Every now and then a game comes along that stops you in your tracks. You may have heard the name Tokyo Jungle, and you may have heard rumblings about what kind of game it is, but until you get your hands on it it’s hard to understand exactly what to expect.
Tokyo Jungle goes places very few games have gone before by putting you in control of an animal in a barren, humanless, Tokyo. Which animal? That part's up to you.
While there is a story mode attached to Tokyo Jungle, it won’t be where you spend the majority of your time; Survival Mode is where the real meat of the game lies. While there are only a couple of animals selectable from the start -- pitiful ones at that -- there is a huge list of animals greyed out, waiting for you to unlock them via specific animal based challenges.
Every round of Survival Mode starts in exactly the same manner: select your animal and go. You’re placed in the same part of Tokyo each time and it’s up to you to keep your animal alive by eating, hiding from predators, marking your territory, and creating little baby versions of yourself to continue your lineage.
Tokyo Jungle starts off rather hard, and you’re likely to die early on until things start falling into place. While it may be amazingly hilarious to try and scratch that deer to death with your baby chicken, it isn’t likely to end well for you.
Just when you think you understand the basics behind survival -- like picking on things your own size, and not harassing your predators -- things step up a notch; new challenges are dealt out every ten years and before too long the sun, rain, and toxic fog start playing havoc with your senses and food supply. The only issue here is that once you know what you’re doing, it starts getting a tad repetitive.
No matter which animal you choose, the game stays the same; the grazers simply replace what they eat and who they’re avoiding. In the end, if you can eat enough and keep your toxicity levels down, then you should survive long enough to unlock a new animal and some quirky clothing items, and sadly there’s just not enough variation between the animals to keep things new and exciting.
Sure, new challenges are thrown your way during the duration of your game session and there’s the promise of the bigger, more exciting animals to unlock, but the game progresses in such a way that the payoff is never truly felt. You’ll simply jump into a new skin and do the same stuff in a different order for another 30 - 60 minutes.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some amazing animals on offer later in the game though, you’ll just need to play a lot to get to enjoy them. As you progress your animal through a few generations, pass on attributes to your spawn, and create the toughest beagle known to the animal kingdom, stronger animals start showing up.
Where once a small flock of baby chickens circled a large puddle in the road, it later becomes the home of 13 foot crocodile. Tigers sleep on and stalk alleyways and bisons kick out to protect their herd. Despite the ever increasing strength of the animal you have chosen, there will be a time where stealth becomes essential.
There’s one aspect of Tokyo Jungle that doesn’t seem to make sense though, despite the fact that it’s essentially an animal mating game: the Story Mode isn’t overly accessible. This is the mode that carries on from the opening tutorial and teaches you, with each chapter, something new. To open up new chapters within Story Mode you will need to hunt down and open presents that, for some reason, litter the abandoned streets of Tokyo (and sometimes fall out of your kills). These presents can hold usable or wearable items, newspaper clippings or Story chapters.
The problem is, you need to be actively hunting these down in Survival Mode to get them. What this essentially does is drag out the learning process of Tokyo Jungle and it’s possible you’ll have had your fill of the game before you’ve even unlocked the entirety of Story Mode or learnt every move you can do.
Strangely, this isn’t as bad as it may sound as, previously mentioned, Survival Mode really is where you’ll be spending 95% of your time, and let’s be honest, the story just isn’t important. Sure, there’s a reason mankind isn’t around anymore, but is it really that relevant? Newspaper clippings and other assortments of backstory items can be collected alongside Story chapters, and these go a little more into detailing what has happened to the world as we know it.
Animals are going crazy, people are being mauled and killed, and some people even spot some rather strange beasts that may signify some kind of space-time shenanigans. But all in all, it just doesn’t matter. You won’t be wondering how this world came to be when exploring Tokyo, you’ll be too intent on finding a food source that isn’t poisoned or trying to find the perfect mate.
Presentation in Tokyo Jungle is minimalistic to say the least. There’s very little going on in the way of menus and introducing the player to the game. Small cutscenes are hurried along and the entire game has a looping drum-line that drops in volume when you start sneaking. There is one fantastic looking “Start” sequence but it makes absolutely no sense and feels amazingly out of place.
Tokyo Jungle is something unique that has a lot of potential but manages to fall short in a lot of areas. Replacing the looping music with a decent ambient track would’ve helped sell the setting and variation in gameplay for different animals would have given you a reason to pick one over another.
For about $25 it’s worth a look, and you may even find something strangely addictive; despite the flaws, there’s still fun to be had due to how different the game is, and if you like leaderboards and besting your previous score, then the lack of variation may even become a selling point.