There's an overabundance of animals in the world, and a new indie game is giving you the hard job of ensuring only the best remain in circulation.
Tom Astle's Animal Inspector, as it's called, is a disarmingly cute simulator that does its best to distract you from the harsh reality at hand: you're deciding the fates of house cats, family dogs, beloved snakes, and a bevy of other animals. It's a lot like Lucas Pope's immigration officer simulator, Papers, Please, but for cute pets. It's not a pretty job, but apparently someone has to do it. Why not you?
On the surface, the job's deceptively simple. Thumb through a series of forms with a photo of an animal, its attributes, and comments from its owner. Many are obviously meant to tug at your heartstrings ("This is the family dog and he's old, but we love him!") but some of the forms are devoid of any commentary at all. You'll drag an approval or rejection stamp to the form, add your own comment, and go on to the next. When you're finished, it's important that you tidy the forms up and straighten them, else you might receive a strike. Three strikes, and you're out.
As you progress, you're asked to prioritize types of animals, such as rejecting larger animals to conserve space or filling quotas passed down to you by your supervisor. Your fellow inspectors will try and sway your opinion of certain breeds, such as a nice old woman named Martha who wants your word that you'll always approve cats. When you're asked to approve at least two applications and all of them are cats, it's tough not to feel even the smallest twinge of guilt for disappointing that sweet old lady.
Personally, I didn't want to judge any of the animals negatively, because I didn't want anyone to lose their precious companions. The game won't allow this, however, since the main job function of an animal inspector is to "cull the herd," as you're reminded every so often.
When you've played long enough, however, you'll be met with some harrowing twists. There will be promises you can't keep. You'll receive strikes from management for decisions you perceive as moral, but you'll make your coworkers (and yourself) happy. If you try and avoid strikes, you're going to be perceived as cruel and callous. The odds are increasingly stacked against you, and you'll slowly come to the realization there's something a whole lot darker going on beneath the surface here. When you do, it's probably going to be too late. Can you avoid it? Maybe. You'll have to start over from the beginning and see.
This is, quite possibly, the most difficult set of decisions you'll have to make today for just $3. But if you do take the plunge, just remember this: You can't approve 'em all.
Animal Inspector is available now for just $3 via itch.io.