If some sort of catastrophe wipes out the human race, the future will involve wild dogs hunting rabbits in the overgrown streets of our major cities. The dogs will wear cute hats and trainers.
That is the future imagined in Sony Japan’s Tokyo Jungle, a sort of post-apocalyptic pet sim, but without any pet owners because they’re all dead. In the main Survival Mode, players choose from a selection of animals, each with differing stats for strength, speed and hunger – and the aim is to keep your creature alive for as long as possible. To do this, you explore the streets of an overgrown, desolate Tokyo, hunting smaller animals while avoiding the bigger ones. A gauge at the top of the screen shows your hunger level – if it drops to nothing, you’re dying. Eating is everything.
Well, not quite everything. The Tokyo street map is divided into territories – mark every flag in a specific area an it’s yours. Now females of your species become, erm, ‘available’ for procreation. Just track them down, invite them back to your nest and the two critters get it on (well, they sniff each other and the screen fades to black. Which is a shame as I was hoping for some sort of SixAxis love-making mini-game). Brilliantly, the quality of your partner depends on your ranking. Chowing down on food provides you with calories – and eating past certain amounts powers your animal up. A rookie can expect attention only from flea-ridden street trash (and you really can contract fleas from your lovers), while boss creatures get their pick of the finest specimens in the gene pool.
Mating produces several youngsters who you then control, keeping the family line going. This process goes on until your line dies out. In the background there are objects to find, mini-challenges to attempt and a whole range of cute animal clothes to unlock. If you want to dress your crocodile in a woolly hat, or your kangaroo in a skirt, you totally can.
The best thing is, although the concept is slightly ridiculous (packs of wild Pomeranians roaming the streets of Shibuya), the visuals are unerringly authentic; the collapsing buildings of this congested city are rendered in accurate detail, complete with foliage sprouting everywhere, obscuring the now redundant human architecture. The hunting is realistic too, allowing you to hide in bushes and creep up quietly on your prey before quickly striking.
Along with Survival, there’s a Story mode which explores your animal’s journey from pampered pet to wild killer in the wake of the disaster that befell humanity, then provides a series of missions. A two-player mode allows friends to explore together in little packs. It’s an interesting idea, explored with commitment and humour; the sort of thing we used to see on PlayStation in the nineties. And with all the side objectives, as well as unlockable clothes and animals, there’s plenty of replay value beyond the guilt-flecked joy of controlling a pig as it attacks a labrador.
Tokyo Jungle is easily one of the most fun things I saw at E3, somehow managing to combine a genuinely dark and for boding landscape with clothed kangaroo gangs. I don’t know what they’re pumping through the air-conditioning over at Sony Japan, but I wish the rest of the industry was getting it.