Survival of the fittest is one of the underlying themes of almost every game ever created. Be the strongest, fastest, smartest…. whatever. Beat, or kill, or out rank everyone else and be the winner. Simply, be the best. While it's one of those things that's always there, very few games have ever made it the outright basis for a game – the implications are there, but very rarely is the literal interpretation, which corresponds to animals existing in the wild, ever put into play. Sony's Tokyo Jungle does just that – puts beasts in a survival environment and forces the player to adapt to survive.
Set ten years after the mysterious disappearance of the human race, animals of all shapes and sizes are fighting to coexist in a desolate, and overgrown Tokyo. Using only their wits, their size, and their god-given attributes to their advantage, breeds of animals ranging from Pomeranians to Lions must find food, prove their worth, attract a mate, and carry on the species in order to progress through the game. Needless to say, Tokyo Jungle doesn’t play out as your standard side-scrolling action game.
The gameplay mechanics of Tokyo Jungle are very simple; use cover (brush) to go stealth to hide, find food to sustain yourself, and attack when the opportunity presents itself – just like out in the wild. The animals in the game don't really vary too much when it comes to combat, so whether you're playing as an ostrich or an elephant, everything pretty much plays the same. The only major difference is that there are two different groups of animals – predators and grazers. The predators are more likely to spend most of their time on the offensive, only running for cover when outclassed by a foe. Grazers, on the other hand, need to rely almost entirely on stealth in order to survive as they run from plant to plant to satisfy their hunger.
The game modes come in two flavors, survival and story, and both are pretty much just what they sound like. In survival you pick a species of animal, and see how long you can last in the urban jungle while completing various missions. A game year passes every minute, and you need to feed, level up, mark your territory, and mate to continue your bloodline. Once you procreate you end up with a pack of animals that you can order to attack and use as extra lives when you mean an untimely end. Survival mode feels like a modern-day arcade experience, where players are forced to replay the same boards, with similar missions, time and time again, just to see how far they can make it. Think of it as Pac-Man, if Pac-Man let you swap out Pac-Man for a pig or alligator each time you restarted.
The story mode, on the other hand, puts you in the role of a various animals running through chapters that are unlocked by collecting memory sticks in survival mode, and reveals some clues about what happened to humanity. These play out as more traditional, objective-based missions that are entertaining, to say the least, ranging from simple to oddly complex. It may be because the game personifies the animals a bit too much, but after playing the story mode, it's likely that you'll never look at your pets the same way again.
As a download-only, U.S. localization of a budget Japanese title, don't expect too much in the way of aesthetics from Tokyo Jungle. The graphics and animations are passable, but nothing spectacular, and the audio is grating after a while, especially on an exceptionally good survival run. The game wasn't made to compete on the AAA release end of the spectrum, and is really just supposed to give gamers an enjoyable discounted gaming option – sadly this is an idea that doesn't always translate well during localization.
Tokyo Jungle is not the next big PS3 game, but that doesn’t mean it should be written off for what it is – an amusing, post-apocalyptic, jungle-themed, arcade-style, sidescroller. The concept is surprisingly sound, even if the execution is a little hokey. If you know what you're getting into, Tokyo Jungle can be an entertaining take on a world without humans. If you don't know what you're getting into, you're going to be wondering a lot about why chickens need to mark their territory to mate.