No, seriously.

This is a game where Beagles eat Golden Retrievers, and a pack of yip-yapping Pomeranians can take down a mighty Japanese Tosa. All human life has vanished mysteriously from the world, and the vacated cities of their vast civilization remain a war zone for survival of the fittest between Earth’s remaining species. Only the strongest will survive the nightmare of Darwin’s theories gone wild.

Bungle in the Concrete JungleThe Challenges of Survival

SCE’s Tokyo Jungle almost never even left the initial pitch meeting. The game’s Director, Yohei Kataoka, claims that the brass at Sony wanted to slam this gem to the curb almost immediately after his proposal. I guess when in video games “survival” meas pumping as many bullets as possible into charging hordes of zombies, a game of true adversity in the face of hunger, elements, ferocious predators, rapid aging, and extinction just wouldn’t sell.
But, Tokyo Jungle is exactly what it sets out to be, a game of survival. After choosing from the dozens of available species, ranging everywhere from a baby chick to a lethal Deinonychus, evolution begins to take its course. Your choice animal will start by hunting the creatures around him, gaining strength and taking territories from rival packs. Overtaking territories clears the way for frightened females to come out from hiding and allow mating rituals. Choosing a mate based on his own strength, the animal will spread his seed to his offspring, who must then go on their own hunting expeditions and have their own babies. The cycle continues until your pack is wiped out, and your score is logged onto a leaderboard.

It’s a rinse and repeat formula which veils its depth behind a curtain of shallow ideas and combat. The bulk of the gameplay revolves around challenges the game will randomly generate at the beginning of each survival mode. Not only must you and your pack of animals survive and multiply, but beating these challenges will grant much needed stat bonuses to aid in the evolution of the species. They also unlock armor, costumes, and even more powerful animals.

Many more factors must be taken into consideration than just multiplying. Some areas are polluted and will slowly kill off any animal that dwells there for too long. Some are pitch black allowing for no visibility, while others are red hot making dead animal carcasses decay faster, meaning less food. Some areas have absolutely no animal life, so there is no option but to push on despite the hunger, and normally this leads to nothing but a den of lions waiting to pounce.

Challenges are available three at a time over a period of ten game years, or roughly ten minutes of real time, before the next round of challenges. More often than not, these three challenges will include passing down one generation, performing stealth kills, eating a designated amount of calories, or reaching a location in the game.


However, the random element can make it impossible to complete all three challenges, leading to one of the game’s major downfalls. The designated location might be devoid of food, making hunting and evolution impossible unless you travel to a distant area where there is plenty of food. Doing this will abandon the location challenge to all but the most efficient or lucky killers, and to a completionist like myself, I was forced to choose between two challenges more often than I would have liked.

When challenges are not putting you in a no-win situation, completing them is satisfying and rewarding. With another 50 animal types and armor to equip, there is always something new and exciting to unlock in Tokyo Jungle, and that is the main driving force of the game.

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… there is always something new and exciting to unlock in Tokyo Jungle

The evolution comes in the form of RPG stats. After completing challenges, your animal will gain points in any number of traditional stats including hit points, attack, defense, stamina, and hunger. Mating will pass on a fraction of these numbers to the next generation, permanently boosting the base statistics of every generation to follow. Eventually, your breeds will become more and more powerful to the point of everything fearing them. There is nothing more satisfying than taking down a lion in one clean kill from your pack of beagles after many years of iron pumping evolution.

Combat controls nicely too, much deeper than it originally comes off. While most of combat will boil down to clawing mindlessly at your prey and foes, a clever timing gimmick is added to allow instant kills should the R1 button being pressed at the exact second an animal is stunned. This timing mechanic is also used for stealth kills, allowing for easy food, as well as counter-attacks when your animal evades the instant death attacks of a raging foe.

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Platforming is stiff, and it’s necessary to navigate the rooftops and balconies, avoiding the lions and alligators that could be lingering on street level. Don’t expect too much help from the map, beyond your current location, as it gives very little information on where to travel next. Repetition and memorization are needed to retrace your steps back to certain areas.

But, that’s the whole point of Tokyo Jungle. This is not a game that is to be played once, but a game to be played many times. There is no “winning” or “losing.” There is only “improving.” As your skills get higher and knowledge of the game grows, the easier it becomes to push further into the world. If you get bored with using the beagles over and over again, change it up and try a new breed or species. Maybe being an herbivore is better for you, as they have more options for food than predators, or maybe you just might end up being a cat person as they are far more suitable for stealth kills than the dogs, which are sturdier and better at melee.

Tokyo Jungle asks a lot from the modern gamers, who base their satisfaction on “beating the game.” This is not like the rest of what’s available these days, but more akin to the days of the NES when countless rounds of “trial and error,” pattern memorization, and finding a rhythm to the game’s madness is what’s needed to succeed. You can play Tokyo Jungle for hours and not get anywhere if you don’t begin to intimately learn from the intricacies of this surprisingly deep game.

Give a Dog a Bone

Tokyo Jungle isn’t a perfect downloadable title and won’t be for everyone. The graphics lovers of the world might scoff at its cheap animal models, desolate and small map, and invisible walls which secretly hide  its 2D nature. Limited visibility seems much more frequent than it should be, and, as mentioned before, the map and random challenges can be merciless.

There is also a story mode, but it’s negligible unless finding out what happened to the humans and “beating the game” is all that matters to you. Its sole purpose is so the game can claim to have a story mode, but the stories of the pampered Pomeranian becoming a respectable wild beast and beagles rebelling against their Tosa bosses are all adorable.

Those willing to take a gamble on this original concept will find themselves playing hours into the night, trying to get their cheetah to gain another stat point or two or playing “just one more round” of challenges before bed. It’s a marvelous and addictive little gem that only gets better the more and more you play it, with a fun level of repetition only the best Japanese budget titles can offer. The $15 price tag on PSN is a steal.

The west can brag all they want about how they are pushing the limits of video games with the annual releases of lifeless AAA shooters, but it’s hidden treasures like Tokyo Jungle which prove Japan still dominates at the niche level and knows how to turn a ridiculous idea into a fun game.

Rating

7.0

We purchased Tokyo Jungle for the PSN with personal funds.