The zany charm of pets on the prowl
If someone had told me many years ago when I started gaming that I'd be controlling a formerly house-pampered pomeranian dog along the mean streets of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, fighting bigger animals and breeding to survive, I would have laughed in their face.
Well, after playing Tokyo Jungle, where that very scenario comes to life, I'm the one being laughed at: Tokyo Jungle is one of the zaniest games I've played for some time and it's a scenario where David Attenborough and his hidden film crew would have a field day with this Japanese- created pet action game.
In the game you are an animal in a Tokyo where humans have mysteriously disappeared and animals now roam free. All sorts of animals, including tigers, chickens, wolves, dogs, pigs, elephants, crocodiles, and the premise is pure and simple: Kill to survive and live long enough to breed and see your legacy live on, spanning generations.
When you start the game's survival mode, though, you're hardly the world's most ferocious killer: you choose from a pomeranian dog or a sika deer. All the other animals are locked. Tokyo Jungle is a game where you quickly learn that stealth and cunning wins the day, especially if you're a small animal.
In my first play through I died almost instantly after a much larger dog wandering nearby attacked me while I was feasting on a juicy rabbit. I quickly learned that stealth is an important factor in Tokyo and grass and vegetation provide cover to quietly sneak up on foes. Night is good for stealth attacks against larger foes, but regrettably, one swipe from a larger foe can mean almost instant death for a small pomeranian.
It's a jungle out there, literally, with feral cats, lion cubs and wolves wandering the streets alongside chickens, pigs and birds - and much larger animals. You have a life meter which gradually decreases and is replenished by killing other animals.
When you creep up on an unsuspecting animal, a red jaws symbols appears over the animal, meaning you can pounce. Crunching on the animal replenishes your health meter, giving you crucial calories, and leaves a pile of bones.
It's not all plain sailing, though, as if your health gets too low and you've eaten all the other animals in the vicinity, your life meter starts rapidly decreasing. If it reaches zero, you're dead, then it's game over.
If you've done enough to impress a nearby potential mate, you can retire to your nearby nest, bringing forth offspring to carry on your bloodline.
In my second playthrough I fared slightly better, my feisty pomeranian surviving 17 years, changing generation once, defeating 32 foes and was only bitten by fleas once (thanks to a dirty mate that he'd stumbled across) but it all came crashing to a bloody end when one night my pack of pomeranians stumbled upon a pack of wolves. I'm sure you can guess who won the standoff.
I think there must also be some kind of parallel dimension stuff going on here because at one stage a pop-up appeared on the map screen informing me a dinosaur event had happened in another location. Dinosaurs running around the same dimension as pomeranians and chickens wander? Crazy.
Graphically, it looks pretty average, considering what other developers can get out of the PS3, and the driving drumbeat soundtrack did my head in after about five minutes, but if I wore a hat I'd take it off to Sony and Japan Studio for taking a risk with such an IP [intellectual property].
Tokyo Jungle will polarise gamers - some will love its crazy premise, while others will become bored with the all-too similar game challenges and at times mundane game play - but it does have some charm to it, in a crazy, zany sort of way.
For: PlayStation 3 (downloadable)
From: SCE (downloadable title, $24.90)