Friday, July 25, 2014
05.10.12

Tokyo Jungle

 

Tokyo Jungle“It's pure arcade fun brought pounding up to the modern day.”

Who let the dogs out? Sony PSN game Tokyo Jungle Review.

I recently had a rant on the Internet about rinse and repeat and re-release games.

It just seems that originality isn't valued any more. You've got the constant yearly updates of the usual suspects, or Sega and Nintendo re-releasing their old back catalogues under the promises of "retro". People making a real effort to break the mould aren't rewarded, so let's put this right...

See, I'm on a mission to save people from the same old same old (not that there's an issue with playing a game or genre you like time and again, but these reviews are weapons in my arsenal of "there are original games out there without having to fit into a gaming routine), so here we go again with something very off-the-wall and fresh, yet as old school as Jet Set Radio.

Before I start, a quick suitability warning. While the game is never any more graphic than a BBC 1 wildife documentary, don't let younger children play the game unless you want to have to answer questions like "why does finding a mate result in babies?" or "why do I have to kill cute little chicks when I'm a cute little pussy cat and rip it apart?". If your children aren't ready for the answers, avoid.

The game is currently only available for the Playstation 3 at around £10.

Where to even start with this? I may section it so you can scoop down to bits that interest you...

What the hell is it all about?
Humanity has mysteriously died, suddenly and only the animals remain. The game is set in Tokyo (in small areas of it) and you get to play through the game as one of the surviving animals for as long as you can, several years after the humans have gone.

So how does it work?
It's actually a very simple mechanism. You play on a side scrolling 3D plain (think Double Dragon, Golden Axe, etc.) only you can go to either the left or the right at will. Some areas though have forward and backward sections too (alleys between buildings and the like), so it's kind of proper 3D as well

Each "area" of the city (I think there are 8 in a linear setup - you move off one area to the right and enter another, or left to another) is quite distinct and contains ruined buildings, abandoned cars, water puddles, large grassy areas, buildings, rooftops, trains, plants and... animals.

The opening tutorial shows you the basic gaming technique. As a herbivore, you must find and eat plants to survive while avoiding being the prey of a carnivore. As a carnivore, you must find, kill and eat other animals (either herbivore or carnivore).

The technique is pretty similar for both, and will be oddly familiar to anyone who has played MGS. Long grass conceals you and you can sneak (as long as you don't run) behind animals looking the other way (they even have a box you can put on your head for sneaking around in )

So sneak past carnivores to reach plant sources as a herbivore and sneak up on animals to kill them as a carnivore - simple.

There same mechanic works for attacking for both animals though. When you're near an animal that is unaware of you, or dazed, you get a kind of spinning vortex bite mark on the animal to attack. When it stabilises, you hit the attack button and you bite (or kick as a herbivore) and (hopefully) kill the animal. If the animal is much bigger than you, then there's a chance you won't take it out in one shot. Then you have either a head butt or claw attack to hurt the other animal until it is dazed (or dead with one swipe if you're a lion), then you can once again try the bite attack system.

Usually a single sneak "well timed" attack will result in a clean kill in one shot (or you can hang on to the other animal and keep attacking using R1 until it dies).

Phew, so there's the basics.

So far so simple, what else game play wise?
There's a small degree of simple platforming built into the game to reach higher building points, get across sunken gaps in the road, etc. It's all very simple stuff though and more adds to make the different areas more of a "maze".

You have a radar which works like the motion tracker from Aliens. You can see an extended area of the land around your "screen" and flashes of white for animals and plants symbols for plants. So you have advanced warning if there may be a pack of wolves ahead (lots of white dots), or if the berries you desperately need are in easy reach or past an animal (which may be a rabbit, or may be a sabre toothed tiger). In the dark, your visible screen is very limited and the radar to what you'd normally see on screen (this makes it very tense getting around in the dark, especially when you suddenly run past a snoozing Cheetah). There is also rain and fog that turn off map entirely so you just have what you can see. It's little ways of changing the way the game plays as you go along.

As you intake calories too, you increase in bulk and raise levels. There are only three levels - Rookie, Veteran and Boss - but it can take a little while to get through them. They're important because you extend your game not by completing missions (though there are missions - more later), but by finding a 'mate'.

Each area has four "marking points" spread across the whole area. Mark them all and you "own" the territory. Several potential mates will then be attracted to the area and you can find them and mate with them at a designated "nest" site. There are three levels of mates to find, desperate (dirty with fleas), average and high quality. You can mate with any rank below you, but not any above you.

Once mated, you produce off-spring who gain some of the "stats" enhanced by you as you played as the first generation. The higher quality the mate, the more offspring and the more stats are carried across. You then play as your offspring and your original animal settles down with their missus.

Each of your siblings essentially gives you an extra life. So if you find yourself on the wrong end of a velociraptor (there are dinosaurs later on), you take over immediately as a brother or sister with the same stats as when you died. You can also send your siblings into battle for you while you run and escape.

There's also a built in natural life span (though I've yet to see it enforced) of 15 years (each "year" is about a minute in real time). So you have to mate within that time to keep the generations alive. You also have a time limit of 10 years for each set of missions (again, more later).

Sound like a fair amount to do already? Well, that's just your basics. The game also throws in random events like pollution that kills all plants and animals (and poisons then for a while) in one area (and you if you stay too long), or a herd/pack of animals may take over one section of the city. There's always something going on.

So what kind of game is it?
It's the best Sega arcade game they never made!

The actual game is much faster than the sneak/hunt system makes it sound. Yes, there can be periods of wandering from one side of Tokyo to the other in the hunt for food or a mission goal, heading through area to area - but it never really lets up and gets dull. You're constantly balancing your need for food and to reproduce against the need to complete missions and avoid natural disasters. It's got that constant push of an arcade title, there's always danger all around you, and things you have to be doing within time limits and all the while surviving. It's frantic and at times heart poundingly fraught.

Combat is very simple (and you'll often die frustrated because it's just not working well enough in the heat of battle against a pack of Hyenas), but that's pretty much the same for the core "mechanism" in most arcade games. Simplicity a that level, it's the complexity beyond it which is important.

So what's a typical game like then?
There are two modes for starters. There's "Survival" and "Story".

What's survival?
It's when you get dumped in a central area and have to survive.

This is where the missions start. You have ten years to complete four missions, then they close and you move on to the next four (if you completed the previous ones or not). There are 20 missions in all and if you complete them all you get a fancy bonus of some kind (new clothing that can increase stats generally).

The missions may be eat "so many" calories, mark 6 points, mate and go to "this area". Which sounds easy until you discover that there's a food shortage and the only food is in the opposite direction to the area you need to head to. At that point, you often have to look at the locked up-coming missions to decide which to fail in order to leave you in a stronger position later.

To be fair, the missions just give you directions. They're not set in stone, but they offer purpose. They also are generated randomly at the start of each game, so each time you start as a chicken will be different to the last time.

The game is also very clever and it makes the path to complete the missions the right difficulty. So if you need to intake 2000 calories and go to Shibuya Suburbs, then it tens to not only leave at least 2000 calories on the journey, but it doesn't fill that route with nasty predators. Go the other way though and you can rapidly get out of your depth. As you get older and each new set of challenges comes into play, the game ups the difficulty and DOES start to chuck in nasties, reduces food, etc. So the game naturally and progressively gets harder as you get older. It's an age old arcade mechanism done very subtly.

The other thing with survival missions is that it's where you unlock new animals. Each animal has a set of criteria to meet that will unlock an animal "boss". It may be complete 1 mission and mate (it's usually something simple like that) and then you get 30 years to complete the "boss" mission. Sometimes it's as simple as going to one area and touching the boss. Other times you have to mark all the points. The worst times you may have to defeat the boss in combat when he's surrounded by a pack. Again, it's a nice progression system and there are a LOT of animals to unlock.

Story then
In Survival mode, you pick up "archives" which are written records of the events leading to the disaster that wiped out humans (newspaper articles, blogs, etc you can read in a separate section). Get all three in a survival mode and it unlocks a new story chapter (you can't find any archives in survival until you've completed the latest story chapter).

Each chapter tells a tale of one of the factions or animals in the city. You start off as a crap handbag dog thing who has to hunt and find food. The next chapter find a mate. It's essentially a simple story telling technique to teach you how you play the game.

There's an issue here you may have spotted... You can only unlock the new chapters in survival mode. This is an issue as the initial learning curve in survival mode is very steep without having done the "Chapter Tutorials". By the time you've collected the archives and unlocked the chapters, you beat them without any real effort. It's the only true flaw with the game's design.

So why is it so good? Why should I buy it?
It's pure arcade fun brought pounding up to the modern day. It incorporates all the things we expect games these days (multiple decisions to be made, missions driving us on, the ability to prolong our artificial lives, etc). It's simple fun, but it has complexity in there. It's an arcade game that doesn't punish where you'd normally be forced to throw in more money, but instead nurtures you through the pain.

If you've read any of this, you should know why it's something special. It's something that simply hasn't been approached before. The way you play as an animal (in the end a multitude of animals) gives you a very different perspective to running and gunning. You're not a plumber bouncing on fantasy mushroom heads. You don't need to pick up every golden ring. There's no golden sword at the end of the adventure that wraps up the story. There's just the eternal joy of not dying for another year until the inevitable catches up on you

It's not a game for everyone, certainly. It's certainly not the perfect game by any means and there's a lot of repetitive action going on. However, you find yourself loading it right up again after you die and going back in for more of the same. Again, it's pure arcade addiction.

Why should you buy it? To support people not only willing to make a game that doesn't fit in a comfortable genre, but to prove that there's room to encourage originality AND have bags of fun (especially trying to unlock those carnivores)!

 

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