Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment
An exclamation I never thought I’d make while playing a video game: “Oh no, this damn bear is ripping my kittens to shreds! Maybe I can lure it into that herd of deer grazing on the roof of the convenience store, but if the crocodile stops eating the chimpanzee and chases me instead, I’m doomed.”
But Tokyo Jungle, available now for download through the online PlayStation Store, is a game unlike anything you’ve ever played, seen or probably even dreamed about, except for that night you thought it would be a good idea to eat an entire wheel of camembert before bed.
Spawned from the minds of Sony’s Japan Studio, Tokyo Jungle imagines a future when mankind has mysteriously disappeared from the world. As cities fall into ruin, hungry pets venture from their homes, zoo animals escape from their cages and the city of Tokyo is overrun with wildlife.
It is demented. It is hilarious. It is very, very Japanese. And that works both for and against Tokyo Jungle.
Players jump into the skin of one of several critters – initially, the available animals are a pampered Pomeranian and a defenseless deer – and attempt to survive long enough to spawn stronger generations of offspring that can continue exploring the overgrown ruins of Tokyo.
It’s a fascinating premise for a game, and the battles are hilarious to behold. Seeing a beagle pounce on a pig and rip its throat out is bizarre enough on its own, but eventually players will wage war with an entire Discovery Channel’s worth of combatants. Panthers versus bears. Elephants versus hippos. A flock of baby chicks versus... well let’s face it, the chicks aren’t going to fare well. Except as snacks.
This menagerie of madness is undone by Tokyo Jungle’s ruthlessly rigid structure. In the game’s core Survival mode, your chosen critter must work its way through interconnected and mostly linear Tokyo districts, hunting prey, marking territory and completing challenges that open up in a specific order.
It’s this confining, arduous framework that limits Tokyo Jungle’s appeal. Watching animals fight, flee and hump is great fun, but seeing your puppies die of starvation as you backtrack across huge, empty stretches of Tokyo to get to a new challenge area is not enjoyable at all. The game reminds me of Dead Rising in that sense – beneath a fun and quirky exterior there’s a deceptively old-school, difficult core that requires lots of patience and repetition to master.
New chapters in the game’s entertaining story mode are unlocked very slowly, which is a shame – they shed light on what happened to humankind and how certain animals managed to thrive in the urban wild. And Tokyo Jungle also looks pretty awful, with visuals that wouldn’t look out of place in a PS2 game from the last decade.
Still, in an age where every other game seems to be a military-themed shooter, you have to give Sony props for creating something so unique and weird, even if it can be frustrating as hell. Evolution, it seems, is a messy and painful process.
A fantastically original concept limited by its rigid, challenging structure and clunky visuals.