Donut County Is the Most Delightfully Madcap Puzzle Game of 2018
Donut County, an ersatz version of Los Angeles County filled with donut-loving denizens, has some problems. They are strange sinkholes around town, growing as they devour, eating up restaurants and homesteads and people.
The game works like this: Somebody, somewhere in Donut County orders a donut on a fancy new app. You, as the proprietor of the donut shop, send them a donut hole—but not the kind they were asking for. What follows is a short, ingenious puzzle centered on finding out precisely how best to expand your hole (by feeding it, naturally) in order to consume everything you see. Who would have thought ordering donuts could be so dangerous?
Donut County, in development since the early 2010s, is a loose satire about gentrification, the gig economy, and raccoons being jerks. Created by a small team led by developer Ben Esposito, it's also one of the most delightfully destructive games I've played since Katamari Damacy. It both celebrates and critiques our urges for wrecking-game worlds, and it's funny as hell to boot.
As a series of goofy vignette-style puzzle boxes, Donut County is nearly unparalleled, both exciting and breezy, never too difficult but clever enough to feel inspired. And it's brimming with whimsy, full of goofy interactions—absorb a male and female bunny, and suddenly, well, you're going to have a lot more bunnies—and incredibly inspired writing. Every mission is bookended by conversations in a pit far beneath the county, where just about all of its original residents are now stuck.
Donut County has an uneven history. Originally inspired by, and drawn directly from, indigenous American folklore, it was met with some harsh criticism from those who thought that Ben Esposito, a non-native, was appropriating native culture. So Esposito pivoted, trading out one set of aesthetics for another, recreating his game as a madcap millennial satire. What's here works, and probably works better than whatever Esposito originally had in mind. It's amusing and sharp, bright and playful in a way that feels intimate, as if it comes from a place of knowing affection, a Los Angeles native ribbing their home for its faults while simultaneously celebrating its beauties.
But what really makes Donut County sing is the sheer jovial pleasure of slowly unraveling its spaces. There's something intoxicating about destruction in games, especially when it's wrapped up in silly energy instead of grimdark gore. Who doesn't want to cause a little chaos? Donut County is the rare game that had me grinning, marveling, and laughing all the way through.