Think of a game solely starring animals and you may conjure up images of the rather splendid Lion King platformer or the colourful Viva Pinata. Most games purely focusing on fauna have a decided friendly approach to their doe-eyed characters.
Tokyo Jungle laughs at this. The soft and cuddly creatures you’ve played with in the past wouldn’t last two minutes on the cruel streets of Japan; the Jungle would turn them into a Simba sandwich with a side of Fizzlybear fries.
Reason being, mankind’s time has come to an end. In sudden circumstance humans have been wiped from the face of the earth leaving the plants and the animals free to make our concrete jungles their own. For the likes of the coyotes and lions once trapped in zoos this may be a very base instinct that they’re happy to obey, but for the lapdogs and pampered pussies this is somewhat of an adjustment. To survive they need to adapt, and adapt fast.
Taking the reins of one of these hapless critters there are but three things to remember: eat, pee, and mate. The staples of life.
The first is achieved by putting any thoughts of ever seeing a can of Pedigree Chum to one side and taking down a more hapless creature than yourself. You can wade in claws flying, wearing you prey down, but it’s deeply inefficient as chances are that they’ll flap and scramble away causing you to pursue, all the time your hunger meter draining. A more canny use of your time is carefully stalking your intended snack. Leap at the right moment – indicated by a pair of circling red jaws – and you’ll score a clean kill, taking them down in one strike.
In an abstract sense, Tokyo Jungle reminds me of the street brawlers of the 90s. You roam the streets, going from district to district, scrapping your way to success with limited buttons (and in turn moves) until the city has become yours.
It’s not always you who is going to be the aggressor either; there are more than pets roaming the abandoned city. Larger carnivores and packs lurk waiting for you to fill their health meter. At this point stealth and patience are crucial as you need to take down scouts before they can let the rest of their pack know or just scoot around the edges and avoid confrontation altogether.
Although there’s a certain amount of balance between being both the hunter and hunted when playing a carnivore, should you pick the deer, chick, or similar animals of vegetarian persuasion then expect a far more nervy experience. Sony takes an old school approach with the stealth as you creep through bushes for cover and take wide arcs around others to avoid detection. This is rounded off with a threat meter sat in the bottom left to reinforce just how much trouble you’re in. That’s not to say an old school approach is a poor approach; on the contrary, the very simple and well defined mechanics leave you in very little doubt as to how safe you are.
But all this risk is not for naught. Exploring the streets and marking territory (read: peeing on flags) is required to attract a mate. Each area of Tokyo has its own markers and making your way to each, through the teeth and claws of other species, will eventually deem you attractive enough to find a partner. A romantic snuggle later and you begin again as one of your own offspring, receiving some generous hereditary bonuses from your parents to improve your base stats.
And so the circle of life continues: exploring, eating, peeing, and mating your way through the years. They’re simple principles and built upon elegantly to bring out the best from Tokyo Jungle.
For one there are the Challenges. A series of tasks are set asking you go here, kill so many of that, or find this before a number of years have passed. They help funnel your experience and reward you with upgrades to your character.
Also, each time you enter the world it’s subtly different. Whilst roads and buildings remain intact, different species will wander the streets, unique events will take place to attract you to distant areas, and chances of pollution and famine can severely affect your gene pool’s chance of survival. Though when I’m told a dinosaur’s awoken in the park district, not even the turf war between the chimps and the alligators will put me off going.
Lastly, it’s the ability to unlock new animals to play as. Everything from chicks to lions, alley cats to dinosaurs, and everything in between can be found. The prospect of handling a new, larger, better equpped hunter or more hardy herbicide can be quite compelling, even if they all do handle the same. Specific challenges appear for such unlocks and they’re the only way to wring true longevity from Tokyo Jungle.
Sadly, they are as much earned through stubborness as they are skill. To reach the level of lion involves going through a dozen interveening creatures, and whilst I’m more than happy to wile away many an hour roaming Tokyo’s streets the sheer obsfucation of many of the more interesting animals is deeply disappointing. Taking down bosses that hide so many of the unlockables is a tough, especially as the lack of a checkpoint system means it’s a hard slog to get what you want.
However, whilst this barrier is as equally likely to shorten as it is to extend the experience, it shouldn’t detract from what is overall a well-structured game. Its design is highly concentrated, stripping away a lot of fat that exist on many modern games that could have dragged it down. Instead, bereft of storyline and mass-customisation, you are faced with simply proving yourself: How long can I survive? How far can I go? Can I take down that hippo?
Though at times frustrating, there’s a quality in Tokyo Jungle that made me want to continue plugging away, ensuring my animals lasted as long as possible, explored the next area of the map, and scrapped until my last breath. It’s a simple but fascinating game that marries older gameplay principles with a modern streamline approach.
Grab yourself a Pomeranian and head into town.