Tokyo Tattoo Girls isn’t your typical strategy game – the core concept is that you power up your female characters by adding tattoos to their backs. Using the power of these tattoos, your goal is to take over all 23 territories (wards) in a demolished Tokyo. That said, while it’s an interesting idea, the game lacks in depth when it comes to the gameplay.
Chose Your Companion to Ink & Conquer
Before you start the game, you pick a female character to work with you, the tattoo artist. Each character has their reasons for wanting to take over the un-governed city but your personal goal is simply to get out of Tokyo, and the government will only you permission to do so if you manage to take over all the wards. The story doesn’t go much further than that and once you’re successful, you are given a special dialogue from your selected companion and a last-scene illustration to celebrate your victory. After that, you can choose another character and difficulty and start over to get the other endings.
The majority of the gameplay takes place on the game’s map, showing you all 23 wards. The design of this map is heavily influenced by Japanese paintings, which makes the layout more interesting with its subtle movements. In the corner of the screen there’s a calendar and clock that let you change the speed or even pause the process of your takeover. As months go by, the graphics on screen will change based on the season, with cherry blossoms blooming during spring, for example.
Money, Money, Money is All You Need
When you begin you are given a selection of wards to start your takeover. To start the process you need to grow your army by recruiting; by adding tattoos and choosing commands you will help increase your army’s numbers. Money is how you’ll go about this. As you play you gain protection money by finding sporadic suitcases or gambling dens anywhere on the map. You can automatically earn money as the game’s time passes, too, depending on how well your army is holding up. You don’t have to spend commands to start taking over new wards, as the game itself will send your army automatically to neighboring areas.
The aforementioned Gambling Den is a mini-game where you have three tries to score the highest dice roll. You can win big, but considering it’s gambling you can lose just as often. As a result I tended to stay away from these spots as it is much easier and reliable to find suitcases across the map to get the protection money.
When it comes time to battle, you’ll have a selective list of commands to aid your takeover but not all of them are available until further into the game. Command actions range from recruiting different types of people such as “punks” or creating “cool downs” that helps prevent turf wars for a number of days.
Turf wars are battles that occur in non-conquering wards. If you leave them alone for long enough, siren icons will appear and after a time they will drain your “honor” meter. In these instances, it’s best to tap on the siren and take damage rather than leave them alone, as the honor meter is effectively your life bar – when it dips to 0, game over. When a turf war occurs, a battle will break out. In these instances there’s no mini-game, it solely depends on the status of your army. A short animated scene occurs on screen and gives you the results.
Taking over new wards is the main focus of the game, each of which has a unique illustration and personality. If you were expecting direct control over battles even here, though, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, “battle” plays out via a dialogue scene which gives you a choice of how to respond. Depending on your answer, a bonus can be awarded that fills your honor meter. If you choose a “super” answer, though, you gain a special illustrated scene at the end of battle.
While not as basic as the turf wars, these ward battles are still rather disappointing. They simply aren’t a challenge unless you’re aiming for the right “super” answer, and they aren’t too dynamic, instead just appearing as two drawings battling in a cloud of smoke.
Once you’re inevitably victorious, the ward on the map changes its permanent color to a turquoise, and you won’t run into any more turf wars in those conquered wards. You go through this process all 23 times.
Permanent Ink in Stages
Of course the main draw to a lot of people will be the tattoo-based concept. To get to inking, you have to tap on the orb on the bottom right of the screen, which leads to the game’s headquarters. There your companion greets you and a detailed list of your army is displayed, but it’s also where you get to the tattooing.
The game has spent more detail on the tattoos than any other part of the experience, and it shows. The designs were inspired by traditional Japanese designs and created by tattoo artist Koji Tanaka. This means you have a selection of tattoos to pick from and you can only place them in specific locations. All you really do is select and pay for the tattoo and the game does the rest for you, which is a bit disappointing. Every tattoo has a unique skill that will help your army’s recruitment and your honor meter, and each has three stages of inking for which the cost gradually grows higher. After unlocking a certain amount of tattoos, more will appear and your command list expands.
Unfortunately the problems in Tokyo Tattoo Girls are compounded by bugs. When first playing the game and watching the opening credits, I’ve ran into lagging issues frequently. More bizarre was trying to take screenshots of the game in the headquarter section, where characters and details disappeared, leaving just the background graphic, though they return if you take a screenshot again. Likewise, several menu options rely on using the touch screen, while a lot of the game is fine using buttons, which leads to some confusion when navigating the menus.
Tokyo Tattoo Girls is a simple game to play but it still requires some thinking and patience to win. Just remember that there’s little in the way of action and it instead resembles playing a slower-paced board game like RISK. While there is technically plenty of content on offer with the alternate endings and unlockable illustrations, with such rudimentary gameplay it’s hard to dive back in.