Donut County (PS4)

During my three hours with Donut County, I used more emojis than I have previously used in my thirty-five years on this Earth. The mere inclusion of emojis would usually stop me from playing a game, let alone enjoying it, but I had a lovely time with Donut County, both in the main levels and the short emoji-abusing conversations in-between.

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You play as BK, a raccoon addicted to a mobile phone game that has him moving a hole around to collect trash to earn the XP he needs to unlock a quadcopter. This all sounds innocent enough and fairly typical by the standards of mobile games, however BK’s game has caused a few problems for local inhabitants. First of all, as a “trash panda,” BK has a rather loose definition of the word trash. So loose that it encompasses animals, homes, and even people. Second, for reasons that are never entirely clear, the events of the mobile game play out in real life, so the people BK swallows into his hole end up nine hundred and ninety-nine feet below the surface.

BK’s friend, Mira, gathers BK’s victims together underground to listen to their stories of how they all ended up under the surface. Coincidentally, they all happened to order donuts from BK’s shop shortly before disappearing. The short conversations between levels are charming and funny, especially when BK gets on the defensive as the evidence against him piles up. BK and Mira are a great pair, who bicker and bounce off each other just as friends should. There are puns galore and much of the dialogue makes me feel ridiculously old, but it’s enjoyable.

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The core part of Donut County has you reenacting what happened to the local residents by controlling the hole and swallowing everything in sight. The hole starts small but for every weed or rock it swallows, it gets bigger until nothing is safe, not even caravans and Ferris wheels.

In the early levels, the only puzzle type is getting everything into your hole in the right order: small stuff first so that the hole grows big enough to take the larger items. Later levels have you using some of your hole’s unique abilities, such as throwing certain items up into the air after swallowing them and using a snake to push buttons. The puzzles never get more complex, though. Instead of requiring you to utilize multiple abilities to solve puzzles, you only ever have to use one at a time and, as such, there’s a limit to how complicated things can get. Some of the optional puzzles required for achievements show how puzzles could have been more interesting in the main story and it’s a shame this wasn’t more developed.

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Criticizing the lack of challenge is probably missing the point. Donut County is a relaxing and almost meditative experience. There’s something inherently satisfying about starting with a small hole and gradually swallowing everything in sight. Everything you swallow is cataloged in BK’s Trashpedia, with amusing little descriptions from BK’s perspective such as snakes being “alive spaghetti” or icing being the “good part of the donut.”

Donut County also builds on what seems to be a new trend in indie games of having interactive credit sequences. It’s always nice to have a reason to absorb the names of a game’s creators (in this case, mainly Ben Esposito) instead of staring blurry-eyed at a long list.

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At $13, some people will no doubt find Donut County a little too expensive for such a short experience. A quick story playthrough is around 90 minutes to two hours, although if you go for all the achievements (which is definitely worth doing) then you’re looking at nearer three hours. Donut County is also one of those special games that don’t require any gaming experience to enjoy, so don’t be surprised if non-gamer friends and family get sucked in too. The hole experience (couldn’t resist!) is so relaxing you might even find yourself revisiting it: I went back to capture some footage and ended up playing for another half an hour. Give Donut County a try if you can. We could all benefit from something a little more peaceful once in a while.

4/5

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