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Donut County

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Developer: Ben Esposito
Release Date: Aug. 28, 2018


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PC Review - 'Donut County'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 1, 2018 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Donut County is a physics adventure where you play as a mysterious hole in the ground.

Sometimes, the most enjoyable games are also the quirkiest ones. A game like Incredible Crisis succeeds because its fun minigames are tied to an odd story about a series of unnatural disasters plaguing a Japanese family in a single day. Seaman works because the idea of a talking fish man is so surreal, but hiding beneath that is a competent pet simulator with a good story. Katamari Damacy works because the idea of collecting everyday objects to make constellations is out of left field but easy to understand and enjoyable. Donut County works in a similar way; the idea seems simple but silly, but it succeeds because the whole thing is just plain fun.

The strangeness starts with a story that is told in both the present and via flashbacks. At present, the citizens of Donut County are stuck 999 miles below their town, surrounded by the wrecked remains of their home and other items that hold a dear place in their hearts. All of them have two things in common: they all ordered donuts from the local shop, and they blame their current situation on the raccoon BK, one of the proprietors of the local donut shop. One by one, they recount their tale of how they ordered donuts only to end up somewhere else thanks to a roving hole in the world. Thus begins the story of how one raccoon wanted a quadcopter from his work and how he and his human friend intend to make things right again.

For the most part, the story is lighthearted. The characters you meet are normal, but some have funny quirks. The park ranger, for example, is deathly afraid of snakes despite working in a desert, and the possum is obsessed with conspiracy theories. Some of the cut scenes allow you to take part in text messaging with other characters, and while the lines can't be customized, it's cute that you can respond with a dedicated duck quack button. The game eventually gets into more serious territory with anecdotes about a chicken farmer who sold his prize rooster to pay the bills, and there's an underlying message about the effects of gentrification on a small town. The game refuses to push the messages very hard, choosing to keep the light vibe at the forefront instead.

The game mechanics in Donut County are very simple to understand. Taking control of a hole in the ground, you move around the given space and try to capture anything and everything you see. At first, the small size of the hole restricts you to swallowing only small objects, like a crumpled-up piece of paper or a small rock, but as you capture more objects, you grow in size. A larger size means being able to get larger objects in the hole, and soon, you'll be large enough to capture entire buildings. You keep doing this until you clear the entire level before you're whisked away to another area to start the process again.

Even with these simple core mechanics, Donut County is fun. Perhaps it's a base human desire to see things get destroyed, but the act of letting things fall into a hole until there are no more objects left in the level to swallow up is infinitely enjoyable, and the low-stress situation of it all certainly cultivates those feelings. The antics also contribute to the Trashopedia, a catalog of all of the things you collected, with rather hilarious descriptions attached. Rocks, for example, were crafted by aliens, while a goldfish in a bag is described as a snack with a free beverage inside.

There is a little bit more to the game than simply moving a hole around and gobbling up everything. As early as the second level, you're introduced to the idea of using the hole to solve puzzles. For example, swallowing up a kiln makes the hole produce smoke. Placing the hole underneath a hot air balloon causes the starter to ignite, and eventually the balloon will break free from its anchors and float away. Later in the game, you'll get a catapult for the hole, which allows you to shoot things in the air to activate switches and destroy barriers — in order to get even more items to increase the hole's size. The puzzles themselves are easy to figure out, so don't expect any headscratchers.

With the difficulty low and the stages confined to reasonable spaces, players can complete the game in a little under two hours. The short length of the campaign is actually good, since it makes things feel breezy and prevents the game from overstaying its welcome. It really feels like a satisfying experience by the time you reach the end credits. For those who want a little more, there isn't much on offer here. The thoroughness of each stage means that you'll automatically fill in every entry in the Trashopedia by the end of the first run. You can go back to each stage to complete all of the achievements, but that's all there is to it.

The overall presentation is pretty lo-fi, but it works well with the game's light nature. The pastel colors mix in well with the low-polygon look. The lack of details are fine with everyone's angular nature, giving the game an artistic appearance that is greatly benefitted by the game's solid performance on very low-end hardware. Meanwhile, the synth-style soundtrack also lends to the charm, since it contributes a sense of calm despite the chaos happening on-screen.

Although it's a short experience, Donut County is enjoyable. The base desire to see everything destroyed by a simple, ever-expanding hole overtakes the lack of complicated mechanics, and the story is fun, whether you want something with or without some meaning attached. At the very least, Donut County is an experience that will stick with you for some time.

Score: 8.5/10

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