Have a Garbage Day!Raccoon Company
While we’re all grappling with life amidst a pandemic, many gamers are going on lengthy adventures, finding how island life treats them, or just revisiting a favorite. But while we’re all currently sinking our teeth into meatier titles (Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin is my personal drug at the moment – I really can’t fathom why), there’s something to be said about making time for more bite-sized experiences. Enter: Ben Esposito’s Donut County.
Over the course of my 2-hour playthrough of Donut County, I found myself constantly grinning to the point where my cheeks throbbed from strain. Gone were any lingering clouds of coronanxiety. I was just basking in the game’s warm glow of adorably crafted characters and playful color palette. The sheer absurdity of directing a hole in the ground to swallow increasingly larger objects was certainly fun on its own, but what really got me were the game’s silly item descriptions and perfectly timed dialogue.
Donut County puts you in the paws of a bad guy of sorts. For much of the game, you play as BK, a mischievous raccoon who, for reasons to be revealed, has access to a mobile app that allows him to place holes around his actual town and collect pretty much anything that ends up in their path. However, the catch is that the holes begin life very small, requiring more objects to grow in size and… consume more things. What ensues is a series of levels where you must progressively feed a hole with the town’s property and ultimately the residents themselves (a camping coyote, a conspiracist possum, even salt and pepper shaker citizens) until there’s nothing left but barren landscape. To be successful, you’ll need to solve puzzles and unlock access to the next size of object necessary to progress.
A story about a sentient raccoon sending holes to swallow up other anthropomorphic townsfolk whenever they want donuts delivered is certainly an original plot, but its main character’s progression will feel familiar. In the present, BK and the rest of the town sit 999 feet below the surface of Donut County. While BK insists on his innocence amidst calamity that clearly points to his guilt, his human friend, Mira tries to appeal to his better nature in seeking forgiveness from everyone he’s hurt. BK has to decide whether his friendship and everyone else’s happiness is worth more than the trash horde he’s accumulated. And, as a raccoon, he really likes trash.
Each new level focuses on a particular Donut County denizen who was wronged by raccoonery. Below ground, BK has to listen to others recount how he wronged them. Usually he responds with blatant denial of any responsibility, deflecting to how he was wronged when he lost his precious quadcopter (an in-app reward he earned by collecting enough of other people’s stuff). There’s a persistent humor throughout most of the game, but it also briefly touches on somewhat deeper points about relationships. More than how this community is brought closer amidst disaster and unlikely bonds form to combat a common threat, the story is about the friendship between a human and a raccoon. As ridiculous as that premise sounds (and is), there are some truly heartfelt moments interspersed amongst the hilarity.
Donut County does an excellent job of pacing itself over its 20 or so levels, not just from a storytelling standpoint, but by keeping the gameplay varied and fresh. Environments and puzzles never feel recycled; very new stage seems to have a little quirk that breathes into it a unique personality, whether its the snakes that bounce like compressed springs or the radio that quits playing the background music you took for granted. There’s a constant sense of discovery and joy there to keep you engaged and coming back for more.
After completing each level, you’re given access to a new series of entries into what’s called the Trashopedia. Everything you’ve collected throughout the level is listed there with a short note left by a raccoon, and 75% of those notes are comedic gold. The moment-to-moment gameplay of Donut County is fairly simple. I never found myself scratching my head to solve a puzzle or needing to fiddle with the game’s physics. I enjoyed the gameplay plenty, but I was able to complete each level in about five minutes. I probably spent about as much time perusing the Trashopedia and getting a good chuckle out of the raccoon feud with birds or taste in receptacle.
So, I guess the point I’m trying to get at is that it may feel like you’re stuck in a hole right now. Maybe it’s dark and damp and there’s a cast of anthropomorphic creatures sitting around a campfire next to you… okay maybe that comparison went too far. But go play Donut County! It’s sweet, easy fun and it’s well worth your time.