I always had a feeling that I would at least like Donut County. The physics based puzzle adventure by Ben Esposito and Annapurna Interactive has a 3D low polygon look with soft colors. It has characters that have minimalistic but cute designs that carry, well, character. It has a comedic tone in the voice of Esposito, whose twitter account has always been a great source for abstract, spontaneous, and somewhat nonsensical comedy. Again, with all of these ingredients, I knew that Donut County would at least be somewhat to my taste. I did not expect it to be such a charming, relaxing, and touching experience, especially in the chaos of a PAX showfloor.
In Donut County players control a mysterious and mobile hole in the ground that is making its way through a colorful community of adorable talking animals and people. As the hole, your job is to eat up anything in your way and get bigger every time you do so to clear levels. Doing so in some levels will be more challenging than most as they might have a more puzzling design, such as one section where you must figure out a way to suck up a hot air balloon. In between these levels, you’ll get cutscenes were you get to learn more about everyone you’re swallowing up, as it turns out they’ve made sort of a community at bottom of the pit and are trying to figure out what is going on.
It’s sort of a simple conceit. In some ways it’s reminiscent of the puzzle-adventure game Katamari Damacy, but like the inverse of it. But Donut County works so well and stands out because of its tone and swagger. It’s the way these cartoon animals talk to each other in a light, comedic tone that manages to be sharp without being grating. It’s how the game is about this unexplainable devastating force, but because of its look and its folksy soundtrack, it creates this positive irreverent tone to it all.
Then there’s the way you interact with the world. The physics in the game give everything in the world a wobbly-ness to it. Structures and characters tip over easily and with game’s top down perspective, it reminded me in the best way of the feeling of playing with toys.
Taking all of this in during my demo of Donut County really put a smile on my face. It made me chuckle, and gave me a small feeling of warmth. I just really enjoyed interacting and poking around with it, and it’s my personal favorite game I played at this year’s PAX East.
I don’t know if Donut County can sustain this feeling for its entirety when it releases, but I’m sure excited to see if it can.
Donut County is planned to release in 2018 on PlayStation 4, PC, and iOS.