Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: Tokyo Jungle

Availability: It was originally released as a boxed game in Japan earlier this year, but is now available in the states as a download title on the PSN exclusively.

Version I played: PSN download.

Review: I think I was a tad too ambitious to promise a review of Persona 3 right off the bat. In order for me to provide a proper review for that one I will need to take some time first as that game has a lot going on in it. It took at least an hour or more for me to get in my first battle. So I will need more time for that one before I can provide a proper review for it. For now I want to focus on a game that had me super excited as of late... Tokyo Jungle!
First, a history. I first heard about this game a little over a year ago and was fascinated right off the bat. The concept of a post-apocalyptic world where animals ruled, there were no humans left, and therefore no ZOMBIES either sounded like an absolute blast! It's a new take on an old idea. The only problem is that it was the type of game that gave the feeling like it would never come out here. So eventually it came out in Japan and listen, I swear, I mean I SWEAR I came really close to importing it cause I wanted it so badly. Luckily my empty wallet forced me not to and it was a good thing. That's because one day I log onto the PSN and there it is. I heard no news about it coming over. It's like it just showed up one day. Safe to say I couldn't hit that download button fast enough. A similar feeling I would get a couple weeks later when the Nights into Dreams port shows up. *Saturn!*
Right off the bat Tokyo Jungle is one of the most uniquely Japanese games I've played in a while. For those keeping score games based on anime, look like anime, or start with Final Fantasy don't typically count as "Uniquely Japanese" cause that's just what most mainstream folks expect as Japanese. Explaining what I mean may be difficult. I think at the core the game isn't pandering to a western audience. It truly feels like the game was made for a specific audience and that audience is of the land of the rising sun.
The first thing that surprised me is that Story mode was not available at the start. Typically this is the only thing available before being able to get to all the juicy extras or free flowing modes. Not this time. This game makes you work for your story. It's like the game wants you to live and survive and actually work yourself up the food chain first before you find out what happened in the first place. You see, that's a great thing about this game, it's the mystery. Slowly you find out more details by exploring Tokyo. Some are newspaper clippings, others are testimonials. It's neat to see it unfold so slowly. Also when it comes down to it, it makes sense. These are animals on the loose that weren't involved (for all we know) in the destruction of man. So do you think they have context? Not a chance. I like not having context cause it keeps me playing to find out more.
Speaking of more, this game has a lot of it. Since the story mode isn't available right off the bat you have to go through survival mode to unlock it. After a quick tutorial stage you're off and running as... a pomeranian? Yep, that's right. An epic, post-apocalyptic, fight for survival game starts off with you playing as a teeny-tiny, yippy-dippy, little dog. I found this to be really charming since it places right in front of you how hard you'll have to work to get to the big dogs... literally. As the food chain goes you're mostly going to be hunting and feeding on smaller animals first. Animals like rabbits, chickens, other farm-like animals, etc, most of which are easy to kill cause they're not as strong or vicious. As you grow and claim land you'll have the option to attract a mate to create the next generation. The further along you play and the more generations you create the more difficult things will get. There's toxicity that will start to get heavier in parts, food will become more scarce, and the other animals will become bigger and meaner. You'll also run into animals you have no shot against until you become a larger animal. With that said it's very satisfying to be playing as a pomeranian and take down a lion cub... but then you get chased by moms and pop lion and that's scary as hell.
As with the animal kingdom there are essentially two types of animals you can play as: Carnivores and Herbivores. For those of you who didn't pay attention in school those are meat eaters and plant eaters. After playing as the pom-pom for a little while you will eventually unlock other animals, typically within the same class as the current animal is. So as a pom-pom you'll unlock a cat and then move up to a beagle, up to a lab, and so on. But then on the plant eater end you'll start off as a cute little deer and eventually get other plan eaters like pigs and sheep.
Once you start playing as a plant eater it's a whole different game (not literally). Same goals, same environment, same almost everything except the food you're looking for. Overall I found playing as one of these animals was far more challenging for multiple reasons. The main being that plants are harder to find than let's say a whole flock of sheep. Also it's harder to defend yourself. So if you want to recreate Bambi in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo you better get your running shoes on cause you can expect to be doing this a lot more than with man's best friend. Now if you're a blood thirsty, COD playing, 12 year old, angry boy you may be wondering why you would want to play as a sheep when you could eventually be an ALLIGATOR tearing other animals apart. First I would be wondering how you found me and secondly let me tell you how it's way more exciting that the first choice.
To give some clarity. This does not mean playing as a plant eater is more fun. Honestly it's way more fun to be playing as a vicious "kill everything" animal, but it's less of a challenge. You only really feel in danger when up against a much larger animal, and even when you're against a slightly more powerful animal (a lab facing a hyena for example) you still have a good chance of winning the fight. When you're a plant eater you can still fight but not as well. You're much more likely to get mauled to death. So this makes it more exciting and intense. It gives off the same feeling as an early Silent Hill character in a way. You're very weak, you can't fight well, and you're probably gonna die if you stick around. It makes your heart run from terror but since it is more difficult the end reward is far more exciting. In a way it's way cooler to play as one of these guys than the vicious ones.
As a matter of fact, take that into account for both types of animals and it's just way more satisfying to play as the little guy. Every other game out there this generation is an overpowered space marine so having an underdog (I'm full of 'em today) fight the big guy is awesome to see. I have been playing many hours of this game but still have not unlocked all the animals yet so I really haven't played as some of the more powerful animals yet. I am imagining that the threat won't be as great once I get there. Maybe after I unlock the elephant and the dinosaur (not kidding) I'll go back to the pom-pom. I can also be fooling myself cause in other games once I've eared the mega powerful character it's usually jarring going back to basics. I guess we'll have to see.
Story mode is something I also haven't completed yet. It actually takes quite a bit of time and repeat playing of survival mode to get new chapters unlocked in story mode. The story in story mode follows different animals as they adjust and fight in the new world they have to live in. Of course once again you start off as a pom-pom. A lot of these stories are about defending their families or defending their land. These are also charming but in a very Disney way. The animals of course don't have dialogue but their feelings are very present. I love how expressive even digital animals can be. Last I checked I'm somewhere between 8-10 chapters in and I have no idea how long they go. But the last chapter I played was as a grown lioness so I must be coming along well. I was given the promise of finding out what wiped the humans out once I complete this. I can probably figure out how it happened, though, with all the horror/science fiction that's out there it's easy to figure.
Tokyo Jungle is incredibly addictive but it certainly isn't flawless. The first issue I have with it is the camera. Since we live in an age where a movable camera is a possibility it really doesn't seem like there's a reason not to have it unless it's a very specific purpose. This game's fixed camera angle looks at you as if you're on a 2D plane but you still move around in every direction *Example*. There are two issues I have with this. First is exploring. It can be hard to explore when you only have one fixed angle in a tight area that's very maze-like. Sure you've got the mini-map and the larger map in the options menu but that makes it cumbersome when it shouldn't be. The reason I don't like it is for combat purposes. On the mini-map it shows how many animals are around you with dots. This is nice especially if you're looking for you but it doesn't distinguish if it's a chick or a hippo. The fixed camera does make it difficult to figure out what sort of danger you'll be in, in just a moment. Too many times have I been frantically running around trying to eat and I look at my mini-map to see some there are some animals coming up. I sure hope it's a rabbit or something small. Oh wait, it's a hippo! I cannot go up against that. Crap! Either now I'm dead from goring or starvation.
My other complaint with the game is the map. It's varied enough for what it is, only it's really small. Here's the complete map minus the sewer area. As you can see from that each area of the game isn't that big. This does make it easier to claim and therefor mate. It also makes it easy enough to go from one end of the game to another if a mission/challenge calls for it. But as you can see this game is no Skyrim when it comes to the map. There is just not enough to go around. Also since you start off in the same spot every time you're going to wind up in the same areas over and over. Which leads me to my next complaint.
The difficulty curve on this game gets substantially high awfully quick. If you expect to make any progress in this game you will want to do the challenges that present themselves to you. This makes you stronger, faster, able to last longer without eating, and so forth. A lot of the early challenges are pretty simple and are generally in the same area (Mostly the southern and central areas of the map) so that's where you'll be running through the same areas over and over again. So you won't see parts of the map in the north western area. But once you have the challenges that bring you to that area the game gets so much more difficult and you're so desperate to stay alive you can't even enjoy or explore the areas. In the hours I've spent playing this game so far I've been in the sewers about five times at best and one of those times was in story mode so that barely counts. If I were to be thrown in there suddenly I wouldn't even know where to go down there or where to look for food. Not to mention the times I've been there it had far more difficult animals to fight so my animal was starving because none of the animals I could stand up against. So until I build up my skills it is still a challenge to get to that area appropriately.
While the game is limited it also has a ton of variety. The list of animals you can play as is massive. Including the downloadable content you're looking at almost 100 animals. A lot are similar cause it's multiple breeds of the same type (Multiple cats for example) and so those all play the same. In that sense I would look at it like the alternate costumes in fighting games. Still provides a variety. Now speaking of costumes, there is an element of costumes within the game. Slowly you also unlock different items to wear to increase your health and other stats until the item is destroyed in battle. The best part of this? They're fun items! I would list some examples but I'd rather give you a visual example. Also because of this variety and slow progression it gives the player plenty of reason to keep playing. You always want to see what the next animal will do or what animal you'll get next. It's also fun to read through and play through the story items/missions. This is definitely one of those cheaper titles that will give you more satisfaction and time played than a full priced box game.
If you have a PS3 go download this game now. Unless you're a member of PETA I would recommend this game to anyone cause I can see the appeal all across the board. It's simple enough to please the casual gamer but provides enough to keep the hardcore ones satisfied. Also it's a great game to get for your girlfriend to watch you play. Cute animals.

If America Made It: Well it may have still taken place in Tokyo but probably a bizarre view of Tokyo. Other than that for locations I imagine it would have focused on a worldwide perspective instead of one city. Also the story mode would have been available from the start with a survival mode as a bonus feature, severely cutting down the potential for longer hours of play and exploration. Also your default character would have been bulkier. Not jumping straight to a lion but I have a feeling you wouldn't start off as a pom pom. Maybe at least the lab. Lastly, movable camera. Americans love their movable camera unless it's intentionally 2D.

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