When trying to describe something, it’s always easier to relate it to something else, to form a relation in a person’s mind so that they can better understand what it is you are telling them. It’s a fact, our brain constantly makes connections between objects and concepts so we can grasp things easier. I’ve always maintained that an appropriate relation for a good game is a jigsaw, a very large jigsaw. Games are a combination of various elements, from design to mechanics and multiple variations of each. Each part of a game is like a jigsaw piece; in a poor game, the jigsaw pieces are uneven and don’t slot into each other, like they’re from entirely different sets. In a good game, those jigsaw pieces are finely crafted and slot together perfectly, like they’re all built with the other pieces in mind, like a good jigsaw is. They form a brilliant product, just like jigsaws form a particular image.
You may think this is a curious way to open a review of a game like Tokyo Jungle, but the comparison is especially appropriate for PlayStation CAMP’s quirky action game. Tokyo Jungle’s decidedly unique premise and style has garnered a cult following since its Japanese reveal many years ago. The idea of controlling animals in this literal dog-eat-dog, post-apocalyptic Tokyo is certainly novel without a doubt. One would be forgiven for thinking that’s all Tokyo Jungle is, a novelty, but in reality it’s a finely crafted jigsaw, an unexpected one to say the least.
Humans are gone. Tokyo Jungle communicates this at the outset with a short introduction slideshow of sorts which paints you a picture of just what’s going on in this post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Animals have turned feral. No explanation is given (yet) as to what has happened to humans, just that animals have taken over the city of Tokyo and claimed various territories for themselves. Then, after a short and sweet tutorial that effectively introduces you to Tokyo Jungle’s mechanics, you’re left to discover the various pieces of the Tokyo Jungle jigsaw for yourself, starting with the game’s main mode: survival.
It’s here where you’ll spend most of your time with Tokyo Jungle, as it’s here where you’ll unlock more animals for use in the survival mode and unlock more scenarios for the single player mode, which I’ll get to in a bit. You’ll start off with two animals unlocked, the Pomeranian and Deer, and each animal has different stats and different mechanics. The Pomeranian is your first introduction to carnivores in Tokyo Jungle. Carnivores have better life and attack, but have very low hunger meters meaning they’ll have to eat more often. To eat as a carnivore, you’ll have to stalk and fight with animals to kill them, hunting lesser animals for your food. However, while hunting your prey you’ll have to take care you don’t try to bit off more than you can chew. Tokyo Jungle is a brutal game, and one mistake can be fatal. You’ll learn just how costly mistakes can be if you play as the Deer, a herbivore. The deer can only eat plants and drink water, so killing animals and fighting them is a risk you have to weigh up every time you see one. Thankfully, herbivores have much higher hunger meters meaning they don’t have to eat as often.
“It combines the novel premise with tight gameplay mechanics and an all-round fun factor that most games lack.”
Eating as often as possible has its perks though, as your animal has a rank which it can increase the more calories it intakes, ranging from rookie (the starting rank) to veteran and finally ‘Boss’ (which is just the best rank name ever). The rank you are feeds into the game’s mating system. Just like there are three ranks for your animal, there are three ranks of mate. It’s here where Tokyo Jungle starts to show itself as an eerily accurate social commentary; rookies can only mate with desperate mates (who will give you flees, naturally), you’ll have to be a veteran to mate with average females and only a boss can mate with a prime. It’s the natural order of life, really. Mating is a central game mechanic, as any animal can only live for 15 years in Tokyo Jungle. The key to living as long as you can is to mate and start a new generation. The better the mate, the more offspring you’ll have (which you can take control of if you die) and the more stat bonuses you’ll pass to the next generation.
As you progress in Tokyo Jungle, you’ll be tasked with challenges to complete which will reward you with SP, or survival points which will get you on the leaderboards and can be used to purchase new animals after you unlock them. Completing certain animal specific challenges will unlock new animals for you to take trough survival mode, which is Tokyo Jungle’s hook. The animals play differently enough to keep you hooked as you progress, and the thought of running around Tokyo as some of the more exotic animals is a joy. As you go you’ll also find collectibles which range from clothes to dress your animal up in to new story segments for the game’s main story mode. Survival mode can also be played in local co-op, which is a huge plus and endlessly enjoyable.
Speaking of the game’s story mode, this consists of pre-defined scenarios where you’ll take control of a particular animal with a specific objective you need to complete, rather than just last as long as you can. The story mode goes some way to explaining what exactly happened, but I won’t spoil it for you. You’ll enjoy the last mission though, purely just because of the special animal you get to use. I’ll say no more!
Thankfully, the gameplay and all the systems at place work really, really well. This is a tight game, make no mistake, and that’s why it’s brilliant. Remember when I talked about games being a jigsaw, with the good ones’ pieces all fitting together to make a wonderful product? That’s what Tokyo Jungle is. It combines the novel premise with tight gameplay mechanics and an all-round fun factor that most games lack. Its various pieces slot together in a way that shows this game is meticulously crafted, a brilliant jigsaw in every respect. At only £9.99/€12.99 on PSN (a quarter of the price of its full retail Japanese release), Tokyo Jungle is an absolute steal. Buy this game, support Sony for bringing games like this to the west. I can’t recommend it enough.