STAFF REVIEW of Donut County (Xbox One)

Sunday, January 27, 2019.
by Josh Morgan

Donut County Box art Donut County started off as a tweet by a parody Peter Molyneux account that pitched crazy and eccentric ideas for video games. The 2012 tweet said “You play as a hole, you must move around an environment making certain elements fall into correct targets at the right time.” From this tweet, developer Ben Esposito (The Unfinished Swan) work-shopped this idea with other developers, and Donut County was born. It’s a charming and fun puzzle game with a surprisingly good story.

The story of Donut County is delivered mostly through text message conversations and flashbacks of characters that are trapped underground after they fell victim to the hole that swallowed their city. BK, a raccoon, and his human pal, Mira, are the main characters, and they both work at a donut shop in, you guessed it, Donut County. Like most teenagers, BK is addicted to a phone game and is focused on leveling up to 10 where he unlocks a shiny new quad-copter drone. He’s completely focused on this and ignores Mira’s warnings that the game he is playing is actually real life, and the donuts he thinks he’s delivering in game are actual holes popping up around their city swallowing up buildings and people.

The objective of Donut County’s levels is a lot like Katamari Damacy, where you start off as a small hole and you are able to swallow small items like flowers, bricks and cups. Then, the more you drop into the hole the bigger you get, eventually getting big enough to swallow buildings and sending them deep deep underground. Moving the hole around the level is simple, and its super satisfying to get big enough to drop the larger items into the hole. You can also use the hole to your advantage and place it under parts of bigger objects to make them tilt and flip, sending the smaller objects on top to the ground.

For example, there is a picnic table in one level, and on top of it there are cups, plates and some snacks. Place the hole underneath one of the pairs of legs, the table tilts and the objects on top of the table fall to the ground for easy pickings with the hole. It’s a very simple game mechanic that my 6 year old picked right up on. He actually played through the game himself and only needed help on the last scene. One scene in particular that my son loves is the bunnies. You drop multiple bunnies into the hole and hearts float above it for a few seconds, then more and more bunnies shoot out of the hole. Hey, rabbits do what rabbits do, but my son LOVES this part. He obviously doesn’t know what’s happening, he’s 6 and we haven’t had the talk. Maybe when he’s old enough I’ll boot up Donut County for an example.

Some of the levels have multiple areas, and clearing out the starting point will trigger a larger area and so on. It’s not all just dropping things into a hole though, as you progress you will unlock a catapult that attaches to the hole and you can shoot certain items back up into the air. You can use the catapult to launch these items to flip switches, break items high off the ground, or disturb the local wildlife. Once the level is clear of all the items on screen, you are brought back underground to hear the next tale of a citizen of Donut County and their encounter with the dreaded hole.

While Donut County is super fun to play, I didn’t find it challenging at all. I’ve played through the game twice and I have never failed a level, or got stuck on a puzzle longer than a few minutes. So it was disappointing when I reached the end in just under two hours each time. There is no scoring, no replaying the levels for time or leaderboard bragging rights to pull you back in for more. The only real reason to play through the game multiple times is to clean up achievements that you may have missed during the story.

The achievements are fun and tied to the story beats of the game, but some of them require you to do some odd things in the levels that you normally wouldn’t have tried. I like it when games use the achievements to get you to try oddball things, like let 35 eggs break when you should be catching them with the hole, or feed a bird a special recipe of soup. One thing that I can recommend is to take a peek at the achievement list beforehand. There are a few missable achievements, but you can easily go back to those levels after you completed the game via level select. It’s nice to have a game that doesn’t have all of the achievements tied to main story points and to me that adds a reason to replay some of the levels.

Donut County has a very distinct low polygon look to it and it works. It’s colorful, cute and an obvious nod to PS1 and N64 graphics that we all remember growing up. It looks and feels indy, and that’s where a lot of its charm comes from. The old school visual style mixed with the super smooth gameplay really makes for a fun experience as you swallow up everything on screen. The sounds of Donut County has your typical beeps and boops of puzzle games, and the characters have no voiced dialog, but one thing that stands out is the music. It’s a great mixture of soft guitar riffs with heavy beats of synthesized music. I often found myself nodding my head to the beat as I swallow up the city.

Donut County is a pretty simple puzzle game that has a lot of charming and fun puzzles, but won’t strain your brain to complete. While I had a great time with the under two hour story, I feel like there are a lot more places this game could have gone before it felt repetitive and tired. I find myself wanting more levels and characters to swallow. With a great visuals and sound, it’s pretty impressive that this was made by one person, I just wish he made more.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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