PAX West 2017: Donut County is an Offbeat Masterpiece in the Making

Those of our readers with good memories may recall that we had previously previewed Donut County during E3 this year. Those with even better memories may recall that we had also previewed it during PAX East before that. So those particular people may be wondering “well, why would you bother doing a third preview for this game within the span of a year?” And the answer I’ll give you is simple: it’s just that effing good of a game. Also, there was a splash of new content to shake things up as an additional justification, but I speak without hyperbole when I say that Donut County is one of my most anticipated upcoming games. Developer Ben Esposito has created a quirky, simple, fun and unique gem worth talking about at every possible instance.

The saga of Donut County follows a raccoon known as BK and his best friend, a human named Mira, who both work at a donut shop in the titular county. After some initial dialogue where we have the two chat over their cell phones (complete with the ability to troll the other with emoticons), we fast forward to the world in the underground 999 feet below Donut County, where we learn that the donuts BK has been delivering actually create massive holes that swallow up everything they comes across. Of course, BK didn’t care at the time, because he was only focused on selling enough donuts to win a really wicked quadcopter. But with him swallowed and the copter now destroyed by Mira in frustration, we listen to the other residents who were gulped up, and how their interactions with these unusual donuts went.

Initially, I questioned why Annapurna Interactive was actually publishing Donut County, since it seemed a bit out of place next their other narrative-rich titles such as What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoa. But the more time you spend with Donut County, you begin to realize that underneath the guise of a bizarre puzzler about devouring scenery with a hole lies a bunch of interesting characters with their own individual tales, and how they now band together to try and get used to their current situation. It’s a set of cute, little surreal vignettes that contribute to a larger story with a lot of humor and intrigue. So it is a bit narrative-rich, just in a more off-the-wall way.

Gameplay-wise, Donut County has definite shades of Katamari Damacy, as noted before. You control one of the holes created by a donut that was delivered, moving it around and swallowing up any objects above, it, growing bigger with each morsel until the hole is large enough to swallow entire buildings and the people within them. And at the end, you get to see every consumed object added to a “trashopedia,” where you can check them out with little humorous descriptions. But there is a notable difference between the two titles, and that’s in how they play out. Whereas the Katamari¬†games are more fast-paced and insane in all areas, Donut County actually comes across as calmer, possibly even zen-like.

Donut County is still crazy, though. I mean, this is a game where one of the goals is swallow snakes so that you can have a rattler’s tail sticking out of your holes, using it to disrupt enough chickens so that you can make a snake alert explode, in one of the game’s creative and entertaining puzzles. But there’s no time limit, so you can take you time and experiment, figure out how to approach the larger objects and where to approach them from so that they can tilt into your ever-growing gap. There’s just something so rewarding in watching various structures crumble and be swallowed up by the earth. Combine it with the cute, colorful, lineless visuals and peppy, pleasing soundtrack, and this bizarre pastry-based catastrophe actually becomes quite the uplifting, calming experience, weirdly enough.

Even in just the form of a quick demo, Donut County already shows signs of being of of 2018’s best sleeper hits. It’s an offbeat masterpiece in the making, one that blends heart, wackiness, and some unique gameplay to create an absolutely stunning piece of work, destined to hopefully be one of the indie scene’s tastiest treats. A tasty treat that traps you in an underground society all because a raccoon wanted a bitchin’ quadcopter, but a tasty treat nonetheless.