Version tested: PlayStation 3
"This is a work of fiction. Any persons or groups named herein are entirely ficitious." Thank goodness that disclaimer appears every time this game boots up. It'll certainly save confusion next time I'm walking down the high street and spot an elephant being chased around a derelict tube train by a pack of golden retrievers wearing pink shower caps.
Welcome to the Tokyo Jungle. It is the year 20XX, whatever that means. Judging by the state of the graphics it's futuristic numerical code for 1998. The human race has been wiped out, leaving pets and zoo animals to run riot in the streets. Picture the Um Bongo advert as reimagined by George Orwell. Playing as a wide range of creatures, you get to explore this post-apocalyptic landscape, experience the primal thrill of the hunt from an animal's perspective, and find out who would win in a fight between a pig and a monkey.
Obviously, this is the best idea for a video game ever. (If it sounds like a stupid idea to you, goodbye. Perhaps you could go off and play one of those sophisticated and respectable sci-fi RPGs where you get to have lesbian sex with blue aliens before battling an ancient race of sentient robot squid monsters - a plot which seemed ridiculous enough the first time round when it was in Babylon 5.) It's basically Grand Theft Auto with lions.
Unfortunately, the team behind Tokyo Jungle does not appear to have had a Rockstar-sized budget at its disposal. This is more of a shoebox than a sandbox, with Tokyo's sprawling mass reduced to what feels like the size of about eight leisure centres. Theoretically it's possible to roam wherever you please, but in reality endless overturned trucks block your progress. At the same time, the capital's once proud skyscrapers are crumbling in remarkably convenient ways, creating neat pathways up the sides of buildings and between rooftops.
At least it feels like a real city, all grey and dirty and monotonous. This is Tokyo as depicted by people who live there, as opposed to people who convinced the publisher to pay for a research trip, got pissed in titty bars for a fortnight and ended up basing their game around postcards they bought at the airport.
There are five things to do in the game: chase other animals, fight other animals, eat other animals, have sex with other animals and wee on checkpoints. (That's assuming you're playing as a carnivorous creature. When playing as a herbivore, such as the deer, the first few items in that list should be substituted with 'be chased by other animals' and 'eat plants'. No one picks the deer twice.)
It doesn't matter that this is all there is to do in the game because all these things are fun. Hunting prey is highly satisfying, whether you're sneaking through the long grass to line up a clean kill on a sleeping hyena or chasing a chicken down a dead end. Sometimes combat is about elegant manoeuvres and tactical timing; sometimes it's about pressing all the buttons and running away, having realised Yorkshire terriers should never pick fights with crocodiles.
The sex bit is hilarious. First you must mark your turf, because nothing turns a girl on more than watching a guy wee on a flag. In fact I'm pretty sure that takes up an entire chapter in Fifty Shades of Grey. Then it's a case of picking the right mate and enticing her back to your nest. There's a short animation showing some bum sniffing and gentle mounting before the screen fades to black. It's like softcore porn for dogs.
Even funnier is the game's take on technology. The top right-hand corner of the screen displays constant ticker tape updates about what's happening in other regions of the city - "A lioness harem has taken over Shibuya Suburbs," for example, or "Dog-monkey relations have soured in Yamanote Line East."
How animals are managing to produce ticker tape updates, or why they might require them, is never explained. Nor is it clear why there are random USB sticks lying around in the streets, containing "archives" in the form of old newspaper articles and the like. These are supposed to explain how Tokyo got into this state. They're not worth reading unless you care about nonsense like space-time disturbances and science experiments gone wrong, or fancy pretending it really is 1998 and you consider the height of gaming sophistication to be the kind of complex narrative exposition featured in Dino Crisis.
The USB sticks are worth collecting, though, because they unlock chapters in Tokyo Jungle's Story mode. These follow the adventures of various breeds as they struggle to survive, and feature some fun challenges along with dramatic set pieces. Imagine that scene out of Zulu, but with beagles.
For the most part, however, it's best to stick with Survival mode. This reveals Tokyo Jungle to be an RPG at its core - winning fights makes you stronger, which means you can take on bigger animals and battle bosses, and thereby unlock new playable creatures. It's also possible to enhance your character's abilities by dressing them in a variety of hilarious accessories, such as the aforementioned shower cap, big woolly jumpers, heart-shaped sunglasses and so on. But it's the draw of being able to play as a zebra or bring down a hippo which keeps you playing long after the novelty of watching a Pomeranian chew a panda's thigh has worn off.
The point is, Tokyo Jungle is more than just shagging and fighting. All right, so it is just shagging and fighting so you can unlock bigger animals to do more shagging and violenter fighting. And yes, the environments are linear and the archive thing is stupid and the whole thing feels so dated it's hard not to check your watch in case you're missing the start of This Life.
But it's also tremendous fun. It harks back to ye olde video gaymes of yesteryear, when the reward for trawling through long levels or defeating a tough boss was a nice new gun. Nowadays, the reward is a tedious cut-scene in which people who can't move their lips properly explain a plot it is impossible to care about to each other for four hours. In contrast, Tokyo Jungle is a celebration of classic games, with their ridiculous plots, repetitive tasks, excessive violence and all. It pulls off the impressive and nigh-on impossible trick of being an original homage. Also it lets you set a giraffe on a bear.
9 / 10