"5 billion people will die from a deadly virus in 1997. The survivors will abandon the surface of the planet. Once again the animals will rule the world." - Excerpts from interview with clinically diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, April 12, 1990 - Baltimore County Hospital.
Imagine a world where homo sapiens had disappeared. Where the animals ruled once more. Now imagine you are one of those animals - specifically a Pomeranian. Your mission? Be a Pomeranian.
Congratulations, you've pictured Tokyo Jungle in all its glory.
Within this crazy game the player can be anything from a Pomeranian up to a Wooly Mammoth, and your only goal is to survive the rundown remains of Tokyo. This means finding food, marking your territory and finding a mate - all while dodging attacks from larger animals and avoiding poisonous cloud of gas that may or may not have been the cause of human extinction.
All of this is set in a 2.5D representation of Tokyo as vines climb buildings, crashed cars provide perches for birds and caved in shopfronts allow access to suitable nesting areas.
Being a Hyena or a Water Buffalo - or whatever animal you decide is your next beast of choice - is similar regardless. You have buttons for sneaking, attacking, performing a special attack, jumping, eating and interacting with the world. The only difference is one of predator and prey - Lions, and Tigers, and Bears (oh my!) hunt other animals, while the Sika Deer or the Chicken spends its time hiding and scrounging for food from plants.
Of course, gaming convention dictates that you don't get to be a mighty Deinonychus on your first trip out - you've got to earn the things you want, because how else would you value them? This is sadly where the game begins to fall apart.
You start as the lowly Pomeranian, gradually unlocking 'better' animals as you go. The process for unlocking these animals is the same the whole way through - you change generation twice (find a mate and nest twice) and complete two of the game's tasks, and then you head to the zone in Tokyo where the animal you want to unlock lives and you kill the 'boss' animal. Or you overtake the animal's territory.
The fact that you need to complete the same tasks at all times isn't a terrible thing when you're confronted with your third Hyena variant (I'm not a big enough furry to know the difference between a Lycaon and a Jackal, I'm sorry) - but it isn't the only barrier to progress.
You see, you need to buy the animals as you unlock them - and as the game progresses, the animals become more and more expensive. Something like an Alley Cat might be a mere 25,000 points, but after you reach the Panther animals start to cost a cool 75,000 - and this is a problem.
You earn these points in a number of ways, but all of them require playing for significant periods of time as animals you might not care for. To earn the aforementioned 75,000 points you're looking at playing for around 60 years - and when a year takes 30 seconds to pass, that adds up to hours spent as dogs, wild dogs or cats before you get to be a bloody dinosaur.
Don't get me wrong - I'm more than capable of seeing the farcical nature of this complaint. "Wahhh - I don't want to be a Lion any more, I want to be a Raptor." This is not a concept I ever thought I'd have to confront within myself - but the reality is that the game relies very heavily on an alien concept and then it overburdens you with similarity through its rigid mission structure.
This is disappointing, because the game has ample potential in terms of things a player can do. The dilapidated Tokyo is massive when you are a tiny dog, and it can be a challenge in and of itself to simply make it from one end to the city to the other - especially when there are much larger creatures around.
The novelty of this Tokyo does remain for a significant amount of time though, thanks to its sheer size. You'll think you've conquered the world once you've taken an animal from the terrifying zoo in Yoyogi Park and all the way to the Shibuya Suburbs - but then you'll discover the sewers, a network of tunnels spanning the entire world.
The game has a story mode to go along with survival mode - a cute thing telling the tale of a number of animals as they attempt to live through this apocalypse. To unlock these story missions you need to acquire SD cards in survival mode. The SD cards detail the end of the world, making them a twofer - you find out what happened to humanity and you unlock more story missions. Once again this proposition is unappealing as you'll wind up playing for significant periods as animals you have no interest in solely to further your game.
I guess the only thing left is to mention the graphics. If your opinion of a game hinges on its looks, I feel pity for you. Certainly games can look awful and games can look great, and in some circumstances the look of a game can impact the experience - but I can tell you without hesitation that Tokyo Jungle looks infinitely better than any other game that lets you cavort around Tokyo as 40+ different animals.
It's ridiculous that a game as novel as Tokyo Jungle should be come a slog to play but at the end of the day it relies very heavily on 'grind' in an effort to create longevity - when really if they'd put as much creativity into the missions as they did into the game concept itself, people would strive to play as much of each animal as possible without being forced to.
I'd recommend Tokyo Jungle to anyone looking for an utterly unique take on the post-apocalyptic theme. It's the sort of game that can get overwhelming if you play it all in one weekend, but if you jump into it every now and then you'll find yourself repeatedly enamoured with the world.