Weeds are growing through the cracked Tokyo pavement. Water collects in potholes. A wild pig stops for a drink. He’s timid, twitchy, drinking carefully and trying to stay aware. He has good reason to be nervous. We are stalking him. We are hiding in this newly formed underbrush. We are the wild Pomeranian, and we are hungry.
This is what day-to-day survival is like for the creatures of Tokyo Jungle. After a mysterious event (likely of the “airborne” and “toxic” variety) wiped out humanity, people’s pets and the inventory of the local zoos have spilled out into the streets. Now that grocery store shelves seem to be picked clean of all remaining Purina Puppy Chow, creatures both meek and fluffy or scaled and vicious have become predator and prey. For a while it was unclear whether this unusual title would be playable outside of Japan, but now that a stateside and EU release has been confirmed, we navigated the Japanese PSN for some hands-on time.
Roaming the streets as a feral pomeranian, or any other animal, we had three status bars: Life, Stamina and Hunger. Those first two are standard video game stats, representing the damage you can sustain and your energy for attacking and dodging. Hunger, however, continually drains, requiring you to kill and munch down foes at a steady clip. Lapping up water from nearby pools helps too, but some of them are tainted, and can damage your stats. You’ll occasionally have to run from toxic purple clouds that roll through the streets, a hint of the noxious fate that befell humanity.
Minus the decaying urban setting, combat in Tokyo Jungle is like what we’ve seen on the Discovery Channel. Predators stalk as herbivores graze, waiting for a “bite mark” indicator to appear over a target. Strike at the wrong moment and your meal will run away, or force you into a fight. Larger quarry like deer or pigs tend to help each other out. When we failed to wait patiently for a clean kill, we had a family of angry animals chase us away from our target. Combat is a simple real time exchange of pounces, bites and sharp-hooved kicks that reminded us of the Jurassic Park game on Sega Genesis.
At the beginning of the game, we had one carnivore and one herbivore to choose from: a pomeranian or a deer. As we played Survival mode, more species unlocked, including much bigger predators like lions, bears, and even raptors. Bringing dinosaurs into the mix is just one way Tokyo Jungle softens the reality of the situation. You can also unlock clothes for your various animals. They provide armor and stat buffs, and make everything from little toy dogs to tigers look a bit silly. You can put a cow in sailor suit, or attach a spike to a beagle’s head for increased attack damage.
Tokyo Jungle uses its goofy sense of humor to counter a somewhat morbid premise. Whatever animal we selected play as, we were charged with propagating the species, and potential mates have hearts floating around them. To earn the best partners, we had to level up and claim territory. The offspring we produced served as extra lives, letting us continue after meeting some cruel fate. Better mates make for pups with stronger stats, but to earn the chance to reproduce, we had to prove our worth by claiming territory. As the noble pomeranian, we sauntered up to flag indicators, which marked claimable areas, and performed a little doggy scratch and shuffle that would be familiar to anyone who’s taken a pup to the park.
All of the game’s animations and sounds are fittingly animalistic. Dogs yip, goats brey, and rabbits scream in a rather pitiful way when you catch them in your jaws. If not for Tokyo Jungle’s bouncy good nature, the game would be a little depressing. We almost found the gameplay and concept as a whole too sad at first, but when our hunger meter started draining, we understood what we had to do.
The gameplay is simple yet satisfying, the game’s tone is both vicious and sweet, but it’s the setting that provides a ton of subtext. It’s telling that following Japan’s tsunami tragedy - especially since some of the most enduring images of the devastation have been displaced citizens being reunited with their pets. But the fact that this game about the resilience of animals, and nature in general, is now topping the PSN charts in Japan, is a development we won’t attempt to quantify.
Tokyo Jungle is currently available only on the Japanese PSN, but there are . No release date has been announced yet, but we’ll report it whenever we have one.
Want to see Tokyo Jungle in action? Tune in on the afternoon of Tuesday the 19th to for a livestream as we navigate the urban sprawl as all manner of four legged friend and foe.