In Japan, a Newborn Chicken Can Defeat a Pride of Lions
Why a quirky Japan-only survival game is on the verge of a worldwide release.
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It started out as a PlayStation CAMP (Creator Audition Mash-Up Project--Acquire's Patchwork Heroes is a previous graduate from this program), but eventually blossomed into one of Sony Japan's most heavily marketed first-party products and second quarter killer apps for the PlayStation 3. Tokyo Jungle (unofficially referred to in my mind as The Third Great Pomeranian Wars) is one of those rough-around-the-edges-but-packed-with-charm surreal types of games in the vein of Incredible Crisis, Earth Defense Force, or Katamari Damacy. The setting is a postapocalyptic Tokyo (primarily the famous Shibuya region) where all the humans have disappeared, leaving the shattered ruins a fertile playground for the local wildlife to flourish and compete in.
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By "local wildlife," I mean crocodiles, kangaroos, hippos, giraffes, lions, leopards, tigers, pandas, hyenas, jackals, chickens, chicks, chimpanzees, pterodactyls, zebras, horses, and, of course, the game's omnipresent Pomeranians (the tiny dogs that have been the focal point of Tokyo Jungle's marketing campaign). To find out what happened to all the humans and how the menagerie got loose, well, you'll need to finish the game to discover that.
In short, the game is one long survival mode. Sure, Tokyo Jungle has a linear, mission-based story mode that functions like a guided tour of the different animals you can play as (to play them in the game's main survival mode you have to spend a great deal of time unlocking them), but it's only a taster for Tokyo Jungle's survival mode. It's a game of kill or be killed, survival of the fittest, cat vs. dog, and so on, and the game is coming to the West. Sony discreetly confirmed this at E3, where the game was hidden in Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's booth behind closed doors, like it was some horrible little secret that Sony didn't want to admit to.
But after the avalanche of interest in SCEJ's quirky, rough-hewn little animal mash-up, various Sony execs have started to paint bolder strokes when describing Tokyo Jungle. Perhaps now that they're confident in the interest level of the Western media, they'll avoid making the same mistakes they did when underestimating SCEJ's Demon's Souls, which savvy publisher Atlus picked up. It's sort of a no-brainer that the game is coming to the West as a downloadable game on PSN--it may look cute, but it's actually quite hardcore in concept and execution. But this brings us to the most obvious question: How does a game like this exist?
The easy answer is that it's a Japanese game. Japan is famous for creating quirky, bizarro titles that would never be designed in the West. When Nintendo creates something like Nintendogs, another company creates something like Petz (with a Z for extremeness). For every Katamari Damacy we get in the West, there are dozens more games that are orphaned at immigration. Tokyo Jungle is a game I did not have high hopes for coming to North America. After all, it's called "Tokyo Jungle," so that already may limit its appeal to some audiences. The fact that it's an animal-based game is also another hard sell. Game publishers usually avoid green-lighting games that feature nonhuman protagonists. It's not to say that it isn't done, because of course it does happen. But however strongly you may feel about Ecco the Dolphin, animal-based games are rarely blockbuster successes.
If it weren't for the fact that this is a first-party Sony game, it may never have made it over. We've gotten lucky with the occasional Earth Defense Force slipping through the cracks and working its way over here, but for each of those there are still dozens of D3's Simple 2000 games--light, snack-size arcade-style games of varying production quality--that never make it over.
Regardless of whatever maverick producer at SCEJ championed and nurtured this project to completion, the point is that Tokyo Jungle exists. This is one of those games that make you think, "Man, I really love video games." To hell with driving sims. I can jump in a car any old time I want to and, you know, drive. But how often do you get to play something that's like a whacked-out cross between Metal Gear Solid 3, Battle Royale, and Lord of the Flies? If anything, Tokyo Jungle is a real antidote to all the military shooters and sequels, and space marines in the world. It's getting harder and harder to make crazy games like this in today's ever-changing game climate, so let's celebrate the little bits of gaming insanity we get while we still can. It's good for your soul.'