For £3.99, “Please, Don’t Touch Anything” is a bit of a gamble. Currently available on mobile and tablet, as well as Steam, it’s a pixel-art puzzler that manages to be both cryptic and comical in the same stroke. With nothing more than a computer terminal occupying the screen, the game opens with a brief exchange of dialogue, presumably between two friends or colleagues. Put simply, one asks the other not to touch anything while they quickly run off to the bog.
Of course, with a big red button smack bang in the middle of the console interface, curiosity will no doubt get the better of you. That’s pretty much what PDTA is in a nutshell, an experiment in which players input a series of increasingly complex commands using whatever scraps of information they can find. In doing so, there’s a chance you’ll stumble upon one of the game’s 25 different endings, each one illuminating a light on the dashboard while also slapping a crudely-drawn sketch on the lab wall. A visual achievement of sorts.
Chances are you’ll start off with a few simple commands, fiddling around with an assortment of buttons, side compartments, and other interactive elements. However, sooner or later you’ll run up against one of the game’s more conventional puzzles. I’d struggle to call them ingenious, yet the solutions are surprisingly complicated and well thought out, considering PDTA’s initial simplicity. Although the solution is always within sight, some challenges will inevitably force you to take a step back and think instead of mindlessly tapping away.
To that extent it reminds me of The Witness, but on a much smaller scale. That said, it shares one of the game’s major downsides – fatigue. Instead of repetition, however, this is onset by the lack of variation on offer here. Sure, each of the 25 puzzles requires a unique workaround yet the key ingredients remain the same. Following what little information there is, players will enter a specific string of commands which is often followed by a humorous result. One of these, you’ll quickly find, sees the entire outside world explode as a gigantic mushroom cloud engulfs the terminal screen. Others are slightly more trippy and unusual, with one or two endings being downright disturbing yet consistently funny and off-the-wall.
As hinted at before, however, Please, Don’t Touch Anything can quickly lose its appeal. Unless you’re particularly engrossed in trying to find every possible solution, you could be looking at a few minutes before you’re tempted to back out and play something else. That’s just how this type of puzzler works, however, as there’s no real hint system at play or any sort of overt guidance. Therefore, without a fair amount of trial and error, as well as plenty of studying of your surroundings, it can feel as though you aren’t getting anywhere.
I’ve no doubt there’s a select portion of gamers who can dig that. However, having been conditioned by the hand-holding of modern video games as well as the throwaway nature of mobile titles, the thought of booting up PDTA during a quick five-minute break doesn’t really appeal to me. Staring at that big red button and theorising which series of buttons to press became more of a test rather than a fun burst of instant gratification.