Tokyo Jungle (PlayStation 3) review
"More than the sum of its parts."
The last of the Shibuya family Sika deer steps out from the abandoned train car into the rain. He carefully looks around, and seeing that there are no predators, and no food either, he moves onward.
His father was a survivor of famine and toxic pollution. He mated with a diseased, desperate female to produce him, their only offspring. His grandfather lived in relative abundance, before the sweltering heat struck and withered the plants. Going further back in time, generations of deer six strong roamed through the abandoned streets of Tokyo, outrunning predators and feasting on the land. They marked their territories across the length of the city, and mated with the choicest females to pass on new strength to their young. But that was generations ago, in decades long past, and in the 61 years since the deer spread out from Shibuya station things had become desperate.
The deer hopes to mark enough territory to create a nest and find a mate, before the toxicity building in his body becomes lethal or he succumbs to hunger. He notices another animal up ahead, but cannot tell what it is. He crouches low in the grass and moves forward, but a growl indicates he's been spotted anyway. It's a tiger. The chase is on. He runs backward, hoping to find safety in the abandoned train cars. He desperately leaps away over and over again, managing to stay just out of reach of the predator's claws. But he can't keep it up; his stamina is failing. As the deer slows from his last great leap, the tiger is upon him. The predator holds him down and delivers the fatal bite. 61 years. A new record.
Welcome to Tokyo Jungle.
Some games achieve greatness by sparking a player's imagination. Ask any Dwarf Fortress player what happened in his last session, and he'll likely regale you with a story that seems like the plot synopsis of a long fantasy paperback, not the events of an ASCII game about fortress building. Likewise, Tokyo Jungle is a game that is more than the sum of its parts. Though it seems at first to be a simple game about finding food, mates, and avoiding predators, it becomes something more.
Survival is the name of the game in Tokyo Jungle. To live, your animal will need to eat and to avoid predators. Therein lies the game's first challenge: exploring to find food while trying to hide from stronger animals. If you have elected to play as an herbivore, you will be looking for plants. If you are playing as a predator yourself, you will be on the hunt for prey. In this case, starvation will be more of a concern than other predators. Still, a big enough, hungry enough animal may attack, and you will have the choice to fight back or run. If you fight, the winner eats the loser as its spoil.
The other major element of the game is changing generations. An animal can mark its territory at set points in the different areas of Tokyo. Mark enough areas, and you will gain access to a nest to use and mates will become available. The three types of mates are desperate, average, and prime. The grade of mate willing to breed with you is based on how many calories your animal has eaten, which increases your creature's rank. The better the couple, the stronger and more plentiful their offspring will be. After mating, the player assumes control of one of the animals produced, and the others will follow and act as extra lives. If the lead animal dies, the player will take control of the next one. If your animal goes too many years (scaled to minutes in game time) without changing generations, it will begin to suffer penalties due to old age.
The player has set goals with every animal, such as eating a certain number of calories during a certain timespan, or making it to a new area of Tokyo. When heat will strike to wither plants, when pollution will begin to raise the toxicity of the land, which predators will appear in which numbers, and other elements are all randomized in each game. And you'll be starting new games often. Death is not only swift in Tokyo Jungle, but permanent.
The big carrot held out to the player is a specific challenge to encounter a certain animal within a set timespan, and in so doing unlock that animal for play. It's sufficient motivation to make the player try using creatures that normally wouldn't interest him. To play as the ape, you will first need to play as the porcupine, to play as the porcupine, you will need to play as the rabbit, etc.
There is also a story mode, unlockable act by act as you progress through the main survival game. This mode's appeal is limited, since it seems like a tutorial to a game you already know well by the time you unlock each new segment. And the “story” is best ignored anyway, in favor of your own adventures.
The adventures you'll have, whether quick, hilarious deaths that happen within five minutes, or sagas of struggle that span hours and generations, are well worth having. Tokyo Jungle is a place you will be visiting again and again.
Staff review by Jeremy Davis (October 29, 2014)
Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.
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