It can seem that we live in unpredictable times nowadays. The world as we know it is changing at a faster rate than ever before. The nature of these changes are unfortunately not to the benefit of everyone. It’s in these times that a few of us decide to escape, however temporarily, to our favorite medium of choice. Video games offer a level of escapism like no other form of digital entertainment. As the games industry continues to expand into new markets and break down boundaries, the heads of many of the most powerful entities within games are slowly paving their financial futures with more digestible concepts by micro-managing every last detail in order to create the neatest, most marketable package possible. But once in a while a game comes along that makes you say “How had that not been done before?” That game is Donut County.
The concept is simple. You as the player take control of a hole. The goal as the hole is to expand your size by swallowing the various objects throughout the level. As you consume the smaller objects, you become larger and capable of swallowing even larger objects in an attempt to completely clear the stage of its contents. In its early inception, this game was being demoed as an interactive toy where you controlled a hole that could take in objects and also shoot those items back out. Since then it has been fleshed out to be a funny, vibrant, and colourful world that Ben Esposito has created with the publishing assistance of Annapurna Interactive make this easily more than just a cheap gimmick or interactive toy.
You’re dropped into the story of best friends Mira and BK, who is a raccoon. BK owns the donut shop where Mira is an employee. The thing that BK can’t stop talking about however, is this new app that controls the hole that gets bigger with everything that it swallows. The story soon reveals that BK has swallowed the entire town and its inhabitants throughout the various locations across Donut County. It’s through the retelling of these events by the quirky cast of characters that you play flashback sequences controlling BK and swallow all of the town. Once the town’s residents turn on BK, he’ll have no choice but to confront The Trash King, who is another raccoon that looks the same as all the others, but wears a crown. There are countless moments to mention that describe the subtle comedy of Donut County and how it just nails its own aesthetic, but I wouldn’t want to rob anyone of the joy of experiencing this for the first time knowing as little as possible.
When you take control of playing the hole, that is when the smiles begin. It’s just so intuitive to move this hole around and look for the next object that fits inside. It has been such a long while since I could hand a game to a non-gamer with little explanation and they just get it. You start off as a tiny hole in pursuit of consuming every object on the screen. You start with small shrubs and some stones but as the camera pulls back to reveal more of the environment, you go on to swallow literally everything in the frame of your screen and it couldn’t be more addictive. As the levels progress, the characters and objects become goofier and larger until you’re swallowing small buildings. The idea is great and makes for a fun mechanic for sure. When you’re able to regurgitate things later in the game to solve puzzles that the challenge presents itself and more than a few hilarious moments ensue. It also works to give a little variation to the puzzle solving. The physics work the way you’d expect and the controls in this game don’t really hinder anything. No puzzle in this game really poses a significant challenge for the seasoned gamer, but that’s not the appeal of Donut County.
The only real gripe with it is that I wanted more of it when I was done. It can easily be played in one sitting with a few hours of spare time, but that should not detract potential players. The quality of time you will have and the experience of completing this game should not be missed by those who are looking for something different. The audio and visual presentation are just as fun and vibrant with tons of flashy saturated colours splashing the various levels ranging from the donut shop itself, to a raccoon’s paradise. Every level is varied and fun to look at. The soundtrack created by Daniel Koestner and Ben Esposito is so spot on for the whole style of the game. Fun guitar melodies pepper the various arrangements that manage to capture the multiple layers the game operates on. This world is just bursting with character not only in its visuals, but in its writing as well. The text conversations between different characters always make for quirky exchanges and give a little bit of backstory to each animal resident of Donut County. The relationship between Mira and BK is sweet despite the fact that Mira seems to be the voice of reason in the face of BK’s disregard for the town. Mira as a character underlies a deep truth that cleverly sits just beneath the surface of the plot of this game.
(Slight Spoiler Alert!) It’s hard not to mention that this story, while presented through a cute art style and adorable characters, is actually about gentrification. Seeing as you play an animal who’s looking to destroy a community by pushing out its residents with little regard for the history and emotional attachment that they have to their homes. There’s no need to elaborate here about such a real subject that has plagued uncounted families for generations. It’s good to know that even though this is a light level of commentary, I appreciate the fact that an important subject is being lightly touched upon during a time when it still happens. I will always encourage the games industry to say something real, and I will always have a higher regard for a game that chooses to do so. Despite its limited scope and length, Donut County is a game for everybody.
Forged in the 8 bit era, Duarte can be found quietly contemplating the future of the games industry. Wondering what the exhilaration of digital achievement will look like on the next horizon.