It was a surprise when Tokyo Jungle made it to the West, but a welcome one.
The PS3 game successfully blended a variety of different game styles -- brawler, roguelike, story-based action game -- and created an extremely memorable experience, albeit one that had a few flaws here and there. Now it's come to PlayStation Mobile, meaning both Vita owners and those with PlayStation-certified Android devices can enjoy the thrill of navigating various animals through post-apocalyptic Tokyo in an attempt to survive as long as possible.
Tokyo Jungle Mobile is a markedly different experience from its older sibling. Gone are the side-on perspective polygonal graphics; gone is the brawler-style gameplay; gone is the story mode that actually explains where all the humans went. All that's left is a twist on the original game's Survival mode. And it's still great fun.
Tokyo Jungle Mobile once again casts you in the role of one of a huge selectable cast of animals, who all fall into one of two categories -- carnivores or herbivores. Your choice of animal makes a significant difference to the base gameplay, since carnivores can only eat other animals, while herbivores can only eat plants. This means playing as a carnivore generally involves a lot more fighting and killing, while playing as a herbivore demands more stealthy gameplay, as well as an ability to plan ahead and figure out the best places to go to graze.
Where Tokyo Jungle Mobile differs most significantly from its predecessor is in the way the basic gameplay is presented. While the original game unfolded in a continuous 3D environment shown from a side-on perspective, Tokyo Jungle Mobile adopts a more old-school approach to exploration, with an isometric perspective map divided into discrete areas, each of which is further divided into individual screens. Generally speaking, only things on the same screen can directly affect each other, though sometimes other animals will run in from adjacent screens -- or run away if you're getting a little too feisty for their liking. You won't, say, get attacked by something you can't see, though.
Beyond simply being presented from an isometric perspective, Tokyo Jungle Mobile also restricts movement to four directions on a grid rather than allowing complete freedom of movement. In this sense, it's actually significantly closer to its roguelike roots than the PS3 original, though it's still real-time rather than turn-based.
The grid-based movement isn't as restrictive as it sounds, because the computer-controlled animals are subject to the same limitations as you. In fact, it makes planning how you're going to get around various obstacles a little easier. If you know that certain animals have a vision range of a couple of squares, and that they can smell you if you get too close to them, you can carefully pick your way around them without them ever noticing. It's also clear when your animal is safely in cover away from predators, since tall grass and other cover occupy full squares.
The simplified movement and exploration is complemented by simplistic presentation. Animals aren't really animated as such -- they simply have a frame for facing each of the four directions, and "hop" from one square to another when they move, much like board game pieces. Similarly, copulation with a mate is represented by one animal or the other "bumping" itself against the other one, accompanied by suitably erotic (uh, for animals) noises. In an amusing little twist, if your controllable animal -- who is always male -- copulates with a "desperate" female rather than a "normal" or "prime" mate, it's the female who does the "bumping," not the male.
The lack of animation isn't as jarring as you might think; animals are very small on the screen, and detailed animation would probably have gone to waste. What the simplistic presentation does mean, on the other hand, is that all animals are immediately and instantly recognizable, so you'll know straight away if you want to go toe-to-toe with a rival or simply slip past quietly. You can also tell at a glance which direction both you and your potential foes are facing, allowing you to plan your moves carefully.
Aside from the changes to movement and exploration, Tokyo Jungle Mobile otherwise unfolds much like a simplified version of the PS3 version's Survival mode. You level up your creature by eating food; you mate with a female of the species to start a new generation before your current animal turns 15 and dies of old age; you earn "survival points" for completing various tasks and for every in-game year you survive; and every so often you're given a specific "challenge" to complete, which rewards you with a significant number of points and a stat increase if you're successful. These challenges get more and more difficult the longer you've managed to survive, but the stat bonuses also get bigger -- and, assuming you pick a good mate, they can be passed on to a future generation.
A few features have been stripped out here and there -- there's no collectible equipment, for example, meaning no more Pomeranians in sunglasses, and the Toxicity system, whereby you'd gradually get more and more poisoned over time, is thankfully absent -- but given the fast pace of this portable variant, they're not really missed.
The simplistic gameplay coupled with the clear, easily understandable scoring mechanic -- every time you score, the screen says where those points are coming from -- makes Tokyo Jungle an excellent score attack game. Following each game session, you're given a breakdown of your final score, and it's recorded on a local leaderboard, along with how many years you survived for and which animal you were in control of this time. There is, unfortunately, no online leaderboard support, which means if you want to compete against friends you're going to have to do it by sharing screenshots on social media, or just by passing your Vita around.
The lack of online leaderboards is presumably a side-effect of the game being a cross-platform PlayStation Mobile title rather than a Vita-specific game. Going Vita-only would have allowed the developers to use players' PSN IDs for online leaderboards as well as implementing other features such as trophies and incorporating more advanced visuals -- but taking this single-device route carries the risk of limiting the game's audience. Meanwhile, going PlayStation Mobile opens up the game to a wide variety of devices besides just the Vita, but also means that features some players have come to expect -- like trophy support, for example -- are just straight-up absent. This may not seem like a big deal to some of you -- it's not to me, either -- but it's worth noting that we do live in a world where certain parts of the community won't buy PSN games that don't have Platinum trophies. I find myself wondering if the game's status as a PlayStation Mobile title might cause some players to hesitate to tap that "Buy" button a little.
They shouldn't hesitate, though, because Tokyo Jungle Mobile is great fun in a distinctly old-school manner. Its basic rules are simple to understand and the game is easy to get into, yet once you get good at it a single session can easily last an hour or more, just like a particularly satisfying run on an old computer or console game. Chasing high scores is extremely addictive, even without the inherent competition of online leaderboards: competing against yourself is surprisingly compelling in its own right.
While it would be nice to see a Vita-exclusive version with some added PSN goodness such as online competition, Tokyo Jungle Mobile is certainly well worth a download, whether or not you've played the original. It's a good adaptation of a fun game -- and a solid portable game, period.
Keep away. Keep. Away. Keep - damn it. Desperate females don't know how to take "no" for an answer, do they? While I haven't decided if I'm amused or slightly alarmed with how desperate females will repeatedly (and literally) rear-end your persona during copulation, I do quite enjoy Tokyo Jungle Mobile on the whole.
Like Pete has so eloquently put, this mobile revamp of the PS3 title is a concise product: there are no frills, no half-hearted attempt at a story, nothing outside of the rather literally named survival mode. It's just you, a representative of your species of choice, and the jungle that is post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Can you ensure your DNA survives a century of blood, rivalries and questionable breeding? Or more?
One of Tokyo Jungle Mobile's biggest attractions for me was the way it builds onto itself. Here's an example: When I finally unlocked the lion, I thought myself Queen, er, King of the Jungle. I pounced a goat. The goat made short work of my unfortunate feline. It took a second attempt to realize I began life as a cub, and not a full-grown monarch. A fourth incarnation was required to learn that Tokyo Jungle Mobile will begin throwing progressively more vicious animals at you the longer you're alive. The game continued growing, adding progressively more layers of difficulty to my experience with every moment that ticked past.
But as much fun as it is to harvest as many points as humanly possible from every life cycle, Tokyo Jungle Mobile starts bumping up against a wall after you've progressed to a certain level. The starter Pomeranian was a challenge. Everything outside a house cat could conceivably turn it into lunch. The lion, on the other hand, especially after maturing into adulthood, ruled with an aluminum fist. By the time I hit my third playthrough, I had stopped caring. Bigger animals are easy to dodge if you understand the mechanics, and even easier to waylay if you're even nominally capable of being stealthy. Somewhere around my fiftieth year on the planet, I fed my entire lineage to a passing dinosaur. Brutal, I know, but I was so done.
Better in moderate bursts than in copious quantities, Tokyo Jungle Mobile is definitely not a bad game. It's just something you don't play for hours on end, not unless you're dead set on hitting a new record. Of course, if you're a completionist like me, there's going to be a secondary reason to get hooked. An entire stable of critters, including what appears to be a Japanese salaryman, is available for you to unlock and make use of. All you must do is actually encounter the species in game and, you know, have enough points available for purchase.
I have my beefs against Tokyo Jungle Mobile but they're not substantial enough to build dinner on. The challenges are an excellent touch. They provide something to be worked towards. However, the time limits telling me how long I have to make it to the Sewers or to score a fine hunt aren't made clear enough, only popping up on the on-screen calendar when you're deadline's almost expired. And while I like the occasional "events" that pop up, what I would have relished more is a bit more reason to interact with them. Give me +5 life if I make a rump roast out of the Antelope Queen, won't you?
Tokyo Jungle Mobile is, in its own way, very much akin to its more fleshed-out predecessor. It's fun, it's a little weird and rather satisfying in an odd way. For all of its minor faults, I would still endorse a purchase.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: The original Tokyo Jungle wasn't much of a looker and the mobile incarnation even less so; after a while, though, the small animals and lack of animation cease to matter and you start to appreciate the game's clarity of presentation.
- Music: Tokyo Jungle Mobile includes the same soundtrack as its predecessor; unobtrusive, muted, atmospheric electronica that you probably wouldn't want to sit and listen to by itself, but which provides a fitting accompaniment to the post-apocalyptic action.
- Interface: Controlling the game is easy, though those who haven't played an isometric perspective game before may take a moment or two to adjust to the fact that pushing "up" actually makes you go diagonally.
- Lasting Appeal: There's a ton of content to unlock and chasing high scores is fun, but individual play sessions can drag a bit. This is one to dip into occasionally rather than something to play obsessively.
It's Tokyo Jungle on the go. Like its predecessor, it's not a perfect game; but also like its predecessor, it's a surprisingly addictive experience in small doses.