Voyeurism isn't a theme that's new to video games. In fact, one of the most controversial games in the history of the medium was the Mega CD's Night Trap (now available on Switch in remastered form, incidentally), a game ostensibly about watching people through cameras. And now, here's Do Not Feed The Monkeys with a very similar premise – but an even more sinister twist.
Invited to the mysterious "Primate Observation Club", your task is to observe "the monkeys" through a series of cameras, while reporting back on your findings to the Club by responding to their email requests for information. Feeding back your accrued knowledge gets you paid, and getting paid allows you to buy more cameras to spy on more "monkeys". Voyeurism is addictive, though, and you'll need to pay attention to your overall health, hunger and fatigue levels.
Balancing your life while making sure you have enough money for rent, food and additional cameras are the fundamentals of the gameplay, and things get complex quickly. You'll need to keep an eye on multiple camera feeds in order to listen in on their subjects, accruing keywords which you'll stitch together in your notebook to discover leads, facts and revelations about each of your subjects. Their stories play out in front of you, which stokes the fire of curiosity until you may feel compelled to intervene, but that's not a great idea – the clue's in the title. Indeed, "feeding the monkeys" could result in your camera being discovered and destroyed, a stern warning from the Club sent to your inbox, and the promise of "expulsion"; an ambiguous fate, loaded with menace.
What we have here is a resource management game, one where the clock doesn't stop and neither can you. Flitting between your computer and the rest of your compact apartment, you'll have to contend with needy, distracting neighbours – a cast of bizarre characters throwing wrinkles into your efforts to observe your collection of primates. On top of this, you'll need to work to earn money by picking up the odd jobs affixed to the door of your flat; these pay badly and take up valuable time. You'll spend that money on expensive fresh food from the store – another time sink – or unhealthy-but-filling pizzas and hotdogs delivered by an enigmatic courier. You'll also need to make time to sleep, but you can't risk missing too many earning opportunities lest you find yourself without enough cameras at the time of your weekly Primate Observation Club inspection, and get yourself... expelled.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys combines its plate-spinning gameplay with elements of classic point-and-click adventures – though here, the act of combining an inventory of items is replaced with cross-referencing keywords you've picked up through your voyeurism and feeding them into an in-game search engine in the hope you'll find something concrete to feed back to the Club and earn that sweet, sweet cash. The visuals are generally very nice and expressive; there's a very familiar cartoon style which lessens the sleaziness of the proceedings, though don't let that mislead you into thinking the game shies away from lascivious content. There's plenty of depravity on display, which, when it was initially released on the eShop with an incorrect age rating, caused a few red faces.
The sum of all these disparate elements is a game that's shockingly enjoyable, and with some real tension. Sure, if you fail you'll start over from scratch, but it's not like the more traditional "roguelike" offerings in this saturated genre of indies. There are multiple endings and many, many cameras to see on each playthrough, and progress can be saved in a traditional way. We'd argue that calling Do Not Feed The Monkeys a roguelike in any respect does it something of a disservice, pigeonholing the game in a way that doesn't reflect the experience of actually playing it.
Of course, it's not perfect – controlling the in-game cursor feels a little stiff, and while touch controls are available, they feel somewhat imprecise. Additionally, it's quite tricky to hit the hot-spots that are layered on top of other hot-spots – reading the list of jobs on your apartment door, for example, is a little awkward and any note left on the front of said door is even more finicky.
On top of this, we encountered a pretty major bug where the notebook simply wouldn't go away when we tried to close it. This left us unable to continue without reloading our game, which is far from ideal. These issues aside, it can also be frustrating when you're trying keywords that really should shed some further light on a subject, but the game decrees aren't quite the right ones. Progress, as a result, can sometimes feel arbitrarily limited; you want to be following the cameras at all times, but you may be forced into a situation where you need to simply work all day to afford food or rent, which means waiting around while you undergo these time-consuming and repetitive tasks.
Do Not Feed The Monkeys isn't a perfect game by any means, and its minor interface and design hiccups are unfortunate. Thankfully, these small irritations do not serve to massively undermine what Fictiorama Studios has achieved here; the capacity for indie developers to come up with novel ideas never ceases to impress, and this is a doozy of a concept. Weaving together the "monkeys'" stories is rewarding and satisfying, and there's an impressive sense of foreboding to the whole thing. You'll play Do Not Feed The Monkeys through to the end more than once, believe us.