What is the point of a video game? Obviously there’s many possible answers to that question but the biggest & most obvious would surely to ‘play’ something. No matter the genre, from the most gameplay dense action/adventure to the narrative-driven plot of a graphic novel, a video game relies on one key element for its success and that’s player input to either move the action or story along. Tokyo Tattoo Girls has none of that. It’s a game that basically asks you to start it up, enter a few options and watch the proceedings unfurl. There’s no gameplay here, no challenge and no point to anything other than to unlock some story bits and maybe see a sexy anime girl in a revealing pose. In short, this may be one of the worst “games” I’ve played in a long time.

The story of Tokyo Tattoo Girls takes place in a ruined version of the Japanese capital, where a great calamity has struck, leaving most of the city’s  remaining population scrambling for a sense of order. Shortly after the disaster, several young women start having mysterious tattoos appear on their bodies that also grant them power and influence over the populace. After a series of negotiations with the government, it’s decided that the power these women have is too great to be trifled with and they are given control over Tokyo’s 23 wards on the condition that no one can travel to and from the city. With a setting like this, you would expect the gameplay to be as interesting and imaginative and set up a battle for the future of Tokyo itself but what we get instead is a massive disappointment.

The gameplay (if it can even be called that) basically consists of choosing which of (admittedly cute) anime girls you want representing your clan and sending them out to conquer the 23 wards of Tokyo by influencing the local gangs to fight for you. What’s wrong with that you ask? Well the entire process is automatic! After you’ve selected who is representing your clan you have practically nothing to do but keep an eye on a gauge to make sure you aren’t losing influence. And if you are you can simply buy more influence from the market or head over to the tattoo parlor to power up your girl, where one of the most awkward scenes I’ve seen in a game this year plays out.  Just have a look the screenshot below to see what I mean.

Now, I’m not a prude and I think that sex and sexual images definitely have a place in gaming, but these tattoo sessions don’t serve any other purpose but to show some skin and exist purely to try to sell the game. Its borderline pornographic and with the game having nearly no gameplay to speak of, other than navigating menus and occasionally influencing the course of the turf wars it really does come off solely as gimmick to make the game stand out. I’ve never been one to complain about sexual content in a game but this time around it felt like I was looking at naked ladies for the sake of looking at naked ladies which is not really what I want to get out of my gaming sessions.

Similarly to the gameplay, Tokyo Tattoo Girls is equally lite when it comes to content. The entire game consists of trying to conquer the 23 wards of Tokyo from rival gangs and the only variety you have comes from changing which girl is leading your gang (each have different base stats) and how you manage their tattoo sessions. There’s virtually no variety in how each session unfolds other than the speed of your conquest and even the (very much hyped by the game) “boss” battles against the ward’s leader are nothing more than cut scenes that you cannot lose at. The closest thing I can liken the game to is like playing Risk, except without any unit management, challenge or skill factored in.

For this review I played Tokyo Tattoo Girls on the PlayStation Vita (the game is also releasing on PC) and I think (if you have to play it) that Sony’s handheld is the way to go. The game just seems to be perfectly optimized for the Vita’s screen with everything looking sharp, bright, colorful and dare I say, attractive. This is not an ‘ugly’ title to say the least and, when compared to the Vita’s contemporary titles (most of which are Japanese imports these days) Tokyo Tattoo Girls feels right at home. The game even makes us of the Vita’s touch-screen to make navigating menus (which again is all you will be doing) easier, so there’s that at least. Sadly the rest of the game’s presentation, while not awful is pretty ho-hum. The soundtrack is forgettable and the story (while a cool premise) makes absolutely zero sense logically, so even if you decided to treat this as a visual novel you’re likely to be disappointed.

Now if you do decide to take the plunge and give Tokyo Tattoo Girls a spin, you’ll be looking at a $29.99 investment. Not a terrible price when compared to other games on the marketplace but about $29.99 more than what I would say you should spend. Honestly the game is just not that good, and even on the Vita, a system that is being kept alive by support from publishers like NIS America there’s simply better games to look into spending your time with. A ’round’ of gameplay in Tokyo Tattoo Girls isn’t very long (and can even be fast-forwarded through) which again reinforces the feeling that the game wants to get the ‘game-like’ parts out of way as painlessly as possible so you can go look at more naked anime girls.

To say that I did not enjoy my time with Tokyo Tattoo Girls would be an understatement. As a reviewer you sometimes have to play bad games; games that waste your time and games that offend your sensibilities but its important to remember who the target audience is and review with them in mind. Tokyo Tattoo Girls‘ target audience however I can’t even pinpoint. It’s a game with no gameplay, whose only interaction is navigating menus and ‘rewards’ you by giving you a glance at a girls backside. It’s like a slightly more annoying version of searching for lewd pictures on Google and a product that has almost no right to call itself a ‘game’.

A copy of Tokyo Tattoo Girls was provided to Link-Cable by the publisher for the purpose of this review.