Tokyo Tattoo Girls review for PS Vita, PC

Platform: PS Vita
Also on: PC
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Sushi Typhoon
Medium: Digital/Vita card
Players: 1
Online: No

Here’s an anecdote to highlight just how bewildering and terrible Tokyo Tattoo Girls is: any time I’m reviewing a game, I try to avoid reading what anyone else has to say about the game so I can be sure I’m approaching it without other people’s experiences colouring my perspective. By contrast, within about 20 minutes of booting up Tokyo Tattoo Girls, I was scrolling through Metacritic to make sure that I hadn’t missed something important about the game. It all just seemed so terrible, so lacking in content, so devoid of any redeeming features, that I thought the only possible explanation had to be that I was doing something wrong.

But it turns out that, nope, it really is that bad, and that my experience is almost universal.

Tokyo Tattoo Girls is so horrible, it’s hard to figure out where to even begin describing its awfulness. Do you start with the fact that it’s barely a game? With the fact that it’s a bunch of ideas thrown together with no regard for whether they even should have been combined in the first place? Do you focus on the fact it’s kind of broken? This is one of those rare games that’s so bad in so many ways, it almost defies explanation.

I can start by focusing on the facts — specifically, that there are all kinds of ideas present in Tokyo Tattoo Girls, but none of them really go together. At first it looks like you’re playing a RISK-style strategy game, since you’re the boss/partner/tattoo artist of a teenage girl looking to take over the 23 wards of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. You recruit clanswomen and punks, then get into fights with the ward bosses, before you eventually reach a point where you can take on the big boss.

This is all well and good, except it all happens at random, and the only input you have into any of it as a player is through buying “Honor” points to make sure that you don’t run out. Otherwise, everything else runs according to some unknowable internal game clock — the decisions of where to go next, the timing of the ward boss fights, all of it. You can click on the map and buy dice and punks and clanswomen to your heart’s content, but it doesn’t matter much in the big scheme of things. On top of all that, you’re a bystander for those boss fights: you can pick one line of dialogue as the character you control and the opposing boss banter, but your character is guaranteed to win no matter what. If done well, it could have been interesting, but Tokyo Tattoo Girls is the opposite of “done well.”

Then there’s a gambling aspect to the game. Every so often, a gambling parlour appears somewhere on the map, and you can use the Protection Money you’ve earned to play a dice game. As far as I can tell, it works like it’s supposed to, but it has very little bearing on the rest of the game, beyond either giving or costing you some money to buy your useless punks/clanswomen.

Likewise, there’s the titular tattooing. In theory, you gain a bit of charisma or talent when you buy your characters some tattoos, except, as noted above, it doesn’t really make a huge difference, since you’re guaranteed to win your boss battles as long as you don’t run out of Honor points. I guess there are some people who’ll be really into the thought of an anime girl’s naked back — you’re the one giving her the tattoos, after all — but…these people know the internet exists, right? And besides that, the tattoos only show up on that one screen; you don’t see your character getting more tattooed as she heads into more battles.

In other words, you have three different ideas at work here, and none of them have much of anything to do with each other…and even if they did, it wouldn’t matter much, since it still doesn’t leave players with anything to do beyond watching the game play out before them. To top it all off, the game isn’t entirely stable. I had it crash on me as the on-screen action got a little frantic (which is to say, when money briefcases started popping up on the map in more than three wards), which doesn’t suggest it would be able to handle anything more than what little it does here.

And again, it does so little that it almost seems inconceivable. Tokyo Tattoo Girls stretches the definition of what a “game” is, and not in a good way. The amount of content here would barely be acceptable for a free, browser-based Flash game; for a full-priced Vita release, it’s legitimately shameful.

NIS America provided us with a Tokyo Tattoo Girls PS Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: F