Review: Donut County

Do you love donuts? Perhaps the better question would be who doesn’t love donuts? In Donut County, both the fictional town and the game which bears its name, everyone digs them. The anthropomorphic townsfolk enjoy eating donuts so much that they’re willing to spend money on having these donuts delivered right to them — wherever they may be. Unfortunately, something weird occurs whenever anyone uses the donut delivery app. Instead of receiving a delicious baked good, a small hole appears on their property. It moves around, grows and eventually swallows them whole. It’s safe to say that getting thrown down a strange hole is not at all what the citizens of this quirky Los Angeles-inspired town had in mind.

Donut County puts players in control of this moving and expanding void. The task is extremely simple and feels inspired by Katamari Damacy. Starting with a small hole in the ground, the task is to consume all objects on a stage. Dropping multiple objects down into the hole causes it to expand. As it grows larger, more objects can fit inside. For example, the start of one mission leaves the hole small enough that it can only pick up blades of grass and lizards. By the end its able to drop an entire home into the massive hole. There are many levels in the game but the concept of consumption remains throughout. With that said, expect a few twists and turns in gameplay mechanics which keeps things fresh through the progression.

Levels are each distinct vignettes. Each one focuses on a different visual space. A few levels branch out into a bigger space, but most stay compact. Gameplay itself comes across as a puzzler, where it’s up to players to determine what order to best collect objects. New mechanics add additional puzzle concepts into the mix. For example, the hole gains an ability to propel items out of itself. This feature opens up the ability for different types of puzzles on a level which require something to be hit. Even so, the gameplay proves simplistic. It’s not likely that folks will ever get stuck for long on any one mechanic. The flow of the game also ensures that players don’t ever end up losing a necessary skill or object before completing a puzzle.

Gameplay is not only simple — it’s just plain swell. Donut County provides a relaxing atmosphere and simple concept that’s fun to zone out with. Expect lots of lovely vistas along the way thanks to the adorable artwork. Each locale is distinct, cartoony and a joy to destroy. Expect a bit of cartoon-inspired solutions to puzzle solving as well. The charm expands beyond its lovely visuals and seeps into the soundtrack as well. This is a game that deserves purchasing the soundtrack as well. Fortunately, it’s easy to nab the digital soundtrack no matter which storefront you choose.

The story in Donut County is similarly charming. Don’t expect anything particularly deep here (aside from the hole itself). Basically, characters swallowed by the hole end up very far below the county and are now living there. Of course, none of the townsfolk wish to live underground in a permanent encampment. As they reminisce about their last moments above ground, gameplay takes players to that scene to reenact it. The writing purposefully comes across with a heavy dose of teenage flair given that the protagonists appear to been teens themselves. Well, it’s hard to say for sure with one character, since he’s a raccoon. Some may not jive with the writing, but for others it comes across as pitch perfect.

With so much going for it, is there anything that stops Donut County in its tracks? Fortunately, there’s little to complain about with the game. The biggest issue, outside of personal taste when it comes to the writing, is that the game isn’t longer. When someone finds a wonderfully chill game, they simply want to keep playing it. Unlike Stardew Valley or Slime Rancher, Donut County isn’t a particularly replayable experience. The storyline is static and gameplay does not offer optional challenges or difficulty selections. Even the achievements are easy to complete on a first playthrough.

Would Donut County be able to sustain itself given more levels? That’s impossible to know. It’s completely possible that the game lasting longer than two hours would turn it into a terrible, repetitive slog. There are some variations on the gameplay but none of them distract from the core enjoyment. Potentially adding even more mechanics into the gameplay might have overly complicated it. Whatever the case may be, you know a game is good when the worst complaint leveled against it is that players want even more of it.

Closing Comments:

Donut County presents a simple concept to players: collect objects to make a hole larger until the entire stage is clear. Done poorly, no one would remember the experience whatsoever. Developer Ben Esposito turns something mechanically simplistic into a joy via smart design. The adorable world inhabited by colorful characters is something we desperately need more of in games. Donut County might not be a long experience, but it’s one that players can’t help but cherish.