I have all the time in the world for games that know exactly what they are, those that don’t need to shoot for the moon and deliver everything and the kitchen sink. Donut County is one such game, a unique puzzler where your only job is to, well, be a bit of a dickhead raccoon behind the wheel of a hole. If that sounds weird, that’s because it absolutely is.
Donut County is the dictionary definition of irreverent, which is evidenced in the first few minutes when you’re in a text conversation and can just repeatedly spam the duck emote. The patter between the two main characters is charming and the game is full of moments of heart like these, but that’s not the real attraction. No, the main allure of Donut County is seeing what you can put in your hole.
The game opens with the people of the town dwelling deeper underground after falling victim to BK, the arrogant and often dense raccoon you play as, and his “hole driving”. While his job title may say he delivers donuts, his real focus is on swallowing up people and all the trash he can find — anyone who orders a donut becomes a new citizen of the hole. Donut County is off-the-wall from the get-go and never takes itself seriously for more than a minute.
The gameplay consists of very little in the way of player input, which makes for an oddly cathartic time as you ransack a peaceful place. On PS4, you only need to use the left stick to move the hole and X to proceed through dialogue and use the catapult a short while in to its (at a push) two-hour runtime. For that reason, I found it to be the perfect palate cleanser in between heavy bouts of “serious” games like Green Hell and Fear The Wolves. Donut County is ultimately a distraction, and there’s nothing wrong with that — video games are all about escapism, after all.
It helps that the puzzles it presents are almost immediately obvious in their solutions, and this is coming from someone who gets a migraine from crosswords. The hole expands the more it consumes, meaning that you should start with the small stuff to eventually work your way up to the bigger things in levels, such as a house or a skyscraper. There are also small variations to the puzzles, such as the hole catching fire or snagging a snake to use as a prodding stick of sorts, but these are never taxing and just tittersome ways of keeping the experience fresh instead.
The allure of the next weirdness also contributes towards Donut County’s gimmick never growing stale. In one level, you’re helping a chef concoct a soup and in another you’re accidentally breeding sheep to bring a house down. Ben Esposito, who’s developed Donut County largely on his lonesome over half a decade, clearly has an oddball sense of humour with the game depicting a diverse set of characters and pitching raccoons as the ne’er-do-wells of the animal kingdom. Anyone who’s watched Adventure Time or Bojack Horseman will find something to love in Donut County’s affably off-beat world.
The narrative, while not the strongest, does enough to keep you hooked. It’s effectively a game within a game with BK playing an app that gives him points for filling his hole, which he needs to keep doing over and over to be able to afford a quadcopter. It’s incredibly daft, though it teaches a few basic ethics lessons wrapped up in a wholesome but sarcastic bow.
It’s a shame, then, that its runtime is so short — I just wanted to keep stuffing things in my massive hole. There’s no extra modes once you’ve finished the story, though there is the option to go through the game level-by-level on the hunt for its rather straightforward Platinum trophy. The writing isn’t always that endearing, either, with Esposito guilty of trying a little too hard to be funny at times.
Those two drawbacks are all there is to ding Donut County down on, however, simply because it provides exactly what it promises. It’s refreshing to be able to pick up and play a game without having to consult ancient texts and devote your life to its cult, though if there’s any justice, Donut County will go down as a cult favourite itself.
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Donut sleep on Ben Esposito's Donut County because it's a hole lot of fun, even if it is a little on the short side.
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