Have you ever had the feeling that you're being watched? Like there's someone out there pulling all the strings? Well, Do Not Feed The Monkeys may just about confirm your fears! This digital voyeur simulator puts you on the other end of the camera, glued to the screen of your computer with a pizza on the floor and the world's fate in your hands.
Do Not Feed The Monkeys is a point-and-click adventure at heart, one which plays out across numerous stories as you're enlisted as the latest member in The Primate Observation Club. Little is known about the shadowy organisation, aside from it providing you with 24/7 access to a network of CCTV cameras from your bedroom. Using a mysterious app called MonkeyVision, you're asked to observe the primates in their cages and report back on what they're getting up to. But the cages are homes, museums, workplaces; and the primates are people, whose privates lives you'll watch unravel in bizarre and unexpected ways.
Eventually given the means to interact with them by finding clues in each scene, you have the power to avert political crimes and personal tragedies. You could breathe life into an astronaut trapped in outer space, prevent a massacre in the liquor store, or you may just wait to see how it all plays out. Caught in an endless cycle of scandal and pain, these people need your help whether they know it or not. Will you choose to save them, screw them over, or do absolutely nothing at all?
It's clear that its approach to storytelling takes cues from the moral dilemmas of games like Papers, Please, Beholder and Headliner: NoviNews. This breed of adventure has always felt right at home on the Nintendo Switch, as we're able to jump into their branching narratives at our convenience. This game is no different.
Aside from the unique set up, which has you flicking between several stories at a time, Do Not Feed The Monkeys stands out for the dark humour that surges through its veins. Treading the line between satire and bad taste, it hits a sweet spot without ever becoming overbearing. You'll see sparks of the classic LucasArts spirit in the logic and situations, just before an unexpected twist comes along and sets the story on fire. Prepare for horse-masked villains and exorcisms, and that's only scratching the surface.
There's a constant sense of anxiety in anticipation of what might happen. One minute you could be grinning at the cleaner singing away her secrets into a mop under a disco ball. The next, it drives a fist into your gut when a blood-soaked deer arrives at your door.
This tension is delivered not only through your immersion in the stories but through the daily inconveniences that snap you out of them. Like anyone, you'll need to sleep to stay awake and eat to stay alive. You'll quickly realise that balancing the needs of the body with the impulse to spy is a tough act to pull off.
This light resource management dictates the pace of the game, and though you can strip it back by choosing to play in the story-focused "peepers" mode, I wouldn't want to forego this sense of urgency.
The game motivates you to resolve each story by appealing to the natural detective in you, but it never requires you to solve them. So the only mandatory objective the game provides is to earn enough money to buy the required number of cages each week and stay conscious until you reach the end. In this sense, the resource management is an important aspect of the game's flow, which has been implemented with a careful hand. Never unfair or painstaking, it leaves you just hungry enough to make you think about what you're going to do and when you're going to do it; as well as tempting you into exploits like blackmail, that could lead to moments of devastating impact.
As for the gameplay itself, your notebook becomes a kind of inventory of keywords, which you build up by listening to conversations and clicking objects on screen. You then combine these in a search engine to find articles which lead to personal information.
If you manage to reach this point in a scenario, it evolves into a sandbox with seemingly endless possibilities. In reality, it may have four or five solutions, but the ways in which you can interact with what you see on screen feel so varied that you never sense any limits. You're driven by the compulsion to see what may happen if you interfere, or find out where a dialogue choice may lead you.
There's no penalty for failing to play the game in a specific way. This means that it's absent of the frustrations we associate with games like Day of the Tentacle, where a very specific series of actions is required to progress. Through a single playthrough, you'll see 25 scenarios, some of which are interactive. Others simply bring the world to life. You may only change the outcomes of one or two stories on the first attempt, but nevertheless you'll see an ending, and this will spur you on to experiment on the next go . With a random selection of stories see each time, Do Not Feed The Monkeys more than just rewards multiple playthroughs, it's an essential part of the experience.
The ambient soundtrack is one element of the game I really enjoyed. Some of the developers at Madrid-based Fictiorama Studios are in an indie band called Kovalski, and they played the music themselves in their previous game, Dead Synchronicity. The temptation must have been there to do it here as well, but like everything else in the game, they really focused on the core idea and did what they needed to make it work.
You can hear the TV coming through the walls, the bleeps on your computer; and when you're stuck to the screen, entranced by these storylines, you'll suddenly hear a knock at the door. Faithfully recreating the atmosphere of late night surveillance and being holed up in an apartment where the walls are too thin, the soundtrack is super effective.
The only area where the Switch version suffers is in the control department. The cursor by default is a little sluggish, and cranking up the sensitivity highlights just how small the text is in handheld. Thankfully touchscreen controls are available, though a little more optimisation in the interface would have been welcome for accessibility.
Nonetheless, this really is a fantastic game and a no-brainer for fans of anything in the spectrum of point-and-click adventures and visual novels who like this kind of humour. Revealing itself through multiple playthroughs, Do Not Feed The Monkeys gets wilder every time, and has a ridiculous number of outcomes waiting to be discovered. Expect to spend hours glued to the screen, as you're driven by a compulsion to see these stories through to their many hilarious or devastating conclusions.