Donut County: A Little Hole Goes a Long Way
Playing Donut County is just like eating a donut: It's sweet, cathartic, and when you finish you wish you had more.
For those uninitiated, in Donut County you play as a hole in the ground with the goal of swallowing everything in sight. As you gobble more items, the size of your hole increases, to the point where you can swallow entire buildings, mountains, and unsuspecting local folk. It's a cute concept, one apparently inspired by Peter Molyneux and that some have called a twist on Katamari Damacy.
However, the presentation is really what gives Donut County its life. I was won over by the trailer where a raccoon makes an updog joke and the dynamic pre-order theme of a raccoon on the can. The bright textureless landscape of Donut County is inviting. Chill tunes play in the background while the hole eats everyone's stuff. Menu design is often just as chill, but sometimes parodies that of more "hardcore" games.
I didn't expect much of a narrative from this game, but I was pleasantly surprised. Mira just smashed BK the raccoon's precious quadcopter. Why? Because he dropped most of the town's population, including himself and Mira, deep underground with his stupid holes. Each resident takes turns telling the story of how they fell down the hole, providing the framing device for the next level. All this builds to a clever climax and an epilogue that puts a nice cap on the whole adventure.
The first few levels are pretty barebones, but before long they start spicing up the gameplay with twists on what you can do with a hole. For example, you can set your hole on fire to lift a hot air balloon or use it to host a rabbit orgy. Eventually, you get a catapult that can shoot objects from the hole to affect the environment. Despite all that, I would hesitate to call this a puzzle game. As long as you keep sucking up stuff like normal, you'll usually get results. Level mechanics are there more to show off what Ben Esposito can do with a hole-based game than to actually challenge the player's thinking ability.
What you really ought to know about Donut County is how short it is. In a single two-hour play session, I nabbed my easiest platinum trophy ever. This has some positives and negatives. The best thing I can say is that from start to finish, I had a great time playing with the hole. The game shows up, does its thing, and gets out before the concept becomes stale.
I rarely complain that a game is too short - I find the opposite true more often than not. However, while Donut County is narratively fulfilling, I can't help but feel like there's untapped potential for more complex hole mechanics. This game could really use a set of challenge stages that push the player harder. To go back to our analogy, this donut could use some sprinkles to round out the package.
More than any other game I've played recently, Donut County would make a fantastic children's book. In its short running time, the game establishes a whole town full of silly characters, like the cat who makes terrible soup or the flat-earther Possum who nobody really likes. It reminded me of a snarkier, twenty-first century Busytown. A plot with holes gobbling up everything fits right in with books about crayons running away or the United States switching places with each other. You could even use the Trashepedia to teach kids about objects.
Barring an official print adaptation, though, I think Donut County would serve as a wonderful introduction to games for your young one. For the adults, I would still recommend it so long as you don't expect anything too deep (unlike the hole). Don't write Donut County off as a cheap gimmick or passing curiosity. By the time you're done, you'll wish you could stay a little longer.