Donut County review – a simple, physics-based puzzler that’s a hole lot of fun
- April 1, 2019
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Donut County has a colourful cast of characters – and it doesn’t let you play as any of them.
- Developer: Ben Esposito
- Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
- Platform: Reviewed on PS4
- Availability: Out now on PS4, PC and iOS
Ostensibly you’re BK, a trash-loving raccoon who’s found himself in a little hot water with his neighbours. But beyond a handful of vignettes in which you hit a button to send text messages and vigorously defend yourself from the angry retorts of the townsfolk, you’ll spend most of the playing as a hole.
I suspect that may be the first – and last – time I’ll ever write that sentence.
Yes, it sounds kind of bizarre, and it is, at least to begin with. Donut County is a curiously relaxing physics-based puzzle game in which you manipulate a hole, moving it around the screen to quietly – almost surreptitiously – eat everything in its path.
Initially, it’ll be small fodder; clumps of grass, small rocks, crumpled up balls of paper, books, a teacup or two. The more you eat, though, the bigger the hole becomes, so you must carefully select what items to chomp and the order in which you do so. Occasionally things need a little wiggle to coax them down, and you might have to dislodge and gobble up the items on top of a table before the hole is big enough to swallow the table itself.
Eventually, you’ll be able to suck down a car tyre, garden chairs, ceramic planters, loungers, boulders – you get the idea – until your hole’s the biggest thing on screen, dominating everything, and you’re able to make whole highways disappear. It’s curiously satisfying, watching those items – big and small – tumble and fall.
We all know the old adage: what is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This seems doubly true when the man happens to be a raccoon as in BK’s case, everything qualifies as trash. Furniture. Trees. Rock formations. A caravan – you name it. He wants it all, quite honestly, regardless of whether or not it is legitimately garbage, because the more rubbish BK banks, the closer he gets to levelling up and securing his dream: a quadcopter.
Initially, I thought I needed to swallow the props without alerting the characters on screen, but alas, this is not the case. Then I thought that perhaps the goal would be to remove everything except the animals and reptiles. That is also incorrect. This is not a hole of discerning tastes, my friend. It cares not that you don’t want to vacuum up the poor unsuspecting poultry. BK’s definition of trash is alarmingly loose; he just wants everything on the screen. And once you realise that, you’ll slip into a gentle, zen-like pattern of zooming around the scene, silently inhaling whatever you can.
Eventually, you’ll get a few additional puzzle elements to factor into BK’s activities. Fireworks may help dislodge an item on higher ground, for instance, and a catapult lets you throw whatever you last ate up into the air again – a handy tool should you need to grab items hanging off the top of trees. Yes, this means you’ll occasionally have to think about how best to progress, but the puzzles are typically tacit rather than taxing, and few – if any – will stump you for long.
There’s no HUD, nor on-screen instructions because you are, in fact, playing via an app on BK’s phone. The Trashopedia – the raccoon’s personal record of what’s been sucked down – is as cute and clever as everything else, but it’s almost supplementary, hidden away on a menu screen the way a bestiary may be. You’re also rewarded for a “great delivery” – despite the fact all you’ve done is take things away – and wished a “garbage” day. There is a score at the end of each level but – as you’ll soon realise – it doesn’t necessarily pertain to you or your actions at all. Instead, it depicts BK’s score, not yours, and how close he is to securing his much coveted quadcopter.
Sprinkled between each puzzle are small narrative sections in which BK’s friends and neighbours – all trapped “Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine Ft below” courtesy of the rogue holes popping up around town – huddle around a fire, surrounded by the detritus of their belongings as they each take their turn to blast BK for his selfishness. The dialogue is perfectly, wonderfully crafted, and each character stuffed with personality and charm. It becomes apparent that everyone affected by the hole had recently ordered donuts online. BK starts getting a little defensive, particularly when his friend and employee, Mira, leads the charge against him. And while the cast very much plays second fiddle to Donut County’s main character – BK’s gaping chasm – it’s surprising how distinct and well-formed each of the supporting characters are.
On a single occasion, my game bugged out. Despite devouring everything on screen (a neat little level that introduces puzzles for the first time and brings the term “breeding like bunnies” to life), the game failed to progress me forward onto the next level. I spent a little time investigating the scene and ensuring I hadn’t missed anything – sometimes it’s easy to overlook a tuft of grass or two – until, with only mild annoyance, I reset the game and replayed through the level again. Thankfully they’re pretty short, and on my second attempt, I progressed through without delay.
Other than that one slight niggle, though? Donut County – as quirky and unusual as it is – is a sublime experience that skillfully balances simplistic puzzles with a charming story and affable cast. No, it’s not the most cerebral adventure and no, there’s not much longevity here – you’re pretty much done and dusted within a couple of hours – but if you’re looking for a gentle, unassuming game for a lazy Sunday or a weekday commute, you could do much worse than invest a few pounds and while away an hour or two in Donut County.
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