Capsule Review: Donut County

Welcome to Hopper Springs, home of anthropomorphic animals, weightless mesas, and hollow earth conspiracies exposed. Also: plenty of holes, delivered fresh to your door by BK, the Donut County cafe’s very own minimum wage trash panda.

Donut County’s tone is as weightless as its physics, but it’s a relentlessly charming and dreamlike diversion. This means that any front-loaded promise as a puzzle game is a stretch; there’s barely any challenge presented or brainpower required here, and while that subtracts any sense of hard-fought accomplishment, it doesn’t make the game any less fun to play.

In a series of episodic scenarios book-ended by irreverent narrative, you’ll swallow up the town and its residents with a moving hole in the ground, which grows larger and takes on certain qualities depending on what goes in. A campfire might make it spew flames, a catapult upgrade launches its contents into the air, and filling it with liquid might cause objects to bob along its surface.

Despite these variations, I discovered numerous occasions where I wished for a little more agency in how I approached Donut County’s entropic tasks. Each level consists of a location with a few different vantages, and you just swallow everything up before being shuttled onward to the next screen. This means that the hole even contends with invisible walls, like a level which prevents it from moving underneath an inflatable swimming pool, or another where you need to unlock a door to be granted passage. There’s humor in these obstacles, sure, but they still thwart the freedom I expected as a magical hole.

That door scenario pops up during the game’s finale, which takes place in the only area that allows you to navigate between screens at will. It’s this kind of maneuverability — however limited it is in practice — that I really wish was present in every other part of Donut County, and it felt bittersweet to encounter a multi-screen puzzle layout right before the whole thing was over.

The comparisons to Katamari Damacy are plentiful and apt, and the uncanny way that animals and objects bop around against the hole’s edges in feeble resistance is highly reminiscent of the Katamari’s helpless victims. Beyond that, the quality of the writing is similarly excellent throughout, and it’s hard not to chuckle at the game’s “Trashopedia” which features an irreverent quip for every single object, describing snakes as “angry spaghetti” and charcoal as “barbecue batteries.”

Donut County seems like a brilliant purchase for young children, who will assuredly delight in its beautiful antics on a backseat iPad. I’d wager that those children probably won’t get so hung up on its (ahem) lack of depth, and there’s neither a meaningful scoring system or challenging range of cheevos to chase after journey’s end. In spite of these complaints for more content, the simple fact bears repeating: controlling an all-consuming hole is an ingenious and inventive concept, and can’t help but feel like time well spent.

VERDICT

Yes if you love cartoon raccoons and Katamari Damacy, and it’s even better if you’re spouting Little Plucky Tiny Toon Adventures quotes the whole time; Probably Not if you’re looking for something longer. 

Main takeaway: Donut County is an enjoyable and highly-polished diversion, but it’s certain to leave you wanting more.