October 13, 2012
Tokyo Jungle can be summarized by talking about a few, simple gameplay elements that are covered in the tutorial over the course of about ten minutes. Hunting provides creatures with nourishment, which increases their rank, regenerates health and keeps the hunger bar at bay (a depleted hunger bar means taking damage from starvation). The city in Tokyo Jungle is broken into districts, each of which has its own territory points that must be captured in order to mate. And attracting a good mate means players will be able to create a litter that takes some stats from the parents and will let players survive through the years. Newly born animals will need to eat to rank up all over again, and thus the cycle continues.
If it sounds incredibly straightforward and simple, but that's because it is. And although there are a few additional elements to the game, such as items which boost stats and status effects that cause districts to become more or less dangerous as time goes on, if you were to boil down Tokyo Jungle to its very core, that's about all you're left with. Where the fun comes in isn't necessarily in unlocking new animals or surviving for as long as possible, but rather engaging in the sheer absurdity that the game presents.
Once you select an animal you're stuck playing that animal until you eventually die, and as it's only possible to save the game once you've managed to find a mate (and even then only one save is allowed per mate). You may find yourself devoting far more time to a single animal than expected. As years go on it's not entirely uncommon to find packs of lions, panthers and raptors (the dino kind) all trying to hunt you in conjunction, and special events will add territories entirely filled with one kind of animal making movement quite difficult. At its best Tokyo Jungle can present a challenge to players in the form of these creatures, whether you choose to face them head on or avoid them and search for more favourable hunting grounds. There's something strangely satisfying about taking down lion as a small dog, or beating a raptor to death as a baby deer.
But when the game decides for things to go sour the fun turns into frustrating quickly, and considering how repetitive and limited the gameplay options are from the start it's more often than not that things will turn for the worst. Reaching a zone only to have it immediately become polluted, or having no game available to keep starvation at bay regardless of how many districts you retreat to, or having all the available food be tainted with poison are common occurrences meant to make the gameplay more challenging. Most of the frustration comes from these elements and their ridiculous frequency, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the restrictive level design.
When looking at every district and hidden area in Tokyo Jungle, the map feels fairly large, and being forced to move through one district to reach the next means that just about every single square of space will eventually get used. Where things go wrong is in the fact that players will always only have two directions maximum to escape to. Because events happen zone-wide, say in theory, pollution has struck your district, most players will work as quickly as they can to escape. It means making a mad dash towards one district or another, assuming that you're not on the 'edge' of the map on either side. Because the actual level design restricts players to arcade-style third-person street wandering, this forced migration tends to wear out any sense of enjoyable exploration within the first hour or so of gameplay. So caught up in drilling the term 'survival' into the players' skulls, Tokyo Jungle forgets that discovery, adventure, and struggle are fun too.
Playing as different animals alleviates the problem to an extent as different creatures provide different bonuses and attacks, but it doesn't really change the fact that Tokyo Jungle is less of a jungle and more of a death gauntlet designed to weed out creatures based purely on luck. The multiplayer mode also fails to hit any kind of potential success as players have to deal with all the same issues, only a second animal is now added into the fray. A second animal, which does not have a separate camera, competes for mating locations and food, and otherwise doesn't provide any kind of real assistance outside of allowing a second player to join in on all the excitement the first one is experiencing.
Tokyo Jungle has its moments, and if you're the kind of player that loves to grind endlessly for points and unlocking of new animals then this is the game for you. But outside of masochists there isn't really much here to support the quirky survival game that was advertised to us all those months ago. There's potential here, raw potential for something terrifying and fun, but it's bogged down by poor game design and an incredible lack of real content. If you're looking for a laugh and don't mind shorting yourself a few bucks, Tokyo Jungle may whet your appetite for the bizarre, but don't expect to experience anything truly fantastic in the long term. Sad to say, it just isn't there.
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