Physics-based, life-destroying hole simulator is short, sweet and satisfying.
The world of Donut County is a surreal and charming place. While you’ll only spend around three hours maximum bringing whimsical destruction to its innocent animal residents, you’ll find those three hours relaxing, funny and satisfying.
Developed by Ben Esposito, it took more than five years for Donut County to see the light of day. The vibrant art style and sharp, witty writing is pitch-perfect, while the overall gameplay is simplistic almost to a fault. In Donut County, you follow the story of Mira, human girl, and BK, male raccoon. BK works at the local donut shop and delivers donuts to hungry residents straight from his app. BK’s definition of a donut, however, is questionable at best.
Framed around flashbacks, each resident tells their story of how they came to be nine hundred and ninety feet below Donut County, sitting around a campfire, arguing about a smashed drone and BK’s reckless behaviour. Despite spending such a short time with these characters, each one is distinct and memorable, which is a great achievement and a testament to the tight writing throughout. Their flashback stories serve as levels where you take control of a small hole in the ground and swallow up anything and everything you can.
You start by sucking down similarly small objects – blades of grass, bricks – and the hole grows with each item you claim. As the hole gets bigger, the perspective of the level widens and you’re given more assets to ruin. For the first half of the game, the levels are incredibly simple and easy; they fall into a threateningly tedious pattern. Thankfully, puzzle variety grows and the levels themselves become more interesting. Later puzzles still aren’t particularly challenging, but they freshen things up and give you a bit more to think about than simply guiding your mobile void around a set space.
Each level can be finished in just a few minutes (ten to fifteen for larger ones) before you’re sent back down the hole to the underground campfire setting. This is where the bulk of the dialogue-only story takes place. Dialogue is filled with an instantly relatable, modern attitude – and duck emojis. It all feels true to life and brings a breezy pace to longer scenes.
Donut County’s entire script is hilarious. From in-game texts to the one-liner descriptions of all the stuff you collect in the ‘Trashopedia’, I had a grin on my face for the entirety of my short play time. This is complemented by a great soundtrack and a snappy pace to progression. Everything flows really well; you can tell that a lot of meticulous attention to detail was paid to build such a punchy package.
The length and linearity of Donut County will put a lot of people off, and I’d have more of an issue with that if the gameplay itself didn’t feel so satisfying. Granted, guiding a hole with the analogue stick doesn’t demand a whole lot of skill, and you wouldn’t think there’s much you could get wrong, but the simple act of sucking down miscellaneous objects one by one has a very tactile feel to it. There’s plenty of bouncy physics going on, with bulkier objects spinning and falling as you try to send them down below. And gulping up pieces of the town has a surprisingly relaxing side to it; it’s chaos in the most serene and exquisitely curated manner.
In the second half of the story, things get a bit more hectic as you’re given a few more tools to play with – including a story-driven hole upgrade – and the final level, while ludicrous on the face of things, wraps everything up neatly with a fittingly surreal encounter.
The magic of Donut County is its commitment to its bizarre, raccoon-infested world and how it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a short, focused ride and is happy for you to come along to check out what’s going on. For such a short story, there are enough fun twists, funny characters and gorgeous art direction to enjoy. In the end, Donut County is a happy, enjoyable experience and doesn’t try to be anything more.
If you’re okay with finishing it in one or two sittings, it’s definitely worth a go. If the length doesn’t justify the price, then wait for a sale. There’s minimal replay value, besides going back on the level-select to nab some clever achievements, but what is already there is smartly made and will leave a pleasant sense of satisfaction once you’re done.