Monday, October 7, 2013

It's a Jungle Out There: Tokyo Jungle

Tokyo Jungle has quite the unique premise -- after humankind has mysteriously gone extinct in Tokyo, the urban city has become a sprawling jungle for animal wildlife. You play as an animal attempting to survive in this jungle, scavenging for food, defending yourself against bigger and stronger animals, claiming territories, and reproducing. When I bought the game ($14.99 on PSN), I was expecting a slow-paced, realistic survival simulator with a unique twist -- that would've been such an awesome gameplay experience. But it turns out that Tokyo Jungle is a much faster-paced, arcade-style roguelike. Not what I was hoping for, but the game is still surprisingly addicting.

Tokyo Jungle consists of two gameplay modes -- "Story" and "Survival." In story mode, you play specific scenarios with certain objectives that tell a loose story arc for different animals. The story mode, however, is not the game's main emphasis; it's survival mode. The entire game is built around survival mode, with the story missions consisting of derivative survival mode mechanics forced into certain situations. In fact, you can't even play the story missions until you've unlocked them in survival mode. The story missions and unlockable story logs are a welcome component, offering a little more depth and insight to the backstory of what happened leading up to the current situation, but if you're looking for something more than a survival roguelike, you should probably look elsewhere.

In survival mode, you get to select which animal you'll play as, and you're given as long as you can survive to play. Initially, you can choose between a Pomeranian dog (a small carnivore) and a Sika deer (a mid-sized herbivore). As a carnivore, you'll have to hunt other animals in order to eat; as an herbivore, you'll have to avoid carnivores and forage for plants and fruits growing about the city. The two types of animals provide slightly different gameplay experiences -- carnivores get to play a more action-style game with a combat system, and herbivores get to play a more stealth-style game, sneaking through tall grass and avoiding enemies.

Official Tokyo Jungle trailer.

As you play, you can complete challenges to unlock new animals. It's quite a different gameplay experience playing as a house cat and a bear, for instance, or playing as a baby chicken and an elephant. Each specific animal has different stats that affect their ability to survive, such as their speed, health, stamina, hunger, attack, and defense, but certain areas of the city (like rooftops and the sewers) are only accessible to smaller animals. Small grazers like rabbits are easy prey for bigger predators, but can hide more easily and go longer without needing food. Large predators like lions can roam the streets freely, being near the top of the food-chain, but their bigger stomachs demand that they eat more often to survive.

Besides feeding, animals must also claim territories and reproduce in order to continue living. Death can come from starvation, pollution, being killed by another animal, or from simple old age. In order to reproduce, you must claim territories in Tokyo as your own by marking your scent at predetermined areas. Once all areas have been claimed within a territory, females will consider you for mating. Depending on your current status rank (based on how many calories you've eaten), you can choose between desperate, average, or prime females -- if they're available. Once you mate, you take control of the new generation and inherent a fraction of whatever stat boosts you acquired in the previous generation from completing challenges.

When taking control of a new generation, you only ever control one animal at a time. Your other siblings will follow you around, and when the animal you're controlling dies (for whatever reason), you take control of one of the remaining animals until they're all dead, essentially providing multiple lives. In this way, it's advantageous to seek a prime female mate because they will produce more offspring for you, thus boosting your odds for survival. New generations are born into a young adult state capable of fending for themselves, albeit with slightly reduced stats for the first couple years of their lives until they reach full adulthood. 

What makes Tokyo Jungle such a compelling experience is the fact that you're constantly under a time limit. Whether it's your hunger gauge depleting, or your pollution gauge filling up, your health slowly draining (from hunger or pollution), or time passing towards your inevitable death of old age, the game constantly pushes you towards the next objective. And time moves insanely fast. There's barely any time to stop and rest -- go one minute without eating and you're practically on your death bed. But once you finally fill up your hunger gauge, food supplies might be running low in that area, requiring you to venture out to new territories. By the time you get there, your hunger gauge might be down again, and you'll need to reproduce soon or else you'll die anyway, which means splitting time looking for food and marking territories. 

Even then, do you eat just enough food to survive, leaving some left-overs for when you get hungry later, or do you eat as much as you can to rank-up and catch a better mate? Nearly every action has some kind of consequence requiring you to weigh the risks versus the rewards. If you eat all of the food in a territory, intending to rank-up and land a prime mate, you might find that only desperate or average mates spawn -- in that case, you've no food left in that area to eat and have to move on, or you settle for an inferior mate who'll produce fewer offspring for you with lower stats. If you're desperate for food and stumble across a scrumptious fruit tree with a couple of hyenas prowling the area, do you risk trying to get the fruit, or avoid the potential conflict and hope to find sustenance elsewhere?

In keeping with the roguelike formula, the situations are different with every playthrough. The layout of the city remains the same, but food and animal spawns are all randomized. Each run also provides different types of random events. Weather conditions can affect your radar and visibility while also causing food to spoil faster. Pollution can come and go at random. A turf dispute might break out between lions and hyenas, or an elephant graveyard might "spawn." Rabies might break out. A special boss animal might appear. That's a large part of what makes the game so addicting -- just like the variable psychological reinforcement of gambling (you win some, you lose some), it's easy to feel compelled to try "just one more run" because things will be different and you might have better luck next time. 

The ultimate goal of all this, besides unlocking new animals, collecting story logs, and unlocking new story missions, is to achieve high scores. When you eventually die, a final score for that playthrough is tabulated based on how many calories you ate, how many times you reproduced, how many territories you claimed, how long you survived, what challenges you completed, and so on. That's where a lot of the risk-vs-reward comes into play -- do you perform riskier behavior to get more points, or do you play it safe and try to live longer to have more opportunity to score points? These scores are uploaded to a leaderboard, so you can see how well you fared in comparison to other players on a daily, weekly, or all-time basis. 

If you're going for a high score, the challenges that pop up in each playthrough will give you bonus points and stat improvements. The bulk of these challenges task you with eating calories or mating a certain number of times, but plenty of more specific ones show up as well. Grazers are sometimes tasked with eating rare types of fruits and vegetables; predators are sometimes tasked with scoring a certain number of clean kills. Sometimes you're challenged to go to a particular area at a certain time, or to find a special location. Sometimes you're challenged to defeat a boss animal. Even if you're not into the points specifically, a portion of the stat boosts from completing challenges carries over into subsequent playthroughs, so that you're always improving the more you play.

There's even a local two-player cooperative mode, allowing you and a friend to team up in survival mode. You can both play as the same type of animal, meaning you'll have to work together to share the food evenly, or you can split being a grazer and a carnivore, having the predator defend the grazer. Multiplayer is a worthwhile feature that only adds to the game's appeal, since it requires teamwork and communication to be successful while also adding a whole new level of strategy to the gameplay, but the camera makes it kind of a hassle. The camera remains permanently fixed on player one, while player two is at the mercy of getting lost on the edge of the screen and having to find himself in a cluster of animals during a fight.

As effective as Tokyo Jungle is as a fast-paced survival roguelike with such a unique premise, it doesn't really hold my interest. It's a great way to pass the time, but that's really all it is. When I'm sitting at home deciding how to spend my free time, I consider going into Tokyo Jungle but inevitably go with something more fulfilling, because after a few hours the only real point is to achieve high scores, and I frankly don't care about scores. It's the kind of game that feels better suited for mobile gaming when you're waiting at a bus stop and are literally just trying to pass the time. Incidentally, there's a mobile version available for iOS and Android devices, as well as the PlayStation Vita. I might look into that sometime. 

As it stands, I feel like Tokyo Jungle would've been a more enjoyable experience with a much slower, less frantic pace, and with a more open-world exploration system, rather than the faux side-scrolling of the actual game. The combat and stealth systems are ultimately just a little too simple, repetitive, and rough around the edges to feel like worthwhile draws on their own. Otherwise, if the premise intrigues you and you have $15 to spare, it's worth the cost for the amount of entertainment you can get out of it. Even if the premise intrigues you, if you're not terribly interested in roguelikes, this might be one to pass on. 

No comments:

Post a Comment