Developer: Ben Esposito
Platform: iPhone & iPad
Update! There was one update following our initial review of Donut County, and that brought about the usual fixes and optimisations. It was feature complete at launch. But does it still hold up?
How does it play today? Games like Donut County don’t really date. Developer Ben Esposito spent years developing it as a personal side project, and the sheer level of time, love and sweat ploughed into it means it’ll stand up to a thousand churned out endless runners. It helps that Donut County is so handsome and such simple, straight-forward fun to play. And the writing’s as oddly affecting as ever.
Revised rating: A true one of a kind – accept no imitations. ★★★★½
Our original review, written in September 2018, is presented in its entirety below.
Donut County protagonist/antagonist BK might be a cute raccoon, but he’s also a self-absorbed jerk. Thanks to trash-loving BK and his raccoon buddies, an adorable cartoon community has been sucked into a series of rapidly expanding sinkholes.
Before you get too judgemental, BK’s main partner in holey crime is you. It’s your task to guide those gaping sinkholes along their hungry path with your finger.
This is a pretty simple physics puzzler, but with a heavy emphasis on story. The tale it tells is largely light and humorous, but there’s also a slight strain of pathos running through the whole thing.
The citizens of Donut County might be talking animals, but they’re also very human. They talk in a distracted Millennial jabber, and exhibit all the familiar traits of petty jealousy, anger, boredom, and affection.
As each character tells their glum (but also highly amusing) tale around an underground campfire, you’ll enter a series of interactive flashback scenes, with you and your whole cast as the chief orchestrators of chaos.
Drag the initially tiny hole under a pebble or a plant in each picture book scene, and that object will fall in. Gradually, as you hoover up more of these small objects, your hole will grow to be a little bigger. This, in turn, allows you to suck up even bigger objects like rocks and cacti.
Eventually, you’ll be in charge of a huge gaping maw, capable of sucking up houses, trees, and anthropomorphic foxes.
So far we’ve essentially been describing a digital toy with a cute storybook setting, and there’s no doubting that Donut County is pretty light on gameplay. There’s no fail state, as such, and your goal remains the same every level.
But then the developer mixes things up by working in clever environmental puzzles. You might swallow a campfire, which will cause a hot wind to blow out of your sinkhole, enabling you to dislodge certain stubborn elements from the over-world.
Alternatively, you might light and then swallow a firework, and then position the hole under some birds sat on a telegraph pole. You can guess what comes next in this scenario, but many of Donut County’s ‘puzzles’ come right out of left field – just like its humor.
None of this is particularly taxing stuff, we should add. But these little cause-and-effect Easter eggs make every little scene spring to life with possibilities. You’ll want to explore every nook and cranny for secrets.
Also key to this desire is how beautiful it all looks. If there’s been a more charming game released this year, with a more appealingly cohesive art style, we’ve yet to play it.
In less expert hands, Donut County could well have come across as a case of style over substance. But its world-gobbling mechanic is so tactile, its simple puzzles so delightful, and its weird world so enticing, that it all amounts to something with real heart and substance.