Does anyone remember Life After People? It was a documentary that aired on the History Channel a few years ago that explained how the planet would naturally alter itself if humanity instantly vanished. Over the course of two hours, the documentary explained how vegetation would break through cement, climates would change, and animals would inherit the earth once again. Instinctive behaviors would be triggered in house pets as they readjust to the wild. Cute, cuddly dogs are forced to brave the concrete jungle in search of helpless rabbits for survival...before a Dilophosaurus eats them.
Tokyo Jungle is a quirky new game about the basics of survival in such an environment. Advertised as one of the few games in the "urban based animal survival genre", Tokyo Jungle takes place in an undefined year where people have disappeared. The streets of Tokyo sit in ruins leaving pets abandoned and giving animals in captivity an opportunity to escape. Instead of lush green forests, animals wander crumbling buildings as the need for survival drives them forward. The Survival mode is the main focus of the game. Here players can pick from nearly 80 different types of animals and 50 breeds. You can be anything from dogs to cats to lions to horses, cows, wolves, kangaroos, giraffes, and even dinosaurs, though most are locked until you have completed challenges from the previous animal in the chain.
Once your furry creature has been selected, you will be thrown into the middle of the streets of Shibuya, a Japanese neighborhood. Your goal is to live for as long as possible. To do this, you will need to monitor your hunger levels that consistently decrease. It is vital to eat as much you can whenever you can; if you fail to satisfy your hunger, your health will begin to decrease until you perish from starvation. Carnivores will need to hunt while herbivores will need to graze and hide from predators. Both have the ability to go prone either for stalking or to sneak past enemies. Points are then earned based on what you consume allowing you progress through three rankings that increase your stats, which also improve every year you survive.
The second goal is the core drive of all living beings: the need to reproduce. Every animal has a life span of fifteen years before old age kills them. In order to replicate, you need to claim territories by marking four points in whatever area you want to take over. Once the territory is your's two mates will appear on the map for you to pick from. Desperate mates are easy to pick up but will produce a smaller litter and can pass on fleas to you that will slow you down. Average mates are among the most common. They require a bit more convincing via a higher rank but will birth up to four offspring. Prime mates are harder to find and require an extensive amount of points at max level to mate with. However, they will produce the most offspring giving you up to six members of a pack to use. Your newly formed pack essentially double as extra lives. If you die you will jump to one of your siblings to continue your game where the cycle will repeat until you finally fail at life and die.
Random challenges will appear throughout your playthrough adding a bit of variety each time. You may be asked to take down a specific animal or reclaim a territory. By completing these challenges you unlock other animals to use in future Survival mode games. Items also drop at random that can provide back up when situations become tough. Clothing items and accessories boost stats as long as they are worn but deteriorate over time. Newspaper clippings can be collected that unlock chapters to the Story mode.
Story mode is a more objective version of the Survival mode where players will need to complete a single mission. Eight animals are available to play and each has a small plot to them. (You might be a Pomeranian needing to evolve from a simple pet to an adjusted killer. Or you might be a sika fawn searching for his mother. Or maybe you are a lion trying to regain lost territory from rival males.) Combined with the archived articles you gained from the Survival mode, the truth behind humanity's disappearance is slowly pieced together. The plot is a fairly generic post-apocalyptic tale but the presentation of facts creates a surprisingly elaborate silent narrative.
Despite its pure fun, Tokyo Jungle is not without flaws. Variety comes from different strategies that are necessary for survival for each animal but the core gameplay is the same. Things can get repetitive fast as you end up following the similar pattern every playthrough. Animal placements and challenges are randomly generated turning the mechanic into a double edged sword. It adds a bit of irregularity to the otherwise repeating gameplay style, but there are periods where no objectives are given thus leaving you with no optional tasks. You will find yourself running around in circles waiting desperately for an event to happen to give you something else to do.
At the same time, the random predator spawns can feed into the unpredictable difficulty spikes. Tokyo Jungle has a habit of becoming ridiculously challenging without any warning. Hazards such as pollution, acid rain, and droughts can occur at any given time and can span multiple areas. Toxic foods poison you when digested and can kill you if not diluted before fully entering your bloodstream - forcing you to take deadly risks if you find yourself surrounded by poisonous air with little hope of escaping.
Regardless of the high stress and frustration that Tokyo Jungle might fuel, the game's outrageous charm makes up for its mistakes. It's one of those unique gems that are worth having if only for the novelty it possesses. Fans of Darwinism will love this game and as someone who harvested all the Little Sisters in Bioshock because I was the superior being, I have found Tokyo Jungle to be one of the most enjoyable experiences this year. With a leaderboard, local co-op, an extensive selection of animals - including extra downloadable ones - and plenty of hidden collectables, it is a hefty PSN title. For $14.99, there is no excuse to not pick up this incredible piece of entertainment.