“Tokyo Jungle” Review

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I normally wouldn’t do a review for a game like this, but I want to bring as much attention to it as possible. This game was a real surprise, and it’s quite amazing how such a small title could make such a big impact on so many things. If you haven’t heard the rumblings about this one yet, you definitely need to check it out. Before we even start, I’ll assure you that your $15 will be very well spent. (Sorry about the Japanese cover. There’s no physical release for the NA version.)

Gameplay: 10/10 – This one deserves a perfect score on gameplay. It’s hitting all the right notes. It’s unique and quirky, but it’s simple yet engaging with an interesting story and a lot of variety. So to begin breaking down what I’m talking about, we’ll start with the core mechanics. The central part of the game is the Survival mode. You have a few goals here. You pick an animal to play as, either carnivore or herbivore, and do your best to survive as long as you can. (There are trophies for surviving up to 100 years.) During this time, you also have challenges presented to you. Completing these will increase your stats for the current generation. Completing all of them in a single run will net you a special item to equip (more on this later) and is also a trophy requirement. Each time you play as a new animal, you’ll also have a special challenge to unlock the next animal. You start off with only two choices: A pomeranian (predator), or a sika deer (herbivore). You can eventually unlock your way to some crazy stuff like elephants, lions, chimpanzees, and even prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs and mammoths. In addition to survival and challenges, you will also find items called “archives” around the map. Collecting all three of these will unlock the next chapter in Story mode. Beating that chapter will spawn three new archives in the Survival mode. This cycle helps keep both modes from getting too stale by making sure your play is varied enough. During survival runs, you’ll find yourself with a slew of items. Some are just lying around, some appear after eating a plant or animal, and some are won by challenges. Some of these items will refill your stats and others are equipment. The equipment can boost your stats, but it can also just make you look awesome. I mean check this raptor out. It’s a pretty intense challenge, though, no matter what animal type you’re playing as. You have to avoid predators and eat to survive, as well as becoming strong enough to attract a mate. Mates come in various qualities and the stronger the mate, the more of the stat boosts you’ve earned through challenges will be permanently passed on to future generations, even in future survival runs. (You can see this at the animal select screen.) It’s also necessary to avoid game over, as animals become old at 14 years and their stats slowly deteriorate until they die a few years later. Story mode works within the same gameplay as Survival, but tells an ongoing story alongside the archives about what happened to create the state of the world seen in the game and is made up of a more mission-based gameplay. The archives will tell what happened in the past and the story missions will go into what’s happening in the present. It’s an interesting story with some fun characters (even though none of them have names) and it has some great missions. There are some good boss fights to be found here, especially the last boss, which is like nothing else in the game and is a challenge you’ll only find in the Story mode. You’ll also see some interesting mechanics. There’s an early mission where you play as a deer hiding from predators in search of its mother. It’s been dubbed “Metal Deer Solid.” You actually get to hide in a flipped over garbage bin and sneak around patrolling hyenas. Pretty great. There are also a couple of stealth missions as a hyena that are similar, but without the benefit of a cardboard box replacement. These help break up the monotony of run, kill, eat, mate found in the Survival modes. These mechanics are still present and required, as your hunger gauge will still deteriorate and you can’t always take down huge groups of predators alone, but they’re not the focus. This mode features two endings, though only one is canon (and it’s obvious which after you’ve done it, partly because it unlocks the trophy for the true ending but also because that ending is reflected in the world of the Survival mode). Story mode will also unlock two of the strongest animals in the game, though, like any other animal, you will have to spend survival points (earned in Survival mode runs) to make them available for play, and they cost a ton. I have to say that the one shortcoming in the core of the game is that it’s really grindy trying to unlock all of the animals. I won’t even dare to attempt it because I know it’ll turn me away from the game. Having finished the game with 100% trophies, I’m going to play it from time to time, maybe as new DLC comes out, and just unlock a little bit at a time. As for how it plays, the controls are tight and responsive. There’s no delay in actions and no clunky movement.

Graphics: 7/10 – Now unfortunately, the game does have some major shortcomings in graphics and sound. For graphics, the biggest problem is with the models. You hear a lot of people mockingly say that a PS3 game may look like a PS2 game. I normally don’t feel like that’s fair, as the best PS2 games barely stack up to the worst PS3 games in graphics. It almost seems too unfair to the people who worked so hard to make those just because they may not be part of a huge development studio that can afford to spend that kind of time and money. However, in the case of Tokyo Jungle, that argument is warranted. The models are very low-poly with some low-res textures. Their eyes are almost always oddly-shaped solid black objects that look completely lifeless.  Even the textures on things like puffy fur (pomeranians, lion manes) look stiff and blocky. This is a Sony first party title. Now granted, it was a small project cooperating with what I assume is a small studio, but it could have been better than this. I have to give it a lot of points for other things, though. The environments look great. They really build up a great feel for an isolated and hostile environment where even the city walls no longer stand to protect you. There are also a lot of weather effects that can help create the mood. Even at night, there’s a very interesting change between an animal with night vision and one without. It’s a shame that all of this is mucked up by icky animal models. Though, I assume this could also be a technical limitation based on the sheer number of things that can appear on screen at once (with most of them very angrily and hungrily chasing you and your pack of animal bros).

Sound: 6/10 – Here’s the other place it falls short at. There are some very interesting details here, where animals will all have their own unique sound effects for various things. The problem is that these all feel underused. You don’t really hear much of the animals unless they’re increasing rank or getting hurt or something. There’s even a button to roar, which is pointless but fun, but the roars of the animal are always so quiet that you can barely hear it and it doesn’t create the excitement that a button like that should. You could rank up as a panther and let out in incredible and intimidating roar, but when you hit that button, all that will come out is a quiet growl. Additionally, the music is good, but there don’t seem to be a lot of tracks and it’s very repetitive. I’m giving the score here the benefit of the doubt due to the quality of the sound parts, but they seem very poorly used.

Overall: 7.7/10 – The game is great. I’d rate it a 10 if I could overlook the flaws in visuals and audio. As the sum of its parts, it comes up a little short. Still great, but not amazing. But if you look past the superficial shortcomings and focus on the core game (which we all should, as gamers), you’ll find a deep and rewarding game that’s more than worth the $15 it costs. Despite that tiny price tag, I’m going to have to say that it’s probably one of the best games I’ve played all year. Maybe one of the best of the last several years. It’s a great experience and anyone who has passed it over or does so in the future is definitely doing themselves a disservice. We definitely need more original and unique games like this one and I hope that it sells well enough to convince Sony to continue bringing us these kinds of titles from around the globe.

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