Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lions, and Tigers, and Pomeranians, Oh My! (Minor Spoilers)

This is the most bad-ass a Pomeranian will ever look.
 Much to my excitement, Tokyo Jungle (developed by Playstation C.A.M.P. and Crispy's!) was finally released in the US on Playstion Network! I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was excited to play this game. Based on the trailer it is difficult to tell what genre the game falls into. It calls itself an "urban based animal survival genre" which I'm pretty sure isn't really a thing. Maybe it's a sub-par translation from Japanese, or maybe the game is so new and different that it doesn't fit into any one genre of video game, so they had to make up their own. Whatever they call it, this game is pretty damn enjoyable.  After my first viewing of the trailer online early this year, I wasn't sure if I was to expect the game to be more like Sim City or The Sims except with animals and violence, or if it was an RPG, or more along the lines of a battle royale type game. After spending several days playing it, I concluded: yes. It is all of the above.

Tokyo Jungle takes place in post-apocalyptic Tokyo, Japan. All humans have strangely disappeared and all animals from the wee chick to the mighty Velociraptor (didn't you know they had dinosaurs in Japan?) have taken over the city. The player's goal is to survive as long as possible as your chosen animal while completing various challenges, and trying to locate USB drives containing human archives that offer clues as to why the humans all disappeared. Obviously the game requires some suspension of disbelief (last I checked animals could not use USB drives or, you know, read.)

Caption deemed unnecessary due to awesomeness of picture.
 Tokyo Jungle has two modes: Survival mode, and Story mode. You start off in Story mode with the tutorial. The controls feel a little clunky and are tricky to get used to at first, mostly because the game concept is unique and the game play is not exactly "standard." For example, even though the world in the game is 3-dimensional, you cannot control the camera angles or your view of the world at all.  You have to go with the flow of the game, which is confusing for anyone who is accustomed to using the right analogue stick to adjust their view of the action on screen.

Once you complete the tutorial chapter in Story mode, you must go to Survival mode and choose which animal you will play as. There are dozens of types of animals to play as (with more being added) in the game, with different breeds/colors to choose from, but you must unlock or buy them first. The animals fall into 2 categories: herbivores or carnivores. Your 2 animal options when starting are the Pomeranian, and the Sika deer-also known as the spotted or Japanese deer (I didn't know what it was either, I had to Wiki that one.) The main goal in Survival mode is to survive as long as possible (duh) and once you reach certain milestones or have lived a certain number of years, challenges will become available to you. Challenges range from travelling to a certain location, to eating a certain number of kilocalories, to mating. By completing these challenges, you can unlock new animals, gain additional skill points, and find useful items or outfits (oh yes, I said outfits.)

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of predators everywhere like a feral cat in high tops.
However, as ridiculously fun and silly as this game is, there are a couple of annoying drawbacks to the game play. Once you die, it's perma-death. No resurrection. No loading your previous save. You are dead and have to start over, including any challenges you completed.  The survival points you accrued during your animal's life by completing challenges are tallied up and posted on the online scoreboard for all the world to see. The most annoying part about this is the game never explains this to you. I figured it out on my own through trial and error after I found no way to continue or load a previous save. Once I discovered this perma-death, I got very frustrated and nearly rage-quit, pissed that I had bought such a stupid game. It was like being transported back to my 9 year old self playing Lion King on Sega and screaming at the Game Over screen because Scar had kicked my ass once again.  But I persevered, and I'm glad I did.  While it is really irritating and almost foreign nowadays to not be able to load your saved game, all is not lost once you die in Tokyo Jungle. If you have mated and bred a new generation(s), that data is saved and any new stats your offspring inherited will also be available the next time you play as that animal. For example, if you played as a Pomeranian and were able to stay alive long enough to level up and mate, but died before any of the offspring (2nd generation) were able to breed, then the next time you enter Survival mode as a Pomeranian, it will read 2G next to it and any stats your 2nd generation of offspring inherited will apply, and so on and so forth.  In addition, any outfits, archives, or new animals you found or unlocked will be available to you in the animal "tree" on the Survival mode home screen. This perma-death facet gives the game a very arcade-game-like quality.

 Survival mode also has a local multi-player option. Boyfriend and I played it a few times before we got a little fed up. This mode requires a ridiculous amount of teamwork, and strategy to master. In Survival Multi-player mode, you each choose an animal-it can be the same animal or a different one. One or both of you must survive as long as possible.  If one of you dies, you can use animal medicine to resurrect the fallen ally. Defending yourself from predators or competition is slightly easier in multi-player mode since there are more of you, but you must also share food and the game does not double the food sources just because there are more players. This obviously gets very frustrating especially when some food sources provide an uneven number of "noms" for both of you to share. Another frustrating aspect of the multi-player mode is you can't share the same nest to mate and create offspring and you can't mate with each other.  If you both find worthy mates, you'll have to decide which one of you gets to mate first, then go find and claim a new nest for the other member of your party, all while trying to complete challenges and unlock new items. Did I mention that once your individual animal reaches the age of 15, it automatically dies? Yeah. That happens. Overall, we both found the Survival Multi-player mode to be annoyingly difficult. 

The other mode in Tokyo Jungle is Story mode. The Story mode episodes are unlocked by finding the USB drives I mentioned earlier. You can read the data/archives on the USB drives in the Start menu, and they will give clues as to why the humans have all mysteriously vanished from the Earth. Also, once you collect 3 new USB drives/archives in Survival mode, a new episode in Story mode will become available for you to play. The not-necessarily-linear episodes in Story mode follow the lives of different animals, beginning with the mighty Pomeranian.

Ah yes, the noble...pom-pom dog.
Eventually, I believe Story mode is supposed reveal why the humans are no more, but (SEMI-SPOILER) I have yet to get more than some vague clues about abnormally violent animals and some sort of time rift (which may explain the presence of Velociraptors and Mammoths.) The drawback to Story mode is there won't be additional USB drives available to find in Survival mode until you complete the most recent episode in Story mode.

Tokyo Jungle as a whole is rather strange, and a little repetitive, but fun. The translation from Japanese may be lacking a little-I definitely think some nuances in the tutorials are missing-but the game is quirky and enjoyable. Is it worth the $14.99 PSN price tag? If for the convenience of downloading the game versus walking to GameStop and purchasing it for $50 is the trade-off for no disc/instruction guide, I say, yes it is worth the price. However, my recommendation for those who don't like the challenge of figuring out how to play a foreign game with little to no guide, I would wait until the game has been out for a while longer. As of now, there are no decent walk-thrus or Wikis for Tokyo Jungle online, at least not in English.

So, on my patented* scale of 5 random/awesome/nerdy things, I give Tokyo Jungle 4 Hammer-Wielding Otters.


*Not actually patented


  1. Dude, you have no idea! :) The learning curve sort of smacks you in the face.


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