Embrace the Pomeranian Within – Tokyo Jungle Review for PlayStation 3
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3
Have you ever wondered what would happen to all the animals if we were to disappear? Well now you can find out, thanks to the recently released PSN title, Tokyo Jungle. Focusing on arcade-styled gameplay, would this digital release have what it takes to make it in the jungle of downloadable titles? Let’s take a look!
Tokyo Jungle is set about a decade after humanity strangely vanished from the face of the earth and where animals have begun to run rampant. House pets have turned feral and now live wild alongside escaped zoo animals, and plants have overrun the landscape. Players take control of one of a massive selection of animals with the goal of simply surviving in the ruins of Tokyo City.
Two main gametypes make up Tokyo Jungle: Survival and Story. Survival is the meat of the title’s gameplay where gamers will spend most of their time, while Story’s chapters are unlocked by finding different items within Survival (but more on that later). Since Survival is the game’s main focus, we’ll cover that first. Upon starting a new game, players need to pick an animal from one of the staggering amount of playable creatures. You could take control of the smallest and meekest of creatures like house cats/dogs, deer, rabbits, and chickens; or the biggest and most ferocious animals like lions, tigers, bears (oh my!), elephants, and even dinosaurs. Within this selection there are two main types of fauna: grazers and predators. The former eat only plants which can be found randomly growing around different areas, while the latter must kill and eat other animals.
Whether you want to hunt meat or nibble plants, the basic gameplay mechanics are the same: survive. To do this, gamers must feed on different foods around the city (which are never in the same place twice) or starve. A hunger meter is present to show you how full you are, and if it drops to zero you slowly lose health. Run out of that and it’s game over!
For both grazers and predators, one of two mechanics will be involved in finding your next meal: stealth and combat. Stealth is most commonly used for grazers to avoid hungry carnivores by creeping through tall grass (which can also serve as a hiding spot), or sticking low to the ground to move slowly and quietly, as well as using the environment to keep out of your hunter’s line of sight. However, predators can also use the same tactics to sneak up on their prey for a quick and easy one-hit-kill.
Sometimes though, you will either make a wrong turn or you just won’t be sneaky enough and a fight will be unavoidable. Whether it’s to defend yourself or take down your next meal, players have two main controls to fight with. The first is a basic attack which can be used to quickly deal light damage to an enemy and to possibly stun them temporarily, and the other is a powerful critical attack which is only effective if your foe’s guard is down or they’re stunned. Players may also dodge incoming attacks, and if you successfully avoid a critical strike this way then you may counter with one of your own; if you’re not quick to move though, you may take a fatal hit.
Alternatively, if you find yourself outmatched, you may turn tail and flee. A caution meter appears when a hostile animal notices you and if you find a nice place to hide (such as tall grass) then the meter will start to empty. Should the creature not find you by tracing your scent and the meter hits zero, you’re free to go.
However, vicious fauna are not your only hazards. Pollution plagues the streets of Tokyo and staying in smog or ingesting toxic food/water will cause your toxicity meter to rise. Once it reaches 100% you start to lose health, much like when you’re hungry. If you find yourself stuck in a highly polluted area, it’s best to make a break for another zone or risk dying of starvation/toxic fumes.
One other chance at death looms over players, and that is age. Regardless of what creature you pick it can only live up to 15 years before naturally kicking the bucket. To keep the game going, gamers can find a mate of the same species and continue on with a new generation – passing on different stats from the parents. In order to do so, you must first gain control of the current area, which is done by marking different sections of that zone (which are displayed on your map and screen as flags). Once all the marks have been taken, the area is yours and females will start to appear. Three types of mates can be chosen from: desperate, average, and prime. The better your mate, the better offspring you will create. Just note though, you need to be of a certain stature as well which is determined by how much you’ve eaten this generation. As your animal grows from his meals, so does his chances of getting the creature of his dreams.
Once you have your new litter of animals, it’s back to exploring around. However, your packmates follow you around, mimicking your actions (such as jumping or sneaking). Should you die for any reason you simply take control of the next animal, ensuring your survival. Your brethren can also be used as a decoy for hunters if they’re grazers or join in the fight if they’re predators, making them a considerably useful mechanic.
Aside from simply surviving there are several challenges for gamers to complete, ranging from killing certain animals to reaching locations to beat bosses. Rewards for meeting these goals take the form of survival points (which can unlock more animals), items, or even more playable characters. While these can sometimes make it harder to stay alive, they definitely liven up gameplay a fair amount.
One issue does present itself with general gameplay, however, and that is camera control – or rather the lack thereof. The entire game is presented as though it were on a stage: players can move about freely in 3D, but the camera keeps a fixed forward view on the area, much like a side-scroller. What makes this a problem is the fact that there are occasions where you can’t see what’s coming along next, and the creature you’re sneaking up on sees you first—causing your next meal to get away or bringing the wrath of a hunter down on you. There are unused buttons in the game’s control scheme (namely L2 and R2) which could have been used to pan the camera to the left or right, and would have helped gameplay substantially.
Camera issues aside, Survival mode is an amazing experience. Every action seems to have an effect on your survivability, making your choices in-game carry a certain weight. Do you eat the rest of this pig so you can grow big to get the prime mate, or leave it in the case you get hungry later? Should you take this area now to have offspring and risk there not being any food later, or push on through hunger to get to a better area? Surviving in Tokyo Jungle isn’t as simple as just running in and killing everything, you need to actually plan out your life and have a bit of luck on your side.
Throughout the world in Survival, gamers will come across Archives which are records left by humans detailing the days before their disappearance. Each piece of data you find gives a small piece of text that slowly reveals just what happened to our race, and if you find enough you will unlock new chapters in the Story. Narrative chapters give you control of an animal with specific objectives to achieve – such as a Pomeranian’s first day in the wild, tasked with searching for food and shelter.
Overall, the storyline in Tokyo Jungle is a fairly slow but good one, yet not in the way you’d suspect. Actually, what the narrative tends to do is pull the gamer outside of their animal’s character, making the player an outside force rather than directly playing the animal’s role. In an RPG this would be devastating, but in this case it ends up creating an interesting effect. Instead of taking the role of say, a dog, the gamers feel like they the last human alive, discovering what happened to their race by observing the animals that now own the world. It’s an interesting feeling to be sure, one that can only be found in Tokyo Jungle.
As for the game’s graphics, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Everything in Tokyo Jungle is done with just enough detail to get by – the environment’s textures are done so you’re able to read signs and tell grass from concrete, and an animal’s graphic skin allow you to tell a tabby cat from a calico. However, after that it’s all pretty bland. Character models are a little blocky and you’re able to see the core polygons in some places, the aforementioned skins look as though they were JPEGS of actual animals stretched across the models, and overall everything looks more like an HD remake of a PlayStation 2 game than a current-gen PSN title. While it’s obvious that this is an arcade-styled title with its focus on its killer gameplay, a smidgen more detail would have made it an amazing and believable adventure.
Audio also takes the good enough stance, although it has delivered slightly better than graphics. While the soundtrack consists of a boring and repetitive collection of ambient chords and synthetic drum beats, the animal noises themselves are fairly realistic. Creatures will meow, whine, moan, bark, neigh, cry, and roar just as their real world counterparts would – giving the title a slice of realism to it. While it’s obvious the title is more of an arcade game, a full soundtrack would have been a nice touch. At least the creature sounds will be easy on your ears.
At the end of the day, Tokyo Jungle is an amazing PSN game. It has one of the best creative and interesting game concepts you’re going to find across all systems. With brilliant and addictive gameplay, a unique and interesting story, and a mountain of playable characters, this is one game you’re not going to want to miss. Just do your best to ignore the repetitive beats, static camera, and bland visuals, as they hold the game back ever so slightly. Grab your favourite animal and start clawing for survival!
Final Score: 4.25/5.0 and a ferocious lion’s roar!
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