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The Very Weird, Charming 'Donut County' Does A Lot With Very Little

‘Donut County’ is a very smart game about donuts and… holes.

by Danielle Riendeau
Aug 29 2018, 5:00pm

All images courtesy Annapurna

It looks so simple. A collection of charming, colorful, low-poly 3D assets. A chill, positive soundtrack. A story about a hilariously greedy raccoon and a town of anthropomorphic animals. And a hole. One very important hole.

Donut County takes a whole bunch of simple things, and one central game mechanic (around… that hole) and spins an inventive, creative, satisfying game out of them. The result is a pleasure to play and a really admirable piece of game design.

It all starts 999 feet below Donut County, a cute little town filled with the likes of Helen (a park ranger who is also a tiny, snake-averse bear), Roma and Nicky (an older rabbit couple deeply in love), Chef (a cat who runs a disgusting restaurant), and half a dozen other quirky buddies. BK, a selfish little scamp (and a raccoon, that becomes important later on) sets up as a franchisee for a donut shop, delivering donuts—really, just, holes in the earth—to anyone who orders them.

We start below the earth for a reason, you see—as anyone who orders a donut was surprised to find a ravenous black hole in place of a delicious fried treat. And you are that hole. It’s simple at first: You move the hole around the screen and every object you swallow makes the hole bigger. So you’ll start by nabbing tiny items—random bricks, bits of trash—and slowly, with each addition, your hole gets bigger and bigger, until you can swallow massive swathes of scenery and eventually, eat up the whole place.

Each stage plays as a sort of vignette, telling each townsperson’s story as they’re swallowed by the hole. The formula is consistent, but the interactions in each level change and shift subtly, forming unique puzzles. In one early stage, you need to figure out how to drain a sort of pond before you can really “eat” any objects. You learn how to use various objects and obstacles to get the water down so you can get back to devouring the landscape. In another, you have a leap-frogging friend who pops out of the hole and can use their tongue to attach to objects. You’ll use that to pull down bees, tree branches and honey combs in order to progress.

All of it fits inside the simple framework established at the very top: You are a hole, and you eat things. You get bigger with each thing. And objects that add new properties (things like water, frogs, fire and explosives) are introduced bit by bit, so no challenge ever felt needlessly stiff or confusing. The gameplay verbs are set out in clean, concrete ways, and it’s a true pleasure when you start to need to combine them into multi-part solutions by the end of the game.

Donut County could’ve easily had a few more of those increasingly complex puzzles. By the time you’re really combining skills learned from earlier stages, you’re in the final third and barreling towards the end. But what’s here is so finely tuned and fun to poke around at that it’d be hard not to want a tiny bit more. It’s a shorter game, but it thankfully never felt incomplete. The story, as light and goofy as it is, felt perfect for the scope of the game, and it ends on a mischievous, adorable high note.

That sense, that it does so very much with relatively simple ingredients, also goes through to the end. This little collection of text and music and very pretty 3D art is wrapped around a mechanical core so satisfying and deceptively simple that it’s hard not to admire the design work here (and the aesthetic sensibilities) of a team that clearly made something with a lot of love and spark.

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