Who knew that being a peeping tom would be so fun? It’s probably not an admission that anyone should make publicly, but it’s one we came to after a round of Do Not Feed the Monkeys.
This is the second game from Fictiorama Studios, following the decent Dead Synchronicity. Where that game was a conventional point-and-click, Do Not Feed the Monkeys is more original. It casts you as a new recruit to The Primate Observation Club, a shadowy group who observes ‘monkeys’ in ‘cages’. You soon get an inkling that they’re not talking literally; it’s not too much of a spoiler that these monkeys are people, and the cages are rooms, and you have access to hidden CCTV that watches them continuously.
Your job is to watch and listen to the cages, and jot information into a journal. This will mean scanning the room with your cursor, point-and-click style, for stuff that the game deems important, but it also means listening to conversations. A handy sidebar flashes when exciting stuff is happening in one of the cages, and this commonly means that a conversation has kicked up. Move the focus to their cage, listen as they natter, and keywords will light up in their dialogue. You can then sketch those keywords in your journal with a press of the X button. Gather enough keywords, and you will be able to flick to your journal to do some deduction: for example, the man trapped in a lift keeps talking about detergent and is surrounded by cleaning products, so he’s probably a ‘janitor’. The terms get ringed together, janitor is put as the heading, and you’ve gained another term for use in future deductions.
The Primate Observation Club has you under probation, so you must prove yourself. This means tests every five days, which sounds daunting, but mostly just involves unlocking the required number of ‘cages’. You can buy these cages with cash, and you can get cash by two means. The first is pretty simple: you get emails from the Club asking for details about individual cages, like ‘what is the full name of the monkey in cage 15?’. Get these right by submitting a keyword from your journal, and you’ll get a healthy reward. The second is not so simple, and requires a separate paragraph.
There are two rooms in your character’s apartment, and we’ve talked mostly about your office, where the terminal is, and where the voyeurism goes down. The second room, switched to with a press of RB, is your bedroom-diner. This is where an almost completely different game goes on; a resource-management game where you manage happiness, hunger, tiredness and money. These creep down over time, so you can’t just spend your days glued to the screen. You have to get part-time jobs to make money, but those jobs also increase your tiredness and hunger, as well as sapping your happiness. So, you can sleep – reducing tiredness but increasing hunger – or you can buy/order food, which costs money but decreases hunger. Got that?
All of these will move on your clock in real-time, meaning that you might miss valuable encounters in your ‘cages’, as well as ensure the next test will creep ever closer. If you reach that date without the requisite number of cages bought, you get fired and lose. But, equally, if your happiness, tiredness or hunger reaches 0, then you lose too. Oh, and we forgot to tell you, but the landlady arrives every five days to collect rent, so you’ll have to pay that too. Or you lose.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys wants you to be switching between these two ‘games’ regularly. You’ll find yourself making spot decisions, based on the lives of the characters you are watching. Do you take an eight-hour long job that will get you enough cash for the rent, but miss an arranged meeting between two monkeys? You’re constantly weighing up priorities.
There’s no doubt that voyeurism is where Do Not Feed the Monkeys is at its best. It’s the source of the originality and fun, as you learn every monkey’s routine and work out when they’re active. There’s the initial rush of completionism, as you fill out your journal for a given subject, but then the game goes deeper, as you realise you can find phone numbers and email addresses when interacting with the monkeys themselves or just messing with them. You can order takeaways for them, attempt to buy shares in their company, and more. There’s a whole additional layer to the game, where you can look to undermine the Primate Observation Club, bringing it down from within. Several endings rely on your degree of sabotage.
This part of the game is very, very fun; so much so that we can see players resenting the resource management stuff. Just as you’ve bought new cages and can’t wait to start learning about them, the landlady will come knocking, or you’ll need to order food. It’s a constant tug, and you never quite feel able to give yourself up to the voyeurism completely, which is very much where you will want to be. Playing devil’s advocate, there is a mode that reduces the resource management, but playing it highlights why the resource management was there in the first place: not enough happens in the cages to warrant watching them 24/7. The enjoyment saps again, and you find yourself tapping your fingers on the desk. Do Not Feed the Monkeys never quite finds the happy medium between the two.
Spinning so many plates at once is harder when you have one arm tied behind your back. That’s how it feels playing Do Not Feed the Monkeys on Xbox, and more specifically on a controller. This was a game made for touchscreens or a mouse, and it really struggles with a gamepad. God-level players will want to be switching between multiple cages at once, so that no keywords get missed, but tapping the d-pad frantically to get there doesn’t quite cut it. Moving the cursor with the analogue stick is slow to the point of pointlessness, and it’s far too easy to mis-select something in the resource management – opening a door when you meant to find a part-time job, for example. There are so, so many examples of these control fumbles, and they’re significant enough to make you wish you’d played on something more suitable. If you’ve been considering playing Do Not Feed the Monkeys and have multiple platforms to choose from, we have to admit – as an Xbox site – that an Xbox isn’t the one you should be choosing.
The controls on console are significant enough to dink the score down – they’re that bad. But there’s still plenty to admire in Do Not Feed the Monkeys. It’s rare to come across a game that feels this original – we’ve barely played anything like it, and it feels like a new direction that point-and-clicks could explore. It’s also fantastically barmy, with characters and situations that lean into the weirdness of the setup. There are plenty of neat touches, like watching an actual peeping tom while you are undoubtedly being watched yourself, like a voyeur centipede.
The cages that you’re allocated are random, and there’s a decent library that the game will pull from, making Do Not Feed the Monkeys surprisingly replayable for a story-oriented game. You’ll likely want to give it another go, as long as the controls and resource management haven’t soured things too much.
Do Not Feed the Monkeys is better played on other systems rather than on Xbox. Without a mouse or touchscreen to move through screens, you’ll find yourselves fumbling through the screens like your dad with a remote, when you want to feel like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. But don’t let it put you off the game as a whole: this is a witty, hugely original voyeurism simulator, and it’s well worth searching out elsewhere.