Tokyo Jungle Preview: Welcome to Sony's Surreal Gem
We've got fun and games.
I always knew Tokyo Jungle would be ridiculous. Here's a game where you play as a host of wildlife in a post-apocalyptic Japan rife with eccentric potential. Maul a chimp as a Pomeranian, hunt tigers as a pig, or play as an ostrich avoiding a gang of hungry, hungry, hippos. As good a concept as you're likely to get, but it's easy to be doubtful about the execution, and early footage that revealed it as a scrappy 2.5D platformer made the design look a little anemic. After spending 30 minutes surviving the mean streets of Shibuya, however, I'm happy to report that Tokyo Jungle isn't just dumb, stupid fun - it's also straight-up fun as well.
Tokyo Jungle begins 10 years after the fall of man. What happened isn't exactly clear, though the backstory will be fleshed out through a series of memory chips scattered throughout the land. How do animals use memory chips? If that bothers you, then you're thinking about this way too hard. Need I remind you that this is a game where elephants ride around on roller skates?
The main portion of the game is Survival Mode, wherein you choose from one of several animals to play. Each creature has their own stats determining their attack strength, defence, and stamina among other attributes.
From there you need to survive the concrete jungle by finding food and taking territory. Your hunger is constantly draining, and if it depletes your health will waste away as well. As such, it's imperative that you keep hunting prey, or snacking on foliage if you're playing as an herbivore.
This is easier said than done, as you must contend with all manner of predators in the metropolitan ruins. Combat isn't overly complex, but there's a fair bit of depth to it. Sneak up to an oblivious enemy and you can get a nice clean stealth kill as your pooch pounces on a pigeon. Otherwise you can run around 3D streets portrayed from an isometric perspective, attacking with face buttons and dodging with the right analogue stick. If a purple pair of jaws appears over an enemy that means they're about to pounce on you, but a well-timed dodge will see you evade in graceful slow-mo. It's not super complicated, but it's not boring either.
Beyond simply staying alive and hunting, your long-term goal is to expand new turf. Clear out all the enemies in a given block and you'll be able to mark your territory. Overtake a whole block and you can set up a nest. From there it's just a matter of finding a mate and bringing them back to your pad until they do the deed in highly suggestive animations followed by a chaste fade to black.
Next thing you know, you've made babies. Congratulations! Instead of traditionally leveling up, you assume the role of your offspring, who carries their parent's DNA with a slight stat increase. Attract a high enough level mate and you'll have a litter, meaning your brothers and sisters will fight alongside you.
Predators can send their siblings to attack, while grazers can use them as a decoy. If you die while roaming in a pack, you'll assume the role of one of your siblings. If the whole clan is wiped out, it's game over, giving the whole thing a rogue-like feel.
Besides leveling up through mating, you gain 'survival points' - XP, in other words, for killing, mating, and claiming territory. This is the game's currency that can be used to unlock more playable animals or cashed in for equipment like baseball caps, ninja outfits and boas that both look dapper and grant stat bonuses.
The longer you survive, the more events you may happen upon. There's a brilliant sense of discovery as the population of Tokyo evolves. Different animals come out during the night, and the game spans several years. Every few minutes is another year in-game, so a decent session can last decades in-game as you attempt to sustain your family against the harsh call of the wild.
Though I was only given the chance to play Tokyo Jungle in single-player, the final game will support local only co-op. It won't be split-screen, however, so you'll have to stick together in a pack.
Based on my 30 minutes with Tokyo Jungle I can say that it's surreal, quirky, funny, exciting, stressful, violent, and even quite sad. Watching my Pomeranian collapse due to starvation gives me horrible flashbacks to Jurassic Bark (the dog episode of Futurama - you know the one I'm talking about), but dressing my new puppy up in ceremonial sumo wrestling attire lifts my spirits. The world of Tokyo Jungle is a harsh one indeed, but it's also beautiful, filled with wonder, warmth, and humour. It's a refreshingly adorable apocalypse.