Monday, June 9, 2014

Tokyo Jungle - Nature's calling (and telling you to play this game)

Platform: PS3    Release: 2012
If you've ever wanted to be a hat-wearing Pomeranian hunting dairy cows in post-apocalyptic Tokyo while evading lions and stealing territory from chimpanzees, this is the game for you! What you've got here is something like a roguelike (a roguelike-like?) in which your primary goal is to survive as long as possible as one of a variety of animals. To do so, your immediate requirements are eating, avoiding being eaten by predators, marking and controlling territory, reproducing, and steering clear of pollution and poisoned food sources.

To guide you, and as an extra challenge, each attempt will present you with randomized challenges to be completed within particular time frames. These are usually eating a certain amount of food (which you'll need to do anyway or else starve to death), going to a certain location, marking a certain number of spots, or mating a certain number of times. Completing these challenges increases your stats (base stats vary by animal and can also be increased by wearing amusing costume items). Some of the increased stats are then passed down to the next generation of your animal after reproducing, which can only be done in a territory that you have claimed by marking all of its markable points. You'll also have to be of a high enough rank to attract a mate (this is achieved by eating more); if you get stuck with a bad mate, you'll get fleas and have less offspring. Additional offspring act as extra lives and can also be used as decoys to get predators off of your tail.
Lunging onto unsuspecting prey is so satisfying.
There are quite a few different playable animals, but they must be unlocked one at a time by completing challenges in Survival Mode. While the different animals do have different stats and occasionally different play styles, they are generally divided into the two categories of Predators and Grazers. Predators, of course, get their food from killing and eating other animals, while Grazers eat plants and must rely more on stealth. Even with the bit of variety, the gameplay does get a bit repetitive at points, especially at the beginning of a run. That said, sneaking up on prey, fighting and fleeing from predators, and planning a route to complete each challenge while taking into account the fluctuating food availability and other events, does make the game quite fun in moderation.

Unlike other roguelikes, Tokyo Jungle's map is not randomly generated and is limited to a fairly large section of Tokyo divided into several regions. At first, you'll probably be disappointed by the number of impassible walls, both visible and invisible, but these become less of an issue as you learn the game. This isn't a sandbox game; this is more of an RPG/arcade/roguelike game, and the walls and gameplay reflects that by showing your stats, high scores, and by randomizing many elements of the game.
In a world... where robot dogs are raised by wolves...
Apart from Survival Mode, there are also Story Mode missions which can be unlocked by finding data disks in Survival. These data disks also shed light on what caused Tokyo to get to its current state, but this back story is all shown through plain text data logs and old news bulletins. The story missions themselves mostly focus on the stories of different animals struggling to control territory and survive, and they present interesting preset challenges that you wouldn't necessarily encounter in Survival Mode.
The game's fun, albeit repetitive, gameplay is framed with some pretty mediocre graphics that barely outperform most PS2 games. Similarly, the background music is a forgettable, but non-obtrusive, drum beat with very little melody going on. I also encountered more than a few glitches during my playthrough, including crappy pathfinding AI, birds flying in the standing position, my character turning invisible during multiplayer (oh yeah, you can do co-op, that's pretty fun), and falling through the map one time. Most of the glitches don't affect gameplay much, but they do make the game's quality feel just a bit worse.

The Final Word:
Tokyo Jungle doesn't look all that great, but it's quite fun in moderation. Even though it's not quite a roguelike, it's close enough that fans of the genre will probably enjoy it. If you see it for cheap on PSN, I definitely recommend giving it a shot; you probably haven't played anything quite like it.

While you're looking at unique Japanese PS3 games, why not check out Boku no Natsuyasumi 3?
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