It’s official – the PS3, PS Vita, and PSP digital storefronts are set to close before the year comes to an end. With it, thousands of digital games will be lost to time, only available to those who managed to purchase them before the lights were switched off for good. It’s an understandable decision when you consider the logistics behind such a thing, but it doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking. On the other hand, Microsoft has shown that keeping older games alive and readily available is more than possible.
Much of my childhood was spent loitering on the PlayStation Store, staring fondly at games I had no chance of affording. However, when such an occasion did rear its head, I couldn’t wait to jump on beloved indies and hidden Japanese darlings that previously only existed in screenshots, magazine previews, and 480p gameplay trailers. Tokyo Jungle was one such gem, having been unleashed into the digital wilds back in 2012.
Developed by Japan Studio, Tokyo Jungle is a rare arcade experience that you seldom see on consoles nowadays. It takes place in a post-apocalyptic vision of Tokyo where humanity has long abandoned its metropolitan streets. With no human life to speak of, animals have been free to saunter in and call it their new home. Towering grey skyscrapers are now populated with smatterings of foliage, signatures of nature slowly creeping in to overtake stark symbols of capitalism.
It’s immediately engrossing as you’re asked to select from a small selection of animals before being unleashed onto the streets with one simple objective – survive. Pomeranian Dogs are the central character, and one of the first animals you’ll unlock in Survival Mode. Their small stature aside, these yappy little buggers are lethal in a fight, and are more than willing to defend their territory if the situation calls for it.
From here, you must gather food, explore the dilapidated city, and befriend mates to spawn offspring. This all probably sounds a little serious, but in practice it is anything but. You prance around environments with lightweight candour, leaping across mossy roads and decrepit buildings in search of your next meal, avoiding dangerous rivals along the way. The atmosphere is palpable, heavy with an aura of abandonment. Something happened here, and humanity’s disappearance is one of the game’s most alluring mysteries.
The Story Mode delves further into the circumstances surrounding the demise of humanity, and how one of the world’s largest cities was brought to its knees so decisively. Obviously, animals can’t read, but that facet of realism is thrown out the window so you can digest the story in small, meaningful chunks that are unlocked by completing missions and scattered about the environment.
Our signature Pomeranian is forced out into the wild when he eventually runs out of food, indicating that his original owner vanished suddenly, leaving behind resources their furry friend could make use of until the time came to strike out on their lonesome. It’s minimal narrative setup, but injects enough sympathy into the lead character that I wanted to discover more about this world, and exactly why Tokyo transformed into such a lawless jungle.
I adore the loneliness that Tokyo Jungle exudes. Exploring its city of lost voices is rapturous, knowing that the only company to be found across miles of expansive city blocks are other animals simply trying to survive like you are. I often think about waking up and finding the world empty, friends and family vanished into nothing as I’m forced to piece things together using any clues I can find. Tokyo Jungle is kinda like this, except with more slapstick humour and dinosaurs. The mating animation is also utter filth, depicted in such a crude way that I can’t help but laugh.
The roster of animals has humble beginnings, but soon ascends into levels of absurdity so unexpected that I lovingly admire it. Deer and dogs evolve into dinosaurs and robotic canines who are also, rather inexplicably, competing for supremacy amidst Japan’s capital. I mean, the final boss is a robotic dog inspired by AIBO flanked by dinosaurs and sabre-tooth tigers. Whatever happened to Tokyo, it apparently opened a portal to the past to let all these nasties through.
All of the brilliance surrounding Tokyo Jungle isn’t without merit. Fans have been notably vocal about its existence in recent years, and this love has reached fever pitch with the recent announcement that Sony will be closing three of its major digital stores. Unless you track down a physical copy of the Japanese release, Tokyo Jungle is only playable through digital means. That’s why it deserves a port onto modern platforms, and not just a spot on PlayStation Now.
With its tenth anniversary coming next year, this is the perfect time for Sony to revive Tokyo Jungle, either through a sequel or a port that brings it to an entirely new audience. Gaming has grown since 2012, with mainstream audiences warming to more obscure, experimental ideas in the vein of Untitled Goose Game. With the right marketing, Tokyo Jungle could appeal on a similar wavelength – or just throw it on PlayStation Plus and call it a day.
Recent reports indicate that Japan Studio, the legendary development house behind Tokyo Jungle, will soon be closing its doors as Sony shifts more of its focus towards western development. This studio has such a massive legacy, and has produced some of PlayStation’s best games throughout its long history. Knowing that games like Tokyo Jungle will soon become a thing of the past is disheartening, perhaps even more so when the storefront that houses them is also poised to close up shop for good.
A final hurrah for Tokyo Jungle, and perhaps some of Japan Studio’s other underrated projects (*cough* Knack 2 *cough*) is long overdue, and Sony must not let this comprehensive layer of its history vanish into the night so passively. All of these games deserve much, much better than that.
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously head of gaming content over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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