You can watch them, indulge in their idiosyncrasies, but whatever you do, do not feed the monkeys.
Joining the secret and exclusive society ‘The Primate Observation Club’, you, as a digital stalker of sorts, are given a set of surveillance cameras that let you into the lives of some very unsuspecting and interesting individuals. The developer, Fictiorama Studios, based the concept on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and an actual website featuring live and insecure security cameras, and it is perhaps unsurprising therefore that it’s conveyed through a dark-humoured lens, aiming to show the bizarre lives and decisions of those ‘captive’ to your attention with an appealing pixel art style.
Your society provides you with a pyramid scheme goal of purchasing 5 more cameras – or ‘cages’ – every 5 days, while you also have to work part-time jobs to pay for your rent, food and well-being. This whole review could be spent trying to explain the bonkers concept that must have been imagined on some sort of hallucinogenic, but strangely, it works really well.
You have to discover the stories behind the camera, picking up clues, piecing them together and researching them on the internet. Every story has someone/something in need of help in some way, and with your investigation you are able to contact the relevant people involved and help the ‘monkeys’, getting rewarded if you are able to do so. If you aren’t able to discover how to contact someone involved, then an unfortunate fate may befall them. Gaining information forms mind-maps in your notebook but they are far from linear, offering player agency as to where your search heads and different endings to each individual story, some of which are based on moral decisions.
As an example, upon learning about the profession and hobbies of a janitor stuck in an elevator of an abandoned building, you are able to find his telephone number on the internet and call his wife, but she, thinking you are from the press to talk to her about her missing husband, won’t talk to you until you can prove you are one of his friends. Once convinced, she calls her lawyer (who’s also the lawyer for company who owns the abandoned building) who then tries to bribe you to keep your mouth shut and to leave the janitor to die. Ignoring the camera altogether also results in grave consequences.
Everything about this game’s tremendous concept screams innovation and originality with each camera’s story told excellently over the pacing of the game’s day. The actions you take for each are also completely different, wildly surprising and very entertaining.
While your bizarre primate-monitoring hobby initially gives you a strange feeling of omnipotence, you’re soon brought back to reality with your day-to-day needs demanding as much attention as your hairy brethren. Taking on part-time jobs is essential to pay for rent, food and cages, but unfortunately prevents you from progressing your investigations of the very time-specific stories. Earning money is also needed to maintain your health, energy and hunger gauges, but it isn’t immediately obvious which diet is the most effective, leading to inefficient purchases with your meagre wages. Letting your hunger or health drop to 0, failing to pay the rent or for the 5 new cages will all result in ‘Game Over’ screens, which you’ll likely see more than a few times. It’s a frantic playthrough where even one untimely purchase can result in failure.
This skewed balance seems to be intentional, however, due to the game’s short length of around 4 hours. Playing time is extended by learning from your mistakes, but also by restricting your ability to solve all the stories in one playthrough as learning about the monkeys becomes a lower priority than simply surviving to the end. Thankfully, there’s also an easy mode that removes a lot of the resource management-produced stress, allowing the player to take the varied selection of the 20 interactive stories at a more relaxed pace. And although the game’s achievements cannot be achieved in easy mode, the developer at least acknowledges that accessibility improves a product rather than diminishes it, and is an inclusion that I’m always a huge proponent of.
The plot is barely expanded upon beyond the first few screens, existing solely as a blueprint to provide the game with its absurd context, so when your run as the ‘leader of the monkeys’ ends, it’s surprisingly abrupt. It also prevents you from continuing with the stories you were progressing with, forcing you to start a new game to attempt to see them through.
With re-releases, remakes and sequels buzzwords of the gaming industry these days, innovative video games such as ‘Do Not Feed The Monkeys’ only come around once in a blue moon, and therefore they should not only be commended but encouraged – especially as this one’s from an indie developer. So, while there are some issues preventing this from being executed perfectly, it’s still as fun as a barrel of monkeys.