As much as I enjoy games with complex systems, sprawling open worlds, and stories that last for over 100 hours, now and then I’m just looking for something more bite-sized to sit down and spend some time with. Something that isn’t so daunting. Donut County is the newest game to scratch this itch for me and has reminded me of the value that comes from titles like this in the indie scene.
Donut County at its core (or lack there-of) is all about what the game blatantly says it’s about: dropping things into holes. Each of the game’s 15 or so levels begin with you as a small hole that is looking to suck up items in the environment. With every new piece of junk that you swallow, the size of your hole grows larger so that by the end of the level you’re now sucking up houses and boulders whereas you began by just inhaling grass or rocks.
It’s such a simple loop, and I’ve talked about this before when previewing Donut County, but there’s something so satisfying about it. The process of dropping everything in each level into your wandering hole was so relaxing for me. If ASMR could be a video game, it would be this one. Donut County is the perfect game to unwind with at the end of a long day.
By the conclusion of Donut County, this gameplay has somewhat evolved to add a new mechanic here or there but for the most part, it doesn’t iterate upon what it already is in the first place, which could be a negative thing if you don’t find yourself all that enthralled with it to begin with. Luckily, the changing of environments and the addition of level-specific puzzles help things feel fresh over the course of the experience.
Above all else though, what I think sells the experience of Donut County’s many different levels is the art style, vibe, and especially the music. The binding aesthetic of this world is a good mix of being charming and just straight-up goofy at the same time. The soundtrack to each level also isn’t just good on its own merits as individual pieces of music, but these tracks really set the tone and further gets you into a groove before you start sucking things into your hole. Donut County is like an interactive version of those Beats to Study/Relax To videos on YouTube which, yes, I was listening to while writing this review.
There’s a larger story at play within the world of Donut County, and it’s about as silly as everything else. Each of the game’s eclectic cast members recalls the way in which they and their belongings were sucked down into the earth thanks to the advent of these mysterious holes that have been popping up around Donut County. You later learn of the nefarious force that is behind this treachery, and it’s so dumb in all of the best ways.
There are many different characters throughout Donut County, and while each of them is highlighted at one point over the course of the story, some of them are more memorable than others. Some of my favorites include a chef cat that owns a disgusting, bug-infested restaurant and a conspiracy theory-ridden possum that is convinced the world is both flat and hollow. While some characters are more stand-out than others, I do have to say that I loved the design of almost all of them. The art style of Donut County lends itself best when it comes to the character design.
The one thing story-related aspect of Donut County that I think could be divisive is the writing, as it’s very informal. Character dialogue reads less like something you’d seen in a script and more like a text message exchange you’d have with a friend. I found this to be somewhat funny, personally, as it fits with the game’s overall lack of seriousness. If you aren’t a fan of internet lingo though, I could see it wearing thin quickly.
If there’s one thing that I appreciate about Donut County above all else is that it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Clocking in at around two hours total, Donut County gets you in and out just before the core gameplay begins to feel stale. In an age where every game seems to needlessly drag on or have sections that seem to purposefully bloat the runtime, this was perhaps the most refreshing aspect of all.
I also just want to take a moment to acknowledge how happy I am that Donut County has even seen the light of day. Nothing this strange and offbeat would ever be published by one of the industry’s triple-A publishers, and I appreciate that Annapurna Interactive is willing to double down on developers like Ben Esposito and games like Donut County and ensure that it can see a widespread release. We need more of this in the industry, and I hope more games of this ilk start to appear over time.
Donut County is a charming and straightforward example of how video games don’t need to be overly complex or contain multiple mechanics and systems to make for a good time. While your enjoyment of the game will likely depend on how satisfying you find its overall loop of dropping stuff into a hole, if this does click with you, then there’s a lot that you’ll love. For the low price of entry, Donut County is worth picking up and spending an evening with just to have a good chuckle.