The modern game industry seems to be obsessed with the idea of constantly pushing the higher limits of how much content can be packed into a game, with both AAA and indie developers constantly finding new ways of making games that are exhaustingly long. Often, this leads to inevitable repetitiveness - do we really need sixty variants of essentially the same mission? - which makes shorter, but tighter games feel more satisfying. However, there’s another side of this spectrum in which a game is too short, leaving the player feeling like it was over much too soon, and this is unfortunately where we would class Donut County. If you can get past the short runtime, though, you’ll find a delightfully funny and inventive experience that’s sure to be memorable.
Donut County opens with a simple premise following the texting conversation between Mira, a young girl, and BK, a talking raccoon, as they discuss work life at a local donut shop. The girl complains about a loud neighbor during this conversation, and hardly a moment later, a mysterious hole appears in the ground that takes the loud neighbor and everything surrounding him. Moments later, we learn that the hole is being controlled via BK's phone app, and the narrative quickly jumps forward to the near future in which the entire town - including Mira and BK - are trapped at the bottom of that omnipresent hole. From here, each town member recounts where they were and what they were doing when BK’s hole came for them, and the perspective then shifts to a level that depicts that fateful encounter.
As far as plot is concerned, Donut County doesn’t swing for the fences - this is a fairly standard Saturday morning cartoon-ish narrative - but a big part of the charm can be found in the humorous nature of the writing. As a raccoon with a natural penchant for thieving, BK simply can’t understand how it’s his fault that the entire town is now in a sinkhole, and there’s a very quirky sense of humor displayed as everyone airs their complaints. In addition to this, a “Trashopedia” logs entries for all the items taken by the hole, and the items’ descriptions are clearly written by an inquisitive raccoon; tires being referred to as “gloves for your car” is a highlight.
Gameplay is exceptionally relaxing and simple, calling to mind the puzzle-solving mechanics of a point-and-click adventure game. Each level begins with you controlling a small hole, which you simply move beneath items that can comfortably fall in such as rocks, dogs, books, and donuts. With each item that falls in, the hole slightly widens, allowing you to take progressively larger things. A level is typically comprised of about four screens of things to collect; once you’ve cleansed a screen of everything, the camera usually zooms out as it shifts to a new scene to account for the larger hole you’ve made.
Though this is a remarkably easy game to play, a mild challenge is introduced in the form of environmental puzzles that necessitate a bit of deeper thinking. For example, one level sees you taking the hole around a fireworks shop, and you need to figure out how to cause something in the environment to light a nearby rocket so you can knock some birds off of a power line. Given that there’s only one screen to search at a time and that each screen isn’t too complex in its layout, it rarely takes more than a minute or two to figure out what needs to be done to progress to the next screen. Even so, these light puzzles introduce some much-needed variety on the core gameplay; it can get a bit dull just moving the hole around and taking things, but new puzzle concepts are introduced with each level to keep things fresh.
This is all well and good, but perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Donut County is its incredibly short length; we cleared the entire game in about an hour and a half and there isn’t a whole (heh) lot more to see after you’ve seen the credits. Make no mistake, Donut County is an enjoyable and charming experience while it lasts, but just when things feel like they’re starting to pick up, the game ends and you’re left wanting more. Furthermore, the absence of any hidden collectibles, score system, or any other form of incentive to get you to come back means that there’s next to no replay value; you can play levels over again if you feel like it, but there’s no reason to do so other than for the raw sake of it.
It’s hard to see how a game such as Donut County could realistically introduce more content to keep players engaged, but there's still a sense of disappointment once you get to the end credits, especially considering the price. Donut County is certainly a unique and charming game, but there’s only about as much content here as you’d find in a typical flash or smartphone game, which can usually be played for free. Given that you’re paying over ten bucks for Donut County, it’s difficult to recommend this over other games on the eShop that are certain to give you vastly more entertainment value for the same or a slightly higher price.
If you can stomach the paltry content, Donut County certainly is an enrapturing game that owns the goofy aesthetic of its premise. Environments are full of color and diverse decorations, featuring a low-poly art style that highlights the sharp geometry of objects in a way that pleasingly calls back to the N64 days. This cool visual style is then accompanied by a similarly quirky soundtrack with a mildly '80s-style vibe that feels perfect for the oddness of the experience. Donut County is very much a game that seems to champion the idea of video games being a form of interactive art and the immaculate design of each level’s visuals and sound reflect that well.
Donut County will no doubt prove to be a divisive experience, but those that are looking for a relaxing and often funny puzzle game will find an enjoyable experience that has just enough charm to justify its existence. With that being said, this is hardly a game that feels like it justifies the relatively high price tag; three hours max of content is a tough pill to swallow regardless of how enamored you are with the concept at its core. We’d recommend you wait for a sale or put some gold points towards this one; it’s a cool experience that you’ll definitely want to check out, but know that you’re not missing much if you choose to skip it.