Tokyo Jungle’s concept is simple, but brilliantly novel – in a humanity-free future, a ruined Japan succumbs to the animals of the wild, as zoos see their fences torn down by the starving beasts, and all kinds of animals, both exotic and domestic, battle tooth and claw for supremacy on the streets of Tokyo.
But this is no mere beat-’em-up populated with animal characters, more a strange twisted form of survival horror. With any animal, you have to take care of your three gauges – life, hunger and stamina. When the hunger gauge falls to zero, your life gauge begins to drop, and so begins the search for meat, vegetation or water.
What could have been a dull side-scrolling thumper has surprising finesse. The developers have wisely gone for a wider pool of gameplay than the concept would perhaps usually be permitted, and with this reaps rewards through diversity.
That’s not to say it’s overly serious in tone, the game literally allowing you to mark your territory, pissing on checkpoints in order to make an area of the city safe. It also features the rather incongruous option to cloth your chosen animal in all variety of accessories, perhaps sporting a woolly hat and scarf as you starve to death in some unfamiliar district.
Herbivores must desperately spar with rivals over the last remaining plant supplies in the area, whereas the carnivores can brawl and claw their way to the next meal. Don’t let other animals see you if you fear their fighting prowess, instead hide in convenient patches of long foliage which provide ideal breathing space while your danger gauge falls.
As in any post-apocalyptic future, you also have to mate with those of your own species in order to replicate and hopefully keep your genes jumping to the next generation. This mainly involves rutting in a cloud of pink love-hearts, which provides welcome relief from the rather gloomy hiding and scrapping as you try to keep your strength up.
Looks-wise, the game isn’t particularly spectacular, the rather functional visuals notable mainly for strange 90s arcade-style fonts and icons, giving a kind of quaint retro-naff-chic vibe. Sonically it’s threadbare too but again, what effects there are do the job with the minimum of fuss and obtrusion.
The lack of ability to move the camera around perplexed me for a good while, as trying to get a better view I would instinctively prod the second analogue stick, expecting it to rotate the camera angle and instead having my under-powered animal inexplicably jump from the safety of cover into the path of a marauding wolf.
However, the simplicity and rough edges of the presentation are easily ignored when you begin to delve into the survival mechanic, and this is where you are rewarded – there’s actually a solid game underneath.
Unlike many modern titles, with developers often forgetting to lay their spectacular framework over a solid foundation of game, Tokyo Jungle is compelling for the game’s central mechanic, not a bunch of peripheral CGI set pieces or an expensive voice-over artist.
The sense of anguish and loss as you die still easily surpasses that of the majority of bigger budget titles, and the potential scope for development encompasses evolution itself, with many levels of species advancement to contend with if you get far enough into the game.
It’s not perfect, the few niggling flaws and slightly lacklustre presentation stop it being so. But when making games too many make the wrong choices, and Tokyo Jungle deserves many plaudits for getting it right and focusing on the playability, offering a unique experience in the pantheon of the PS3.
This game shows us a glimpse of our own twisted Darwinian logic really – as consoles evolve towards yet another generation of graphical improvements, the survival of the most commercially successful leads people to treasure the skin-deep looks of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. But somewhere inside us, we all know that it’s what’s on the inside that matters.
By Sam Gill
Price: £9.99 via PSN