Donut County (2018)

When Donut County came out, it’s all that anyone could talk about, in fact, a few months before it even came out, everyone in the games industry was talking about it. Apparently everyone was following it for years and I never knew about it. Once it came out, everyone gushed over it and it was one of those “indie darlings” that we haven’t really seen in a few years. The price tag was a bit too steep for me at $20 for what seemed like a very basic game, so I just held out until the Steam Winter sale and when it was 50% off, I finally took the plunge and got it.

The object of this game is to basically swallow up everything in site as you control a hole in the ground. That is literally it. Nothing more. You start out as a small hole and as you gobble up several things, the hole grows, everytime you suck something up, you grow in size, until you suck up everything in the level. Then you move on. There is a narrative to the game, but honestly it really isn’t all that good and is the majority of the actual game. Each level is only comprised of a very small area and the hardest part of the game is battling the really bad physics. There isn’t proper weight to anything, sometimes you can’t really tell where your hole is lined up with a certain object because of the isometric angle the camera is given. Then once you do start pulling the object into the whole, the geometry of the object gets stuck on the edges of the hole. Then you have to be extremely careful, because if you move the hole just even a bit too much, the object will fly out of the hole and land in an area you can’t get to, thus resulting in restarting the entire level over again.

The game isn’t hard, nor is it really meant to be, which is why it’s such a bummer that it is so short and half of the game is dialogue to characters you have no attachment to. It took 90 minutes to beat the game, and again most of that was reading. The game could have been so much more if the creator focused more on the fun gameplay instead of a pointless story. Indie games have a real issue with this, most of these indie games have a balance issue, where they focus on one aspect too much. Games like Super Meat Boy or N++ focus only on the gameplay, and there is little to no story, and what is there is bad. Donut County is the opposite, it focuses mainly on  the story (again, what is there isn’t all that interesting, nor does it need to be so wordy) and barely focuses on the core gameplay at all.

The main character BK is a racoon who controls the holes that suck everything up. He talks like a teen, and that apparently is supposed to be the clever writing that everyone raves about, Same thing with the conversations he has with the other main character in the game (I can’t remember the name because honestly it's so short and forgettable, I don’t remember it at all) These conversations take place via a cell phone and texting. When your character is going to respond, there are two ways to do it, clicking “Reply” which will type the next sentence to move the scene along, or a Duck emoji, which does nothing. So you can spam the duck emoji, but then have to hit the reply button to actually advance the story. Again, this is something that everyone brings up when talking about this game, and it’s literally only 3 times in the entire short game, I have no clue why this is what everyone remembers from the game. It’s just kinda there and then gone. I JUST finished this game not more than 30 mins ago, and can’t remember one line of funny dialogue or conversation in the whole game.

The game has only around probably 10 levels, and most of them can be completed within around a minute. I didn’t keep track, but again, the only real trouble I had was with the physics system. The problem with the level design is that the level itself is small, and the hole only grows when it pulls objects in, those objects are a certain size and there is only several of a certain size that can fit in the hole at a time, so it becomes extremely limiting and almost on rails gameplay if you think about it. The game has almost a Reverse Katamari like feel to it, and to an extent that is true, but with Katamari, there are hundreds of things to pick up in a level, and no one is going to have the same exact run, but with Donut County, you really only get a handful of things to suck up at a time in a certain order.

I might be a bit too harsh on this game, it is done mostly by one guy, and is his first game (from what I know), but honestly this game isn’t worth $20, it isn’t even worth $10 in my opinion. Probably $5. It’s very shallow, isn’t complex at all, and isn’t that interesting either. The game doesn’t have enough content to hold itself up as a full game, and doesn’t deserve the praise or attention it got this year. It’s a “OK” experience for sure, I had fun with it, but the way the game stopped all its momentum the moment it started to build, to be interpreted by a very long and boring break of dialog between characters that don't have any personality or time spent with them to care, so it all feels very unearned. I don’t really even want to call it much of a game, because it’s just barely a game, it's more of a Visual Novel than game. Good on the guy for making it and getting it out in the world and also getting so many people to play it and talk about it with such high praise (I certainly couldn’t do it) I just wish there was more to it, A LOT MORE. It was extremely hyped up and I was extremely let down by how basic it was. It’s got a fun premise, I just wish it didn’t suck up my expectations like it did.