Donut County (2018)
Developer: Ben Esposito
Donut County has been constantly drawing attention in the last year as a nominee and winner of several game awards around the world. Just recently, I was at SXSW Gaming where it won "Mobile Game of the Year". It's been on my backlog for quite a while, so I finally picked it up on my Switch after this hearing of this new accolade. Donut County is a colorful 3D puzzle game where you control a hole that's swallowing a town, item by item.
Seeing as you play an all-consuming whole in Donut County, you do essentially play the villain. Technically you play as BK, the raccoon who works at the donut shop and controls the moving hole through an application on his device. He scores up more and more points as he plummets more items, people, animals, and houses into the hole. He doesn't seem to understand the gravity of his actions and attempts avoid any blame, even when he himself has fallen into the hole and is being angrily interrogated by the victim citizens of Donut County. His actions are eventually traced back to the actions of a whole raccoon community that seems to now be running Donut County and is therefore responsible for this catastrophe.
I was vague in my description of this title because it's hard to define what "genre" of game Donut County falls into. It's a 3D game, but you don't actually move about this world. You can describe the stages as puzzles, but they're not quite puzzles either, although some back be a bit tricky. Normally, I'm not a fan of disconnected stages, where you finish one and you're transported to the next to the next one, elsewhere. However, each stage was so different from the last and they were all tied together by story portions in between. The story is being told in the present but the stages you play are what is being recounted from the past. The silly dialogue between the character briefs you for what's coming next and why, so each stage makes sense. It's a different type of format for a game and it almost plays like a movie, but I enjoyed it a lot and looked forward to the next segment of story-telling.
Donut County has the right sense of humor, as well. I've mentioned before how negatively "bad" comedy can affect a game, but it also makes for a truly loveable game when done right. Every aspect was thought out to be how a raccoon would see the world. As you swallow items into the whole, each item is registered into a "trashpedia", with a raccoon-given description. I assure you, it's actually completely worth it to go into this trashpedia and read every one of these descriptions.
There's a sense of dread when you know the next target of your rapidly expanding hole into the earth is an undeserving puppy. There's nothing else you can swallow up, you gotta swallow the dog. Then you do it, and it's honestly just too funny. Donut County takes this massive disaster of a situation and makes it lighthearted with its charming characters and animation, so you don't really feel all that guilty.
I actually didn’t realize at first what a perfect match of a game this was for me, a big fan of making a chaotic mess in games. Despite the fact that the goal is to get items to fall in to the hole, often times if an item doesn't quite fit you can make it fall over, throw it around, and just be the worst by making a mess first before you continue to consume the town. It’s worth the extra time to get two legs of a table in to the whole and then quickly swipe away, making everything on top of it go flying. I mean, you can throw this poor fellow, chair and all, and he’s still sleeping, and then swallow all of items in his yard. Oh it's so cruel, but so perfectly hilarious.
The characters are weird, cute, and sometimes just (rightfully) grumpy citizens. When they're down under the ground after having inevitably fallen through the whole, there's a conversations about trash. It makes you think over your life a little bit and how many items you've accumulated: in the eyes of a raccoon, it's all trash. There's a reason that this game often gets compared to Katamari Damacy, and I honestly expect to see more games come our way in the future that address this same complicated issue of human consumption. Even bigger than that, the raccoon takeover of Donut County is symbolic of some real-life city societal issues that didn't cross my mind until the end of the game. It's painted in such a light and amusing way that you may not realize a much heavier implication. I recommend playing the game first before digging more into this to find what I'm referring to.
Donut County definitely deserves all the praise it's receiving. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s endlessly fun. Donut County knocks it out with an excellent story, gameplay, soundtrack, and bright art. I’d recommend this game really to anyone, including kids – you can pick it up on mobile, even, if that's your way to play. It’s bound to make you laugh and it’s really not too difficult, despite the fact that you might miss some little items and your hole just won't be big enough to swallow a whole building. Take the item to get every item, there's no time limit, so just enjoy the destructive ride.
Donut County is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and App Store.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 3 hrs
How I heard about this game: Various gaming awards