Tokyo Jungle really is a game unlike any other. As a large assortment of different animals, you explore an overgrown and deserted Tokyo, slowly piecing together the mystery of what happened to all the humans. And when I say “a large assortment of different animals”, I refer to everything from deer and wolves to elephants and dinosaurs.
The game is best described as a 3D platformer with a locked camera that creates an almost 2D plane — except that you are able to move into the foreground and background at will. The controls are simple and basically break down into the following actions: sneak, dodge, bite, claw and eat — regardless which of the animals you play. The trick of the game is not mastering the controls, but rather mastering when to use each action.
Tokyo Jungle consists of two modes: survival and story — of which survival is the far more complex of the two. The point of survival mode, as you may have guessed, is to survive as long as possible. But that is only a small part of how the game is played. After you choose an animal, you start the game outside Shibuya station. From there, you hunt animals (or plants if you’re an herbivore) for food, mark your territory, and eventually mate with another of your species. But as you spend time in each area, the food supply dwindles and you are forced to move on to richer hunting grounds. Moreover, each new area possesses dangers of its own, whether that be predators from far higher on the food chain or radioactive rain slowly poisoning you to death.
To keep the game interesting, each 10-minute chuck of survival mode comes with its own list of challenges that change every time you play the game: fully claim “X” territory, have children, eat over a certain amount of calories, defeat a mini boss, etc. Also, completing special missions will often unlock new playable animals, while completing all possible objectives in a 10-minute chunk nets you a large experience bonus (which can be used to purchase the already unlocked animals from the in-game store).
Story mode, on the other hand, is far different from survival mode as it shows the human-less world of Tokyo Jungle through the eyes of some of its most heroic animal denizens. One level tells the tale of a pack of beagles finding a home, while another focuses on a cackle of hyenas going on a stealth mission through Tokyo’s sewers. There is very much a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the writing as several of the story levels chronicle a tale strikingly similar to the Lion King, while another set follows a pit bull going on a vision quest to learn from his spirit animal. And by the time all these clever and often entertaining stories are done, you will have solved the mystery behind the complete lack of human presence in Tokyo Jungle.
Yet, despite the well-designed gameplay and entertaining stories, Tokyo Jungle still has one major flaw: It is a ridiculously padded game. For anyone interested in simply playing through the story, you can’t. Each story mission is locked and can only be accessed by gathering a set of data disks in survival mode. Thus, you are forced into survival mode before each of the 14 story missions. Of course, the farther you go into story mode, the harder it is to obtain the next set of data disks. So you must also spend a fair amount of time in survival mode unlocking stronger animals — and farming the points to buy them — in addition to your time gathering the disks. The final set of disks is in an area so perilous that you will need to have unlocked the top tier of carnivores in the game to even have a chance — something that adds a good six hours of grinding gameplay in and of itself. Still, minus the monotonous grinding, there is a good fifteen hours of solid gameplay in Tokyo Jungle. And for a price of $US14.99, that isn’t half bad.
Tokyo Jungle is perhaps the most original game to come out of Japan in recent years with its unique concept, entertaining tongue-in-cheek writing, and competent controls. And while some may find it monotonous, completionists will happily spent countless hours unlocking the roster of over 50 different animals. In the end, Tokyo Jungle is not a perfect game by any stretch, but it’s very much worth the price tag.