Doughnuts are possibly the greatest creation of all time. Don’t @ me on this. Even beating the blessed Bakewell Tart and Chocolate Brownie when they’re made just right. What do Doughnuts have to do with Donut County then? Aside from a title and a tale of a doughnut shop selling holes and ruining everything throughout, not a lot really. Yes I am British so it’s a Doughnut not a Donut but the title of the game is Donut so here we are. After every cakey bite though is it still a wholesome experience or just an empty hole needing filling?
At its core Donut County is a simple puzzle game that would work just as easily in the hands of a child on a tablet as it would in the hands of an adult on a PS4. You control a hole with the left analogue stick and the hole gets bigger the more you drop in. Occasional story cutscenes are told by tapping on a ‘Reply’ button on a phone and there is a catapult mechanic added later that fires things back out of the hole but this rarely gets to a complicated balancing act. The game is literally sliding under objects until you can jiggle them in with physics allowing some to be flipped and rolled by a corner falling in the hole. There are puzzles such as setting fire to the hole to burn something but this is rarely a challenge and more a mixing up of the level designs. In a way it’s gameplay is strangely relaxing. You cannot simply roll under a house with a tiny hole and expect it to go in, you find yourself looking for various items progressing in size until then the house falls in.
Graphically everything comes together in a simplified polygon blend of pleasing colours and shapes. The text is easy to read and refreshingly well placed (lately subtitles seem to be a forgotten art of most publishers?). All of the animal residents of Donut County are easily distinguished in design and their levels reflect their personality and reason for ordering a doughnut in the first place. You follow Mira along through the story and she’s the only recognisable human of the cast with her racoon friend BK. The game isn’t exactly pushing the PS4’s limits but everything runs smoothly and loading times are almost non-existent which feels strangely refreshing.
Donut County has some of the best dialogue writing I’ve seen this year. The story is just a magnificent showcase of how greatly written dialogue can work to lift a simple but enjoyable plot. It doesn’t overstay its welcome but does unfortunately feel a little bit too brief. Some of the banter between BK and Mira is so good that I found myself laughing a lot more than I expected for a game about dumping things into holes. It is horrifically short for a single experience and you’ll likely breeze through the game in one sitting but I can’t stress enough how brilliantly well written it is. Half the problem with the game feeling shorter than it is was simply a need for more than what’s there.
Rarely does a games menu and progression system design grab me but this definately did. In the same way Persona stood out with an interface that was bold and dynamic Donut County almost flips that on its head with a design that is so easy on the eyes and well-formed that it all clicks together in such a brilliant way. Each level has a story cutscene to start (typically with Mira texting someone and clicking reply to continue the dialogue), a level waiting to be sunk into a hole, a results screen showing your progression to advancing to Lvl 10 (and thus your progression through the story) and then after a nice sign telling you to, “Have a Garbage Day” your treated to a scene taking place nine hundred and ninety-nine feet below Donut County. It’s so seamless that it’s easy to write off but the good design work on show here deserves praise.
Music and sound in Donut County is fantastic. It clearly wears it’s love letter inspirations on its sleeve from the get go with Katamari referenced not simply in the gameplay design (and the quirky uniqueness overall) but when some objects fall in the hole the noise sounds like it was lifted right from the game. Charming level music mixed with some real ear-worm cutscene and menu music will stick with you for a while. None of the characters are voiced but the text is easy to read and although this would have been nice it’s better for this style of game as I get the feeling some of “LOL” dialogue wouldn’t translate very well.
Sadly Donut County feels like there aren’t enough levels to make it complete and the trophies it has are frankly ridiculous. It gates off some of the best writing in the game behind failing at a challenge (a cardinal sin of video games) What you have to fail at isn’t that easy either and I only got to discover and enjoy this content after the main game was over and I found myself going back to finish the trophies as a way to get more. The Trashopedia is a nice touch but gives the impression there’s more to find but there isn’t. Once you’ve completed the story and finished the trophies, well, that’s it. It leaves you with an enjoyable credits to interact with but that’s it. You start to look back over the experience and wonder if the puzzles were that simple or if it was just dumb luck you blitzed through them all quickly.
Essentially Donut County at its heart is an idea that grew from a joke, to a game jam and to a fully fledged title so it shouldn’t be surprising how short the game is. It’s super easy to complete the story but so delightfully charming overall that despite its frustrating trophies it leaves you wanting more. The more I look back at Donut County the more I’m stunned with how polished the content that’s here is. Would I look back on a longer game more favourably? Probably not, and that’s what you should take away from this. Just as Portal never overstayed its welcome, Donut County is no perfect masterpiece but it’s just as tasty and sweet. It goes down nicely with a cup of tea and leaves you feeling like you should get another one.
8/10 – A small sugar rush!