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Review: Tokyo Jungle Mobile is too little game for Playstation Vita

Tokyo Jungle Screenshot - 1149878

Tokyo Jungle Mobile walks a fine line between feeling like a competent, bite-sized version of the original Tokyo Jungle and feeling more like a Tiger handheld port of a much better game. In fact, this grid-based version, with its four-way movement and static backgrounds, could totally work as a cheap LCD game sold at Toys "R" Us. It would probably be the best Tiger handheld ever made, but it would still be a watered-down version of a home console experience.

The original PS3 version of the game played like Metal Gear Solid crossed with a post-apocalyptic zoo. You’d take control of two classes of animals -- predators or grazers -- and either hunt or scavenge for food in a post-humanity Tokyo. The apocalyptic landscape featured a ton of hazards, from toxic water and radiation clouds to massive predators like bears and lions. As a result, the original game forced you to straddle a fine line between caution and speed, since there’d be one-hit-kill predators skulking about while you had draining hunger and health meters to tend to.

Tokyo Jungle Mobile screenshot

It’s potentially dark material, with animals fighting for survival, battling starvation, and mating to maintain a lifeline. It’s more like dark humor, though, as the harsh world is tempered by the variety of silly animals and their interactions. After all, this is a game that starts you off with a playable Pomeranian and notifies you of soured dog-monkey relations in a district.

Tokyo Jungle Mobile faithfully recreates some of that drama, but loses a few things in the transition. Right off the bat, the freedom of movement, of sneaking through the bushes and preying on your next meal, is almost completely lost. There are still aspects of stealth, but your movement is limited to an isometric grid and you navigate one space at a time like a board game. Despite this new method of travel, the game isn’t turn-based, nor is it set up like a roguelike, where the game moves at your pace as you move around the grid. The grid does allow the game to be drastically simplified, though, as the environments are simply still images with the grid on top.

Tokyo Jungle Mobile screenshot

You’ll still hunt and hide in bushes and mate, but prey will lose track of you once they get a few spaces away and stealth kills are as simple as hopping onto an adjacent space on the board when they aren’t looking. As a result it’s pretty easy to kill everything on the grid in a few seconds and move onto the next space. The tension of tracking your next meal as your health is draining or hiding from a deadly beast in the PS3 version is missing here.

What’s worse is that this version is missing some of Tokyo Jungle’s best little touches. You won’t be finding any loot in the environment, which means no silly hats on your dog or lifesavers like beef jerky and flea spray. The Story mode is also completely gone, as are the various journal entries that explain how things got so bad. In fact, what little flavor text this version has is full of grammatical errors.

Tokyo Jungle Mobile isn’t without merit, though. Rushing around from one goal to the next can be fun, and you can unlock more playable animals a lot quicker than in the PS3 version. Despite the simplicity of it, I still found myself addicted for a few hours before the experience started to lose its charm. That’s not too bad when you consider the reduced price.

Tokyo Jungle Mobile screenshot

This port of Tokyo Jungle arrives via Sony’s PlayStation Mobile, meaning it’s not just a Vita game, but a game that works on any phone or tablet that supports the PSM runtime. I can get behind the logic of making a mobile game more people can enjoy, but beyond the Vita, the selection of PlayStation Mobile-compatible devices is small. If you own the most popular phones or tablets, you most likely still can’t play Tokyo Jungle Mobile, meaning this is still primarily a Vita game.

And that’s ultimately what’s so disappointing about Tokyo Jungle Mobile.

The Vita could have easily handled the full version of Tokyo Jungle. After all, the game was pretty ugly, didn’t require a ton of buttons, and even works via Remote Play on Vita. When you have a competent take on Uncharted and the beautiful Flower coming to the device, Tokyo Jungle doesn’t seem like a difficult port. What’s worse, I worry that a game that would work really well on Vita just lost its chance because of this downsized version.

If the comparison to Tiger handhelds didn’t get the point across, then I’ll say this: Tokyo Jungle Mobile would make for a competent and enjoyable phone game. Quick sessions here and there would probably extend the game’s charms and it seems like it would play just fine on a touchscreen. But I don’t come to Vita for an experience that small. The whole point is to offer portable experiences beyond what you can get on a phone, and while the original Tokyo Jungle would have been a perfect example of that, this version misses the mark.

[Reviewed on PlayStation Vita]

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Joe Donato Video games became an amazing, artful, interactive story-driven medium for me right around when I played Panzer Dragoon Saga on Sega Saturn. Ever since then, I've wanted to be a part of this industry. Somewhere along the line I, possibly foolishly, decided I'd rather write about them than actually make them. So here I am.
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