When Tokyo Jungle was released in Japan, I thought it had a pomeranian’s chance in hell of reaching western shores. Images of animals mounting each other? God, to be a fly on the wall at the ESRB for that one… And yet, Tokyo Jungle was released in the West on the PSN last month — albeit for a fraction of its Japanese retail price. I pounced on it day one. Was the game as fun as a barrel of monkeys, or did it stink like a wet dog? (Get it? ANIMALS!)
In Tokyo Jungle you assume the role of one of many animals who’ve survived humanity’s end. You won’t know what happened to mankind at first, and uncovering that secret is completely optional. As is true of any living thing, food is your primary concern. (Take me, for instance — I’m writing this but thinking about warming up some Indian food as soon as I’m done.) Pawing around the ruins of Tokyo will cause time to tick away and you’ll become hungry. Depending on the nature of your selected beast, you’ll have to either seek out plants or living prey.
ABC Mart, a real life location you can visit in Tokyo Jungle
The passage of time doesn’t only increase hunger, it also causes more dangerous events to occur in Tokyo, alters food scarcity, and shortens your lifespan. These time-based obstacles all coming to a head creates tremendous pressure on the player to keep moving and make split-second decisions. It may sound stressful — all this life and death business — but it’s actually quite exhilarating.
In addition to some minor stealth mechanics — hiding in tall grass and such — you’re also at the mercy of some rogue-like elements. If you’re not familiar with what that means: dying = you start over. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For instance, if you manage to find a mate and do the take-that-ESRB-dance, you can spawn some offspring. You’ll then assume the role of the litter you’ve sired. Each pup is essentially another life. Mating can also bequeath stat benefits for future generations — meaning if you’re forced to start over, you’ll at least have slightly higher stats. This clever blending of rogue-like mechanics nicely captures the unforgiving qualities of nature. I just wish Sir David Attenborough were there to narrate every moment for me…
In addition to single player exploits, there is also a local multiplayer option. This is a whole new way to play the game. You start each journey with items that allow you to revive your ally, which can be done strategically. You can also share food and combine efforts to clear challenges. While it does improve the Tokyo Jungle experience, I have a few gripes about multiplayer: namely, Player One has complete control of the camera. This means Player Two is at the mercy of Player One’s terrible decision to run from bears down a dead-end ally. This, as you can no doubt imagine, is incredibly frustrating for poor Player Two. Negatives aside, the multiplayer is a great way to spend a Friday night.
Clothing boosts your animal’s stats and style
When it comes to the overall package, it’s a mixed bag:
- I love the soundtrack. And what soundtrack isn’t enhanced with music cues based around stealth gameplay? None of the soundtracks.
- Load times after each survival mode challenge are painfully long. I blame this on the game’s insistance on submitting your pitiful score to an online ranking board. It should really only tell you who is number one because the rest is fucking irrelevant. But yeah, the reason I’m so adamant about this is because after dying, the first thing you’ll want to do is play again, which is a good thing.
- Some weird glitches, gravity-defying sheep, gliding cat corpses. Nothing game-breaking though.
Maintaining this blog for the past several years has made me a careful observer of the Japanese gaming industry. I’ve chronicled its highs, lows, and recent identity struggles. Tokyo Jungle has arisen from that apocalyptic landscape with a mighty bark, as an iconic example of what Japanese games are (or perhaps were). The game is unabashedly bizarre, slightly rough around the edges, but above all else: it was clearly made by individuals who had a lot of fun.