I am probably one of those people who have no interest in what my neighbours are up to. As long as people behave and have their best intentions in mind, it is all good. However, Do Not Feed The Monkeys sold me on its title alone. The concept of spying on different locations and people’s activities, taking notes, questioning your choices, trying to not get caught, and doing it all while the clock is ticking, seemed like quite the tense and interesting take on this interactive media. I bought this game when it came out, but for some reason, I have not touched it until now. So, why do you not feed the monkeys?
What is in the news today?
Congratulations! You get to be a part of a group who watches over people and locations through different surveillance cameras, making you into a Big Brother in this title. Because of this, the story is not really about you, but rather about what and who you observe. Through these cameras, you will see different characters in their daily lives, as well as noticeable events occurring. This is a nice way to keep you on your toes, as you will have to pay attention to every detail and when they happen in order to make progress. You basically become a detective of sorts, as you have to figure out as much as you can about what is going on in each screen, making you invested in the story through your interactivity.
There might be a lot of clues to take in, but Do Not Feed The Monkeys will automatically take notes by clicking on highlighted words in dialogues or environmental objects, making it easy to keep track of every event and character. Mails about searching after things you see on the cameras will also indicate what you should be looking out for, so you are never completely lost in the different stories to follow. This is also helped by how the newspapers you get every day, provides a nice headline on what is going on currently. You even have a search engine that can help you to gather more information about what you observe, which is a clever way to acquire more lore.
In fact, these stories help to paint a world that is diverse and believable through small and big events, with some cameras being related to one another subtly. The experience is consistently strong by how you watch over everything, and you yourself can even interact with them. It is not recommended by the club that you do, but nothing is stopping you from taking phone calls from them or sending them packages, to name a few examples. Even better, the outcomes will be based on your actions or the lack of any. This makes everything you see have a personal stake, as you clearly can affect what you witness on the screen for better or worse. Sadly, while this creates solid immersion and there is a diverse amount of stories to encounter, repetitious elements will be had.
Since people go about their daily lives, elements of them are either rephrased or even reused for each day. This is most likely done to help the player, as there are different events that can happen simultaneously, making you have to switch between multiple cameras constantly. It still breaks the immersion on the occasion, but it is a minor issue that is there to help you progress. Unfortunately, it also becomes tiresome when you have to wait for a certain amount of time for anything to happen, as there can be a lot of downtime with nothing eventful going on. This is a controversial problem too, as it could be argued for being realistic to the actual setup of waiting for things to happen, but there will be times where you simply look at the clock and pray for anything worthwhile to see.
One element that is a major problem, is actually the stories themselves. It is hard to qualify any of them as bad or even below average, but the inconsistency in quality makes it hard to be equally invested in every camera. One can be about a bizarre love triangle dealing with the supernatural, another might be about a reckless driver, and there is a chance to witness a singer struggling with a song. All of them probably sound intriguing, but they are either too simple in structure for their surrealism or easy to decipher the moment they enter the screen.
Because of this, they feel more like parodies of better stories or historical figures, making them all forgettable. This is a shame when you try to uncover their backstories or reasons for environmental changes, only to have the setups being too simple to be engaging studies. The uneven theming in the supernatural versus a realistic approach also damages the overall experience. However, despite this glaring issue, the stories can be good for a chuckle and a few are definitely stronger than others. What will mainly keep you hooked, is the atmosphere of playing as a Big Brother. Like a scoop of vanilla ice cream: it can be enjoyable, but you might wish for more flavours. It is all serviceable and nice, just nothing more.
Story Score: 6/10
Monkey see, monkey no touch!
With your trusty PC in front of you and MonkeyVision 2.1 installed, you are now a part of “The Primate Observation Club”. You start off with four cameras to spy on subjects or areas with, find out what is going on in each scenario, and answer mails in order to close the “cases” you are given. However, in order to keep your MonkeyVision and still be a part of the club, you have to upgrade your setup with the appropriate amount of cameras for your next evaluation. Fail to do so, and you are out of the club.
There are a lot of elements to go over, so let’s start with your PC first. On it, you can check out each camera installed with the MonkeyVision program, with the bulbs on the right representing each of them. When one blinks yellow, movement is happening on that specific screen, which is a nice touch to help keep up with events occurring. After choosing a camera, you can click on parts in the environment that highlights when you hover the cursor over it and words in the dialogues that are yellow. By doing so, you will automatically write what you clicked on down, and when you have gathered enough clues, a circle will be made around those that are related. When this happens you will be able to you choose one of three words to conclude what these clues might be referring to.
While this is your main way to conduct research, you will also have other tools at disposal. One is your search engine, which is severely helpful for gaining more info, such as phone numbers. Despite that you are not really allowed to interact with the “monkeys” as stated, there is nothing stopping you from doing just that. You can call them, text them through a messenger program, and even send them things from an online shop, if you want to influence them somehow. All of your actions, including the decision to not interact with them, will have consequences and I love this aspect. It is great to see that you can affect their lives in multiple ways, and that it all comes from you finding the right clues and deciding on how or if you wish to alter their lives, making you rewarded through your investment.
This concept is further helped by the uncertainty of what cameras you will get, as each new playthrough will give random ones to see through. Despite that you might come across some scenes from an earlier save, the variety helps the game from becoming repetitive. What will also keep you on your toes, is the clock. Time moves forward for everyone in this game, with those on the screen following their own daily routines and you have to keep up with your own deeds as well.
Of course, buying more cameras to meet status quo by the club and acquire helpful upgrades like night vision, are important to consider. However, you also have to pay your landlady rent, and while you can send answers to your club for some payment on cases, you will have to get a job on the side in order to survive. There will be a lot to take in just to say yes to a job, as some might require prior experiences, work can start at inconvenient times, you must decide whether you should take longer shifts for more pay or vice versa, and you need enough energy to stay awake.
Yes, you also have to take care of your physical needs. Sleep, hunger, and health are all clear needs with a bar each. Food to buy can either be healthier options that take longer time to get from the market or junk food that will be delivered at the door in an hour at the cost of you having to answer the bell and that this type of consumption drains your health. Sleeping is important as well, and you can decide the amount of time to do so or drink some coffee. Be aware; failing any of these requirements, both physical needs and economical outcomes, will result in a Game Over.
Loosing here is punishing, but not demoralising. Do Not Feed The Monkeys saves your progress for every day and should you die, you can choose to restart from the same day or a previous one, if you want to continue your current playthrough. Starting a new game is also a valid option, since this title is only three hours long and takes 16 in-game days to finish. However, the problem can come from the randomisation in each run. You will get different people on the door, either agents, neighbours or others that can help make or break your game, and even elements happening on the screen can be random. It is luckily not a terrible RNG, but enough to make one playthrough significantly harder than another, making this title feel inconsistent in difficulty.
While it is nice to manage your time and be mindful of your bars, money, and what you see on the screen, there will be moments that are simply dull. Planning your days accordingly for your needs and possible events to spy on is a fun aspect of this title, and it is exciting to take notes whenever you can. Unfortunately, there will be just as many times where you will sit and wait for new things to happen, as you will not have the time to do anything else. You cannot even buy more cameras than what is required for your status quo, which is a strange form of restriction.
This especially frustrates me, since I should be able to choose how much I can handle. If I fail, that is all on me. 25 cameras is the max amount you can have, but with some cases being closed and the fact that some cameras can share the same case, it is actually more than manageable. Because of this, getting mail on cheap pizzas became the most engaging part of certain days. Some original note taking could have helped out as well, since the interactivity is so scattered in the amount of it.
After three hours of gameplay, you will have gone through what is an interesting take on the point-and-click genre. Do Not Feed The Monkeys is far from difficult, but will demand your attention and is intriguing enough for one sitting. There are problems with the restricted setup, repetitive scenarios, and moments of waiting, with them all being noticeable. Luckily, this title has enough to keep your attention, since you will basically be playing as a cyber detective trying to survive another day. Just do not eat too many hot dogs.
Gameplay Score: 7.5/10
Smooth style, yet rough edges
When I showed this game to my friend and previous co-writer, Casper, he mentioned that it looked like an old flash game, and I can definitely see what he meant by that. The art style is neat, with a setting that seems to take place somewhere in the early 2000s. Your PC has a background that is reminiscent to Windows XP’s, some people are based on historical figures, and we have ninjas as delivery associates. These diverse character models and fun parodies are a nice way to spice up the game and would fit right at home in a Leslie Nielsen comedy. I do like the environments you are spying on as well, as they paint a clear cultural landscape by showcasing varied locations, such as a field for farming, a music studio, the highways or a normal apartment to name a few.
Unfortunately, the technical aspect is the issue I have with the visuals, as they contain what I would like to call “fake pixel art”. We have everything in high quality pixels, which I find to be a nice update. However, the notepad has clear handwritten words and this ruins the consistency of the art style, due to how often you will be looking at it. The movement and animations of the characters are also not what I could call diverse or expressive, as they are stiff and repeated between multiple NPCs. Although, having the smaller models being crude pixels is a nice touch and there is a lot to admire in this game’s general style, despite some clear shortcomings.
The audio is an interesting part of this title. It contains plenty of sounds you would be familiar with in a setting like this, such as neighbours bickering, cars driving outside, and the typing on your keyboard. It is a nice way to provide an atmosphere, but the music is simply unremarkable. It sounds like it is being played from a radio, representing as just background noise. It can add to the experience of being locked in your own apartment, but the use of classical, jazz, samba, and more tracks from eras long before the 2000s, makes Do Not Feed The Monkeys feel unclear in its style. The ability to add your own soundtrack or have multiple radio channels for more options would have helped, as what is here simply feels unfitting.
Presentation Score: 6/10
I am watching ALL OF YOU!
There are multiple different endings for each of the NPCs you are watching over, making this title fun to replay. This holds especially true, when you can encounter different events, which have more outcomes depending on how you play or even if you survive. There are nine different endings for your playable avatar, and you will always get a glimpse at your subject’s aftermaths too within them. Unfortunately, repetitious routines can occur, due to familiar faces being seen and the inability to gain more cameras than the status quo allows.
However, thanks to how you can alter runs, the RNG with what cameras you are getting, and random visitors at the door, it all adds to give you a reason to go through this title multiple times. There is also the peeper mode where you get more resources to stay sharp, but it is not worth considering as it takes away the tension this game can offer, and it can truly make the overall experience boring. Although, try to make your plant grow if you can. You will not have many friends in this world, but a plant is always a nice companion.
Extra Score: 7/10
Being an all-seeing eye and taking everything in with caution (especially time), makes Do Not Feed The Monkeys an intriguing title through its mechanics alone, as everything you do matters. I also say this, as the presentation is inconsistent in style and quality. The stories are hit and miss as well, and feels more like references that are easy to decipher than fascinating observations. Still, this is overall a light game that might not be personal, but entertaining. An interesting point-and-click, that simply could use a bit more spice.