When you think about it, it’s kind of incredible that more games haven’t tried to ape the general premise of 2004’s Katamari Damacy. There’s a unique sense of almost zen calm in gathering up literally everything you see into a big sticky ball, yet there are few games that capture that same feeling, sticky-ball or not.
Fourteen years later, here comes Donut County, another game about cleaning up disorder that invites obvious Katamari comparisons. This time, instead of a sticky ball, you control a hole in the ground that can swallow up anything it can slide under. There’s a wacky plotline focusing on a racoon with a donut-delivery app that kind of ties the concept together, but really all you need to know is that you are an insatiable hole.
Every item that falls into the pit increases the hole’s diameter, until you’re able to swallow up every single simplistic, cel-shaded 3D object you can see and leave a soothing expanse of nothingness.
Zen and the art of being a hole
As in Katamari, it’s oddly satisfying working your way up from collecting small bits of trash to swallowing up large vehicles and houses in a single gulp. But there are some important differences, too. The biggest is that Donut County does away with Katamari‘s strict time limits, taking away some of the tension and urgency and letting you simple play around with the environments at your own pace.
Donut County is also divided into distinct, single-screen sections, seen from a “god view” angle just above the ground. For almost the entire game, you’re stuck in these small, self-contained sections until they’re completely clear, at which point the hole magically warps to a new area.
This can make Donut County feel a bit like a disjointed set of distinct puzzles, rather than a wide world ready to be explored and subsumed. In Katamari, there was a certain joy in finding new collectible items and hidden areas, or in plotting efficient paths through the garbage-strewn world. In Donut County, by contrast, everything is in plain sight and the next move is usually obvious—just move the hole over to the next biggest thing you can see.
To be sure, Donut County dresses up its basic premise to keep things fresh as it goes. In one level, you might need a drinking bird that can help clear out a pool of water clogging up your hole. In another, a snake that gets stuck in the hole is used to scare chickens and knock over certain environmental hazards. Late in the game, you can launch everything from fireworks to fish out of the hole in order to activate buttons and other environmental doodads.
These additions add a tiny bit of lateral thinking potential to the basic swallow-up-everything gameplay. But that potential is never really fully explored. The solution to almost all of the game’s light puzzles is usually obvious after about five seconds of examination, largely because of the lack of objects in any one area. When there are only a handful of objects to interact with at any moment, figuring out which interaction is the correct one isn’t rocket science.
Still, Donut County isn’t really about giving your brain a workout. It’s about giving your brain a break, in the same way doing dishes or tidying up the living room is. There’s a certain satisfaction fighting against entropy in such a simple, straightforward way—taking a disordered world and converting it into a clean, simple nothingness.
That said, I came away from Donut County wishing it had taken the concept just a little further. The game ends just a few hours after it started, right at the point where it feels like it was set to open up and discover its potential. I’d love an excuse to spend more time with a wider free-exploration mode, randomly generated messes to clean up, or some puzzles that required just a bit more thoughtfulness.
As it stands, Donut County makes for a light, airy snack of a game—it’s a tight circle of satisfying, empty calories. But like a real donut, finishing one often just means you want another.
- Satisfying concept harnesses the zen power of cleaning up.
- Crisp, clean art style
- Memorable characters and cute writing.
- Relaxing, simple, one-handed gameplay.
- Puzzles aren’t very taxing.
- Game ends just as it was starting to gather momentum
- The existential dread of an ever-expanding hole gobbling up the entire world.
Verdict: Try it if you’re looking for a quick, relaxing afternoon snack of a game.
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