Review – Donut County

When the words “Damacy-like” are uttered, you can bet your sweet sticky star maker I’m going to be paying attention. Twitter was a flutter with gorgeous clips from Ben Esposito’s next indie darling. Months of anticipation and, in equal right, controversy filled my feeds. Once Donut County dropped on Switch, I plunged into that raccoon-hole with eyes closed. I had dreamed of falling through beautiful visuals and multiple zany levels of intuitive and creative gameplay that showed us what was lacking for hours on end. But once I opened my eyes to marvel at my next favorite abstract puzzler, my feet were barely wet.

No kidding.

Donut County is a physics puzzle game where you abandon all respect for other’s property by plunging their valuables (and their owners) into a remote controlled hole in the ground. Each unique level begins with a small opening, barely large enough to fit a soda can, and one singular task: consume everything. Players are challenged to delve into each environment and interact with their colorful denizens to discover how to grow. And…that’s about it. Donut County embraces simplicity like its forefathers and proves that a rather strange idea can be novel when implemented correctly. Which is why the game became such a disappointment the closer I got to getting that sick quadcopter.

BK the Raccoon is a single minded animal set on one thing only: becoming the first raccoon in his Donut Shop to get promoted to quadcopter duty. BK gets closer to his goal by dropping the town’s trash, which coincidentally is everything and everyone, into a gigantic hole he controls from his tablet. If that sounds nonsensical, amoral, and wacky, that’s because it is. Donut County‘s strange story is a metaphor for the indifference of the self-centered “goal-getter” and the damage they can cause along the way. The message is presented through a conversational narrative between the county’s residents with wonderful humor, witty banter, and charming characters along the way. Mira, the best friend, and BK’s relationship was especially engaging as Mira represented the moral anchor across the ensuing chaos. The writing is dripping with charm and fun, which thankfully overflows masterfully into the game’s beautiful visuals.

You tell ’em, Mira!

If there’s one area where Donut County excels in, it’s in visual and graphical flair. The hard-edged polygon style and pastel color palette work beautifully with the games tone. The geometrical simplicity and overall graphic design give the setting a familiar and child-like aesthetic that contrasts intelligently with it’s complicated subject matter. Esposito did a fantastic job imbuing each and every object in the game with the personality and humor of their respective owners, a fact highlighted through the asset gallery called the “Trashopedia” where players can appreciate every object they’ve destroyed in detail. With so much love and attention put into the games world, I was heartbroken with what makes this an actual game: its mechanics and level design.

The noodles are getting restless.

You’d expect a game inspired by Katamary Damacy to have a wealth of options that explore it’s main mechanic. Either through time trials, different modes, settings, goals, or additive features around its core. But, you’d be wrong. Donut County fails to explore the depth of it’s hero: the hole (pun intended), and tries to use it’s characters to mask how truly shallow the game is. The main gameloop is fun and simple, enough so that new options that build upon it would be expected every few levels. But throughout my playthrough I noticed the lack of mechanical progression early on. I became especially concerned when halfway through the game I was given one new tool to interact with the world: a catapult. A few levels afterwards, and an underwhelming end-game sequence later, which I won’t spoil here, it was all over. Although each environment was varied, interesting, and required a unique initial solution, the way the player explored each was fairly linear and repetitive; boiling down to moving the control stick around until everything was gone.

Potter’s Rock is a standout amongst the game’s twenty three levels.

The amount of unexplored ideas is staggering: poor use of scale and locations, lack of additive features to evolve the core loop, no unique goals or challenges, no breakout sequences before the final act and, most importantly, the inexistence of any challenge throughout. After my two-hour playthrough I was left feeling empty, with a sense of longing for something more. Whats truly tragic is the potential for something greater. That’s not to say that what’s here isn’t enjoyable. But, it’s a shame the designer was unable to fully develop their excellent idea. Maybe the limited man power or the extensive five year development cycle are to blame. Regardless, Donut County ends up feeling like a missed opportunity, one that I sincerely wished was hit on the mark in a post-Katamari world.

It’s all down-hole from here.

All in all, Donut County is an extremely simple game, almost to a fault, with a fantastic cast of characters, story, and whimsy that any abstract puzzle fan would enjoy. However, it is not a Katamari successor, nor is it trying to be; a fact I should have researched better before trying it out. It’s a game about a hole and the things that end up inside it, nothing more and nothing less. I had an enjoyable time with Donut County and I’m sure you will as well, but I’d recommend waiting for a sale before going down this rabbit-hole.

Graphics: 8.0

Great attention to detail and beautiful unique environments abound.

Gameplay: 4.0

Highly repetitive and devoid of challenge. Game is best approached as a meditative experience.

Sound: 7.0

A joyful and upbeat soundtrack keeps the whole affair moving briskly and enthusiastically.

Fun Factor: 5.0

It’s fun to be a hole…for the first few levels. You’ll soon be craving something a bit deeper.

Final Verdict: 5.5

Donut County is available now on PS4, Switch and PC.

Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.