Video Game Review: Tokyo Jungle
Welcome to the Jungle.
It is a dog-eat-dog, mate with giraffe, and flee from velociraptor world. Yes, I know exactly what I just wrote. No, I am not drunk. The Playstation Network exclusive title Tokyo Jungle has a certain charm that has seduced many gamers who are struck with severe cases of “sequelitis.” Tokyo Jungle takes place in the dystopian future of Tokyo, in which humans have vanished and animals are forced to fight each other to survive in the harsh, urban jungle. There are two game modes presented to the player, Story and Survival, allowing the player to enjoy all that Tokyo Jungle has to offer.
The core of Tokyo Jungle is found within the aptly named Survival mode, where players are given the goal to survive for as long as possible. In order to achieve this, players will need to hunt for food to keep their animal well fed, which serves the secondary purpose of helping your animal to gain ranks. Having a high ranking animal allows the ability to gain the interest of prospective mates, the elusive prime mate being the most desirable. After mating, the player will gain control of the newborn litter and gain a boost to various stats to increase your odds of survival with this new generation. An interesting mechanic is the usage of the litter as extra lives, each pup representing one life, and the ability to use the litter in combat via the triangle button. After successfully siring a new generation, the cycle begins anew.
Unfortunately, this is where Tokyo Jungle begins to stumble. While there is, technically speaking, nothing wrong with Tokyo Jungle and it certainly warrants attention, it is incapable of maintaining that level of interest. The premise of Tokyo Jungle alludes to the idea of a survival game, but the mechanics of the game push it towards an arcade experience above anything else. Each animal is given a somewhat arbitrary lifespan of 15 years and each year lasts approximately one minute of game play, meaning there is constant pressure to progress. Furthermore, every bit of food consumed is translated into Survival Points (SP), which act as currency to unlock new animal skins or to buy items from the in-game store. After dying in Survival mode, your SP score is saved and uploaded to online leaderboards, something anyone who has ever played an arcade game is familiar with.
Unfortunately, there is not much more Survival mode offers. One last thing worth mentioning is the inclusion of optional challenges that, upon completion, offer SP boosts. Every ten years, these challenges are rotated out and replaced with new, more difficult challenges. However, these are usually derived from the standard affair. Each animal has a specific challenge, usually late in the game, that will unlock another animal for play in survival mode which is, by far, the most useful and gratifying reward. With around 50 playable animals, each animal only being able to be unlocked by one other animal, it can become tedious to grind through Survival mode over and over to unlock everything. This is compounded by a fairly small world with minimal exploration.
The other aspect of Tokyo Jungle, Story mode, is where much of the charm is hidden. Disappointingly, the plot is just that: hidden. During each play through Survival mode, there are three data disks containing small bits of information. Collecting all three disks will unlock an act in Story mode and the ability to read each disk in Tokyo Jungle’s Archive. Furthermore, each set of disks will only be placed in Survival mode after completing each Act, forcing players to jump between Story mode and Survival mode. Hiding the plot, which I consider to be the main reason to play Tokyo Jungle, behind a screen of collectibles is a decision not easily reconciled.
While I have a certain appreciation for Tokyo Jungle for attempting something quite unique, on top of being developed on a tight budget by a small team, not everyone will share in my appreciation. These limitations, which lead to my appreciation, ultimately hold back Tokyo Jungle from being a truly great game. For those unwilling to invest the time to unlock the plot and the other playable species, there is really nothing Tokyo Jungle can offer to warrant a purchase. Even those willing to invest a significant amount of time into unlocking everything, Tokyo Jungle can eventually turn into a tedious task. As much as it pains me to admit this, as I was hotly anticipating this title, it seems Tokyo Jungle has missed its mark.