – quietly sneak past, or fight to the death.
A clean kill here is a very satisfying indeed, but if you do get into trouble, the tutorial will guide you into sitting it out until the threat has passed. Again much like other stealth based action games, your enemies will show various markers to signify they’ve been alerted to your presence, or are investigating the area. There’s even the oh-so-familiar red exclamation point and yellow caution countdown in the corner which declines over time. This noted however, during the actual game I’d have liked some sort of indication as to my target’s strength or level before I engaged in fisticuffs (or the animal equivalent at least), with a seemingly ‘roid-raged chicken.
All in all, the combat system works well. The whole game lends itself to being played very strategically, and the stealth element is a massive part of that. I find myself striving game after game to see nothing but the “clean kill” splash screen. It’s a simple yet effective little pull that will keep players coming back for more.
Once you’ve got a handle on the basics of fighting within Tokyo Jungle, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s it.
Attack, eat, rinse, repeat?
You’d be mistaken though, there’s quietly complex elements at play here too; To survive longer than a few in-game years and extend your family’s bloodline, you’ll need to not only carefully balance your time between keeping the slowly decreasing hunger bar full, but also to collecting and equipping various items and finding yourself a suitable mate.
With this, the first few hours can feel slow and unrewarding. You’re required to work your way through Survival mode, completing a set of predetermined challenges during a set time frame before you begin to unlock any of the game’s backstory.
Thankfully, this isn’t a chore – It let’s you get a feel for the game without too much going on, and it’s oozing with the ‘one more go’ factor.
It’s unashamedly bizarre, but more importantly, it’s unashamedly fun, and for that, you’ll just want to keep on playing.
The character models aren’t perfect but they were never going to be. Where else would you find a kangaroo in high-top trainers and a baseball cap fighting a flock of sheep for control of a subway station?
High-top’s and a baseball cap? That’s right. Along with the fundamental hunting tasks mentioned earlier, completing any of these challenges will also earn you valuable survival points or SP, which you can spend to ‘upgrade’ your character – usually by way of funking up his wardrobe.
After a few runs on Survival, be it in single or local co-operative multiplayer, further customisable options and the game’s Story chapters begin to unlock – These are again a set series of challenges, which this time, supported by non-playable cutscenes, aim to fill in the blanks, and explain what’s going on in Tokyo Jungle.
The level design is somewhat linear, but varied enough to provide a challenge when required. There are a few sparsely populated rooftop mazes for example, which if you’re not careful, will leave you lost and struggling to collect those ever vital resources before it’s too late.
This is by no means an open world RPG epic, but there’s still a hugely prevalent risk-rewards structure with regards to item collection and use.
After a kill you can instantly reap the rewards and top up your hunger gauge, or if you’re exploring slightly quieter areas, save your spoils of war until later when you really need it. The risk here lies with the game’s ever increasing difficulty though. As time passes the streets will become polluted, meat will become rancid, and that quiet street full of bunnies you left your stash in? That’s now home to a sleuth of angry Grizzlys.
The random nature of this changing environment can be as frustrating as it is enjoyable though. Hours of tactile gameplay can be all but ruined when you try and silently sneak your way back into what you expect to be a familiar neighborhood. A startled chick being chased by a group of angry pigs can appear out of nowhere, and if this happens, they will undoubtedly wake up the pack of wolves you’re trying so desperately to avoid.
Angry Birds and Bad Piggies, the bane of many a gamer’s life!
Furthermore, each playable character has a finite life span of fifteen in-game years. To ensure longevity however, it is essential you breed. Generation changes yield impressive Survival Point bonuses, and allow packs to be formed.
Breeding isn’t just about quickly finding anyone to drag back to to your nest upon reaching maturity though – you’ve got to be man enough, these Pomeranian princesses don’t just set up home with any Tom, Dick, or Harry. You’ll need to make sure you mark the territory, and then hunt to the required rank before she’ll look at you, and even then, there’s no saying you won’t catch something! It’s all very inner-city housing estate.
After successfully mating you’ll restart the area as one member of a newly formed pack, complete with any inherited stat-points you earned playing as the father.
The other members of your pack are crucial, they’ll follow you around Tokyo, and become your traditional gaming lives, If every member of your pack dies out, the game is over. It’s always useful to have a pack when heading into fights too; A quick press of the Triangle button will call them into battle, should you need a little assistance, or even make one pup stray from the pack and create a decoy, allowing you to flee from predators. That’s my boy.
In a sense, Tokyo Jungle feels very much like an old arcade title, rather than one made for modern day home consoles. Tokyo 2027 has no checkpoints and no continues, the urban jungle is a cruel and unforgiving place.
A Pomeranian (the game’s cover star) has a lifespan of about 15 years, so, unlike much of the rest of Tokyo Jungle, the lifecycle makes perfect sense. It falls down however when you’re playing as a Nile Crocodile, with a lifespan of anywhere between 70-100 years. Every playable animal, be they dog or dinosaur, is simply a new character model and the gameplay mechanics don’t really change.
If Tokyo Jungle was a full priced retail release in western markets, as it was in Japan, for my £45 I’d be looking for scope to take each playable character’s lifespan into account, amongst other things, making my original choice more relevant – it’s currently limited to slightly altered figures on the hunger or stamina bar.
That said, it isn’t a £45 release, and even if it was, there are shed loads of games out there which are nowhere near as enjoyable as Tokyo Jungle.
As with all new PlayStation Network releases, Tokyo Jungle features a selection of Trophies and is supporting DLC in the form of reasonably priced character and item packs. It also has online leaderboards breaking down your Survival Points into Monthly, Weekly, and the humorously mistranslated “Dayly” ranking tables.
Sony have also recently announced that players will soon be able to quite literally take their Pomeranian for ‘walkies’, thanks to the PS3 and PlayStation Vita’s Remote Play feature.
All in all, there’s far more depth here than the cutesy character design would initially lead you to believe. It’s easy to pick up and play but a real beast to master.
A brilliantly bonkers game you’ll be coming back to time-after-time. To coin a phrase, this game is very much a Wolf in Pomeranian’s clothing.
Tokyo Jungle (SCE Japan Studio)
Release: September 26th 2012 (PS3 via PSN)
Price: £9.99 (£7.99 for Plus subscribers)