Playing Donut County is like cleaning your room when you’re five: put everything in a big, dark space, shut the door and hope for the best. In this case though, you’ll drop it all into the center of the Earth and piss off a bunch of people instead. The premise is simple: Be a hole in the ground and swallow up as many things as you can, solving a few puzzles along the way.
Donut County invites plenty of comparisons to Katamari Damacy; a strange, unexplainable force descends on a town and its unwitting residents. But where chaos reaches literal new heights with Katamari, the holes that terrorize Donut County are silent, efficient and clean. It feels oddly therapeutic and immensely satisfying. Creator Ben Esposito (Tattletail) delivers slices of tragedy blended with light-hearted, trash panda-loving wit. Its chapter-oriented format makes it easy to put down and pick up, but it’s highly doubtful that you’ll want to stop.
999 feet below the Earth’s surface, a campfire crackles around the displaced residents of Donut County and the debris of their former lives. Ever since the raccoons came to town and took over the donut shop, holes have been cropping up everywhere. One raccoon in particular named BK seems to be at fault. He claims that he was just doing his job “delivering donuts”, but no one is convinced.
Despite destroying entire homes and businesses, the chaos is clean. The more successful you are at destruction, the quieter everything becomes. First, you begin as a small hole. A crumpled piece of paper disappears, a few blades of grass, maybe a brick. A few seconds later, a folding chair and then a handful of snakes. Two more minutes pass, and you’ve thoroughly ruined someone’s retirement home. Good job.
As the residents take turns telling their stories around the campfire, each stage related to the character in question becomes increasingly more complex. While the main goal is to devour everything, Esposito plays with physics and the environment to create small puzzles. The challenges are easy enough to figure out, but clever enough to feel novel. If you swallow an ear of corn, for example, and a hot coal right after that, a geyser of popcorn bursts from the ground — now you finally have a way to attract and devour those pesky birds.
Disturbingly large voids aside, the writing of Donut County is equal parts charming and endearing. At the end of each stage, you can review the items you’ve collected in something called a Trashopedia. The descriptions are not to be missed, carrying the same kind of inane levity that makes the wolfpupy Twitter account so great. For example, a “Cool Snake” is “alive spaghetti with the ability to hate.”
There’s something lovingly relatable watching the characters interact with one another; sometimes you can view their text messages at the beginning of a level. Next to the “reply” button, which you hit to progress through the conversation, is a duck emoji. I spammed it to see what would happen ... Depending on who you’re talking to, they may spam you right back.
The world is your playground in Donut County, and yet it’s the most wholesome way to see everything come crashing down. Despite some serious setbacks, the characters remain optimistic and retain a healthy sense of resolve. Listening to each of them tell their stories feels like hanging with a big group of friends. If a hole destroyed my town today, I think I’d be okay with it. It’s not the hole’s fault.
It’s the raccoons.
Donut County will be released on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and iOS on Aug. 28. It was played using “retail” PS4 code provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.