Breaking Down The Backlog: Tokyo Jungle
IN this week’s Breaking Down The Backlog, I killed, ate and screwed my way up the food chain.
I love a good rogue-like. The challenge of the genre really appeals to me, even if I never finish them because of the difficulty. Tokyo Jungle is a strange mutation of the genre that I thoroughly enjoyed, more than I expected if I am honest. The gimmick of controlling animals and trying to survive really kept me engaged. I will probably never one hundred percent the game, but it is something I will keep dipping back into.
The general conceit of the game is this: you control an animal in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and you have to survive by eating, claiming territory and procreating. If you are a herbivore, there are plant nodes scattered around with different calorific content (a fruit tree is better than a flower) whilst a carnivore has to hunt and kill animals. Every time you eat you level up and with each level you can have sex with higher quality mates and the better the mate, the better the offspring. The offspring can give you more health, more ‘hunger’ and more stamina (what you use to dodge). So it is important to eat not just for hunger, but also so you can find the Prime Female/Male and make sweet love to them. You have to do all this whilst fighting or fleeing from other animals and trying to live through toxic pollution. It can be a harrowing and soul crushing experience, especially as the difficulty ramps up the longer you live. Plus, it is all randomly generated, which will lead to some utterly impossible runs.
You aren’t just trying to survive, however. There are objectives to complete that time out after a ‘decade’ (or every ten minutes or so) in order to keep you moving from place to place. These can range from excessively easy – killing a certain number of animals or eating a certain calorific amount – to the almost impossible, such as eating a specific type of plant. The latter is especially egregious because, like I mentioned previously, a lot of parts of this game are randomly generated. So if I am tasked in finding and eating a mushroom, there might not be any on the map or it might be polluted and lead to my death when I eat it. Now there isn’t any major downside to failing them, apart from missing out on some clothes and upgrades to your stats, but it is particularly demoralising when you do so.
One of the best things about Tokyo Jungle is the sheer variety of animals you can play as. You start off as a Pomeranian, a real shit dog, and then you transition to a cat, a chicken, a wolf, a hippopotamus, an emu, a cow, a porcupine, a hyena etc. Every animal has their own strengths and weaknesses, a horse for example is very fast, but lacks defensive capabilities. A hippopotamus is slow as hell, but does a ton of damage and is almost invincible. You unlock the animals by completing an objective relating to them whilst you are playing. This boils down to two different ways: touching the animal or capturing their territory. The former is really easy because the A.I. is kind of bad, but the latter can be really easy or downright impossible. Capturing territory to unlock an animal involves wading into a district filled with violent animals and surviving long enough to capture each territory node. Easy if it is a Jackal. Basically impossible if it is an elephant or a cheetah. Those animals do too much damage and are too fast for me to deal with. I am stuck on trying to unlock both those animals and that is why I will probably never fully finish this game.
Unbelievably, there is an actual single player campaign in Tokyo Jungle. It is based around the rise, fall and resurrection of a clan of Tosas told from varying perspectives. It is hilarious seeing how the developers try to fit the controls and asserts they have created to form some kind of emotional narrative. But it works, somehow. There are some legitimate dramatic twists that actually surprised me, which is ridiculous since, for example, you are looking at a hyena stiffly get attacked by a scarred lion. However, there is a crazier narrative lying underneath the animal based melodrama based around time-travel and pollution that is uncovered if you read the ‘Archives’ scattered throughout the map. The final two chapters were genuinely mind-blowing, I’ll say that much.
It has its flaws, the game-play can be a bit buggy and the graphics are rather flat, but I have to say Tokyo Jungle is one hell of an experience. Hard as balls, but a lot of fun to play. I hope one day there is a sequel or at least something that captures the insanity.
Here is some game-play footage of Tokyo Jungle to make up for the lack of screenshots.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Valkyria Chronicles