At first glance, the physics-based puzzle game Donut County (PlayStation 4, iOS, PC) seems like it’s devoid of any challenge. But while it may not be as difficult as Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy, there is some thought needed if you want to beat this rather clever game.
In Donut County,
…you’re a racoon named BK who can control a hole in the ground that moves and can suck things underground, growing bigger as it swallows, but going back to its original size when BK redeploys it somewhere else. But because BK is a self-centered jerk, he and all of his neighbors are now sitting around a campfire in a cave, 999 feet underground, with BK insisting that he’s the real the victim in all this.
Now, in the early levels of Donut County, it’s not hard to figure out what to do. Just move the hole underneath something enough to fit in it, and let gravity do the rest. And if something too big, but there’s something smaller on top of it — say if there’s a brick on top of a large cage — use gravity and the hole to tip over the bigger thing on bottom (the cage) until the smaller thing on top (the brick) falls off, swallow it, and hopefully now the hole will be big enough for the bigger thing.
In other words, Donut County is like if Adult Swim Games made Katamary Damacy but with a hole instead of a ball.
But as you progress through Donut County, the problems you need to solve become more complicated. Early on, you’ll be in an area where there’s a hot air balloon tethered to the ground, as well as a kiln nearby. But by — and this is a SPOILER, so be warned — anyway, by swallowing the kiln, you cause the hole to generate heat, heat which will cause the balloon to rise up, break its moorings, and then come back down where you can swallow it.
Later levels in Donut County…
…make things even more difficult, and not just because this doesn’t spell things out or have a hint button. It was only by chance — again, SPOILER — that I thought to temp the bunnies with some carrots when one of the veggies got stuck in my hole.
Donut County also, unlike a lot of puzzle games, doesn’t introduce a mechanic and then have you play with that mechanic in multiple variations on that mechanic. Or rather, it doesn’t do this a lot. There’s a trick with a snake you’ll do more than once, and fire comes into play a couple times, but then they’ll do something where you have to season a dish with salt and pepper, and then keep it away from some roaches, only to never have you cook again.
Now, admittedly, even the most challenging parts of Donut Countydon’t put this on par with an action game. Instead, it’s more like a relaxing break or palette cleanser. Which is actually good if you know that going in. As someone who had just played Spider-Man and Shadow Of The Tomb Raider back-to-back, and was in the middle of The Messenger, Donut County was like taking a break from a Game Of Thrones marathon to watch an episode of The Big Bang Theory.
In fact, when things do get a little action oriented, as they do during the game’s climactic finale, it actually feels a little out of place. Though slightly less so if you pay attention to the weird story of Donut County, which is even odder than what you have to do in this game.
While Donut County is a fun,
…relaxing, but still intellectually challenging game, it’s not without its issues. Not the least of which is that while some levels do require thought, some puzzle fans may have a problem with the fact that there’s no timer counting down, nor a limit to how many attempts you can make to take something down. There’s also no performance score given at the end of the level, nor are the levels any different when you start them over or play this a second time, so there’s really no reason to ever play this again.
Donut County is also, if you think about it too much, mean spirited. You’re destroying people’s lives, their homes, their worldly possessions. And while yeah, that’s kind of the point — you’re trying to show that damn racoon what a jerk he’s been — some good-hearted folk might not appreciate a game where you destroy a pottery artists’ art.
It’s also a little irritating that, if you play Donut County on PlayStation 4, or on PC with a controller, you have to navigate the menus and deal with the text messages that BK sends his coworker Mira by moving the right thumbstick around in a mouse-like manner. As we’ve seen in the menus of Destinyand Destiny 2, this never works as well as the direct approach. Though using a controller to move the hole in this game does work really well, in case you were wondering.
Donut County is also really, really short. Doubly so if you skip the story, and I use the word “doubly” intentionally because the story takes up a lot of your time. Even if you read every word, though, expect to be done with this in a couple hours.
In the end,
Donut County is more involved than it initially appears, but it’s still more like an appetizer or amuse-bouche than a main course. Though maybe I’m just making the food analogy because writing about game is making me hungry. Good thing there’s a donut place near where I live.