Tokyo Jungle is one of the oddest games I've ever seen. Spotting it across the room at Sony's E3 booth, I was instantly captivated and I simply had to see what on earth this peculiar title was all about.
It is, you see (and stick with me, this could take some explaining), a game in which you must take control of an animal and attempt to survive in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. All of the humans are gone. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there (quite literally), and your survival is all that matters.
Sounds odd already, right? The way in which this wholly unusual premise plays out doesn't even remotely begin to dispel that impression. After choosing your animal (there are two to select from at first, but seemingly hundreds to open up over time), each of which is either a herbivore or carnivore sub-type, you appear in the urban sprawl of Tokyo.
Initially, the game is quite simple: i'll explain it using a carnivore (in my case, a Beagle). Walking around this once great human city, you note the presence of three flags on the map of your current district ("level"). Your goal is to mark all three flags, at which point you'll own the territory and attract some females in for a bit of hanky-panky.
You have more urgent motivations, however, as you're hungry - as evidenced by a rapidly decreasing bar in the UI. How often you need to eat is impacted by the type of animal you choose; a chick might not need to eat much, but it's also super fragile, while a very strong animal - like an alligator - might be hard to kill, but it will need to eat almost constantly to stay alive.
Eating, in the case of the Beagle, is achieved by bringing about the death of another animal. You can simply waltz in and attack the prey of your choosing, but sneaking up on them and attacking from stealth will give you a clean kill (complete with huge, ridiculous, "CLEAN KILL!!!" graphic flashed on the screen), reducing any risk of damage should they counter your attack. The, of course, you need to chow down, reducing the corpse to a pile of bones and restoring your hunger meter.
After a few kills and some patrolling of the map, during which we needed to hide in the grass to let a couple of other predators go by, we managed to mark up our territory and attract some bitches (tehehe). You can approach any of them, but the better the bitch, the more likely she is to reject you if you're a low level. Settling for the middle option, we head back to the love nest (it's literally called a love nest on the map), and set about mounting our new best friend (the camera cuts away as the action begins in earnest).
Why would you do that, you ask? It's all about survival, and ensuring your line continues is the very literal translation of that. Here, that means that the puppies created by the coupling actually become your character from this point on. As we chose a middling bitch, we are now in control of two puppies; the best of the options would have lead to a pack of three dogs to control, while the easiest would have resulted in just one.
The game continues to escalate, introducing trickier encounters, harder roaming predators, and all sorts of ludicrous scenarios. You can traverse the environment, too, getting up to play on the roof tops or going underground to explore the sewers.
Herbivores play out somewhat differently, in that their primary motivation is less about slaughtering beasts and more about not ending up as dinner themselves. They can still attack, as evidenced by the very amusing way in which a gazelle will turn around and kick an animal off-screen if necessary, but the risks imposed by the environment are much starker than would need to be endured by something further up the food chain.
Visually, the game is fairly simplistic. It's a 3D environment, but thanks to constraints of PSN download and (likely) tiny budget, it's pretty rudimentary to behold. Sound, too, is present, but little more.
But who cares?
This game isn't about impressing your friends or generating beautiful screenshots; instead, it's something all too rare in this world of sequels and me-too titles: something new. Not only that, but it's fun, too. It's fast, funny, clever, exciting, and fresh.
Everywhere we went at E3, people were talking about it, and when they did, their faces were aglow with excitement and verve; emotions that E3 is pretty good at crushing out of the souls of the very same hard-working band of professional critics. I don't know what it's going to cost, or when it's coming out (it released in Japan on June 7th), but I do know this: when it does, I'm going to buy it and bury myself in its quirky world. On behalf of gamers seeking something different everywhere, I urge you to do the same.
NZGamer.com appears at E3 2012 thanks to Orcon Broadband.
The Good: You've never played anything like this
The Bad: People will look at you funny when you tell them about it
The Ugly: It may get overlooked