Donut County released on PlayStation, Steam, and iOS earlier this year. It has recently been ported to Xbox One and Switch, leaving players with no excuse not to play one of the best games of the year. Donut County is a very rare game. It clocks in at around 2 hours, has simplistic gameplay, but is one of the most enjoyable experiences with a game in a very long time.
Donut County is made up mainly of stages where you move a small hole around a map, these intercut with scenes taking place after the gameplay to bring you up to speed on the consequences of your puzzle solving. The levels, while simple, are fun and effective. The puzzles within won’t exactly stump you, but they are satisfying and take the simple mechanic to its most fun extremes. The writing is witty and irrelevant but still thought-provoking and occasionally even moving. It is a standout title in what has been a crowded year for Indie excellence.
You primarily play as BK. The game opens with a short text conversation between him and his best friend/co-worker Mira. Donut County then jumps forward a little to BK and the rest of the town sat in a giant hole, surrounded by garbage. Maybe it’s garbage, maybe it’s their homes and possessions. BK has been absentmindedly playing with his phone. It’s an app featuring extensive gamification. Rewards like levelling up and experience points are traded in for small material prizes. For BK, he badly wants a Quadcopter. Gamification of mundane tasks is a sharp reflection of today’s gig economy, but BK isn’t giving much thought to what he is actually doing to the world.
Donut County is Full of Holes
BK believes his smartphone game to be doing no harm. Well, you’re not quite sure if he believes that but he at least hasn’t considered what his game is doing. You play this game by deploying holes in the ground on each stage. These holes start small, you have to feed them various objects to make them grow each time. As the holes get larger and larger you’ll eventually be able to swallow whole buildings, with the people inside falling into the empty pit as well.
Donut County is a great example of getting everything out of a simple mechanic. The hole gameplay doesn’t outstay its welcome thanks to some clever pacing. Some novelties are held back until the final levels, which even include a boss fight. Some add-ons to your hole become a factor later in the game, giving a little more scope for puzzles. Luring wild animals out to then swallow them is another source of puzzle fodder. It isn’t the hardest puzzle solving in the world but it is effective.
This reaches a crescendo late in the game where your hole becomes big enough to swallow masses and masses of people. Donut County keeps things simple without them becoming boring. Any longer may have been stretching the gameplay a little thin, but at two-ish hours it stays fresh and fun.
Waiting for The Racoons
The Racoons want all of the garbage. BK might be a racoon, but he just works for them. He isn’t in the racoon inner circle. For the most part of the game, he isn’t privy to why they’re having him open up the holes. As you swallow up your neighbours and friends, the game provokes you into thinking about why BK is so unashamedly cleansing the neighbourhood. Why do the racoons want all of the inhabitants of Donut County gone to make room for themselves?
In the conversations with BKs victims, you get a little more context. Businesses are being bought up or run out of town to make way for new racoon inhabitants. It is a bizarre swipe at gentrification. Donut County takes an absurdist approach to draw an analogy with gentrification, putting the gentrifiers in the place of racoons swallowing up other people’s trash with magic phone app holes.
It is difficult to cover Donut County’splot heavily without giving away too much about the games ending. It is worth experiencing fresh. The plot that does feature manages to be thought-provoking and emotionally moving while keeping itself grounded in a bizarre funny set-up with witty characters. The long cut scenes between levels are never tedious and the characters are surprisingly well-formed given their short stints. It is hard to even get that worked up at BK. The smartphone happy part of him was just mindlessly clicking away, rather than setting out to do any real harm. Even in his pig-headedness, there are enough laughs to stop it from becoming depressing.
- Fun gameplay
- Funny writing
- Relatable characters
- Surprising depth and social commentary
- The jokes in the trashpedia are occasionally poor.
Donut County is a charming experience that while short is perfectly formed. It is funny, smart and thought-provoking. Simple gameplay is combined with loveable characters to give a truly unique experience. Donut County deserves a spot above most of its peers.