Donut County is a game about the futility of speaking to someone who is so obstinate that they refuse to accept reality. It’s also about a seemingly bottomless hole that swallows up an entire town, piloted by a raccoon. So yeah, it’s basically the game of our generation.
In truth, Donut County isn’t a perfect game, nor is it a very extensive one, but it is something that gave me a moment of peace, a decent mental challenge, and a window into my own world, even if that window came in the form of a miles-deep pit.
The world of Donut County is a peaceful one, at least when it’s not being ransacked by raccoons and giant holes. Enter BK, one such raccoon who has found himself with a part-time gig at the local donut shop. He manages to balance his job and his video-gaming hobby, but somehow finds himself in control of a hole that gradually grows larger and larger, swallowing up every single morsel of town.
Donut County’s tale is told through flashbacks, as the anthropomorphic citizens of Donut County gather around a fire, deep below the Earth’s surface. Mira, seemingly the only human among the bunch, has had it up to here with BK and his stupid antics, to say nothing of his refusal to acknowledge the destruction he’s caused. Each citizen takes turns hilariously recounting how BK destroyed their homes and businesses, over the course of Donut County’s 22 levels.
What a thing it is to see this cartoonish world ripped a new one, too. Gameplay amounts to manipulating the hole around, which gets bigger every time you swallow something, and using the hole to set off chain reactions with a small variety of other mechanics. Amid the the bright colors and varied locales, it’s a delight to see each and every object get swallowed up, be it a tiny blade of grass or an entire farmhouse. As you progress, you’ll be forced to mix up puzzle mechanics, like swallowing a live firecracker and repositioning the hole before it goes off in order to break through an obstacle.
It never reaches Portal levels of physics-based puzzling—no, those games mixed some of the craziest machinations known to gaming, and stumped yours truly for hours at a time. You can breeze through Donut County in under two hours, and there’s not much in the way of replay value, save for collecting all items in the “trashopedia” and getting achievements. The fact that it’s coming to Android and iOS makes perfect sense for mobile gamers with short timespans in which to play. Hardcore puzzle game fans won’t necessarily find what they’re looking for in Donut County, but it does provide a sense of chill and simple charm that’s more relaxing than infuriating, and I can be grateful for that.
Special mention must be made of Donut County’s writing. Without it, Donut County would be a far flatter experience. Every conversation between BK, Mira, and other townsfolk is laced with sharp wit and sarcasm. When Mira chastises BK for his idiocy, it’s not only entertaining; it’s sardonic in a way that captures what real friends (the kind who love to innocently mock you) are like. Seeing BK flail about trying to convince his accusers that he’s just an idiot raccoon, and then living up to that promise, makes for some solid laughs. Developer Ben Esposito, the level designer for The Unfinished Swan and a consultant on What Remains of Edith Finch, really shows off his gameplay design chops here in ways that echo Unfinished Swan’s reliance on smart, player-friendly design. For a game that could have been terribly buggy or rife with collision detection issues, you’ll never feel like you’re stuck in your own hole playing Donut County.
Similarly, the soundtrack to Donut County is superb, a blend of gentle acoustics and house music. It really solidifies that peaceful Americana vibe most of Donut County carries, and I’ve caught myself just listening to the menu music more than once.
Most of all, I’m grateful Donut County manages to tell a great tale of a blockhead screwing up, eventually owning up to it, and working to make things right, never once dipping into saccharine theatrics. You don’t need me to remind you of that one person in your life who refuses to believe what they see in front of them, no matter how persistently you try to make them. Donut County won’t solve or illuminate that massive, multifaceted societal issue, but it will give you a chance to lay back, relax, and throw it down a hole.
Donut County was reviewed on PC using a Steam code provided by the publisher. Donut County is out Aug. 28 for PC, PlayStation 4, Android devices, and iOS devices. The Steam version costs $12.99.