Reviewed on Xbox One.
Tokyo 42 is an open-world bullet-hell isometric shooter (say that five times fast) set in the sci-fi world of Tokyo in 2042. It opens with the news that you’ve been framed for a murder by an unknown assassin, and to uncover the true killer you must enter the underbelly of Tokyo and become an assassin. It’s a little hypocritical, but most people use Nanomeds, a medical technology that revives them later, and the people that don’t probably deserve to die anyway.
Tokyo 42 is a strange and cute game, with tiny civilians running in terror past gargantuan cat-shaped buildings as you engage in battle against a gang of nudists. And suddenly you’re killed by a single bullet and remembering how hardcore this game really is. Which is why I used stealth whenever possible.
Unfortunately, the stealth mechanics are very basic, relying entirely on line-of-sight. You can literally touch their back and they won’t notice. If you do get spotted, you can hide and change appearance to give the enemies the slip. But this takes so long that I preferred to kill myself and return to a checkpoint.
Gunplay is a little more complicated; you can free aim and spam fire, or target a precise spot to shoot at as you run around. As such, weapons are the driving force of the gameplay. You’re limited to a pistol and rifle early on, but as you buy new guns you’ll find that each is unique, with different bullet speeds, splitting shots or a massive laser. You can even throw bananas. They don’t do anything but don’t let that stop you.
Most missions allow you to tackle them however you want: position yourself on a building and pick people off with a sniper, charge in with rocket launchers and shotguns, or stealth kill everyone with a katana. Because of the difficulty level, battles against large numbers of enemies are daunting, but as I became better at predicting enemies, dodging bullets, and understanding my weapons, I began to relish the challenge.
A flawless run of the final story mission could probably take five minutes, but it took me a couple hours of dying and restarting. When I finally succeeded it felt great to see that I was in the 0.61% of players (at the time) to complete the story. The ending itself was also a good twist on what was otherwise a mediocre campaign.
But there are times where Tokyo 42 just wants to fuck you up with its difficulty. The missions that require you to ride a motorbike are among the worst in the game due to the awful controls. The bike race left me traumatised.
The epitome of frustration is the boss on mission 23. After you hit him a couple of times, his strategy becomes constant bullet and grenade spam as he jumps impossible distances, sometimes between two spots over and over and over. It was the most frustrating experience I’ve had this year, and I only beat him after exploiting a checkpoint that allowed me to start the fight close to the boss and in a safe location. Though there were still plenty of times where he would jump over and one-shot me.
There were even times when the boss would jump out of the arena and hide. This is a common problem with Tokyo 42’s AI, as often in large battles at least one enemy would run far away and each time I’d have to spend a few minutes chasing them.
The isometric camera can also be annoying. There are areas where buildings will block your view and your depth perception is always impeded. It’s unnecessarily difficult to jump across some gaps or judge how close projectiles are to hitting you. The camera is rotated manually, but it’s awkward to do mid-battle and doesn’t help when bullets are coming from multiple angles.
What the camera does well is showing the city. Each area is unique, and the varied colour palate combined with the unique building designs make it a treat to explore. There are also plenty of collectables scattered around, like weapon skins, outfits and cats (yes you can have a cat).
By far the most consistent and glaring issue for me was the tiny font size, the smallest that I can remember seeing in a game. If you sit near your screen, like with a PC monitor, this probably won’t be an issue. But I usually sit a few metres away from my television and was still squinting even after I moved a metre and a half closer.
I like Tokyo 42’s irreverent style and tone, and during its well-designed moments it’s a challenging but rewarding game. But the times where your wrangling against its mechanics and controls, or even just trying to read, make it hard to appreciate its unique 3D world, which ultimately leaves it feeling flat.