|Travis Touchdown (left) of No More Heroes.
On my first trip to Japan several years ago, I arrived in Tokyo in the middle of a full-on typhoon. Exhausted from jet lag and not equipped to brave the wind and rain lashing the streets, I spent a whole day in my hotel room watching Japanese TV.
In a word: wow. There is some messed-up stuff coming out of the Land of the Rising Sun - messed up to our unaccustomed Western eyes, at least - and it extends across all forms of media and entertainment. Including video games.
The recent release of Tokyo Jungle for the PlayStation 3 continues a long tradition of odd Japanese games making their way to our shores. The game is set years after mankind has mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth, and critters of all stripes - from pampered house pets to wild animals - are fighting for supremacy in the streets of Tokyo.
Available through the online PlayStation Store service, the game came out earlier this year in its native Japan before being translated and exported to other parts of the world. The hilarious weirdness of seeing a pack of Pomeranian puppies attempt to bring down a zebra while an elephant thrashes a pig nearby has to be seen to be believed.
But the game also cleaves to a rigid, old-school structure common to Japanese games, forcing players to repeat segments over and over to in order to master each cycle of their chosen animal's life and successfully mate, breed and foster a new generation of stronger offspring.
If you like Tokyo Jungle - and it's an acquired taste, to be sure - here are four other Japanese video game oddities that have found some mainstream success on our shores.
No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle (Nintendo Wii)
Sarcastic assassin Travis Touchdown returns to the city of Santa Destroy to slice his way to the top of the killing charts in this wildly weird, cartoon-style and intensely violent Wii game. It's by Tokyo's Grasshopper Manufacture, the studio behind the fun and oddball Shadows of the Damned and Lollipop Chainsaw games.
Katamari Damacy (various)
This series by Japanese game giant Namco debuted on the PlayStation 2 and has since spawned a variety of sequels and spin-offs, including Beautiful Katamari (Xbox 360), Katamari Forever (PlayStation 3) and Touch My Katamari (PlayStation Vita.) Mostly, they involve rolling up giant balls of random objects to satisfy the insanely odd King of All Cosmos.
Deadly Premonition (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
A bizarre melange of Silent Hill, Grand Theft Auto and TV's Twin Peaks, this lo-fi, clunky and relentlessly weird offering by Osaka-based Access Games has earned a massive cult following from people who love its bizarre characters, head-scratching non sequiturs and genuinely scary moments, even if the controls and visuals are kind of crap.
Catherine (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
In this so-called "puzzle platformer psychological horror adventure" by Tokyo-based Atlus, the hapless hero must juggle his prim, demanding girlfriend Katherine and a sexy, free-spirited but unsettling new flame, Catherine. At night, he dreams of sheep-men, collapsing staircases and deathtraps. Seems about right.