After greater than 5 years in growth, gorgeous-looking hole-based puzzler Donut County is out in the present day. It’s positively not the whole lot I had hoped for. Right here’s wot I feel:
Donut County seems like an awesome thought in the hunt for a recreation. The truth is, I’d wager sum of money that that is precisely the best way through which it was fashioned.
Just a few years in the past, on the 2013 celebration of novel concepts that’s GDC’s Experimental Gameplay Workshop, Ben Esposito first confirmed his thought for a recreation mechanic through which the participant managed a gap within the floor. Then referred to as Kachina, the opening could possibly be moved round to trigger something above it to fall in, rising in measurement with the extra it consumed. Esposito rapidly demonstrated just a few little concepts of how this could possibly be developed into puzzles, with holes that eat fireplace getting used to cook dinner gadgets above, or water filling the opening after which used to drift objects. Individuals cheered in delight. It was certainly totally pleasant.
In 2015 Esposito returned to GDC, to deliver a wonderful and humble talk about how Kachina turned Donut County, and the teachings he’d discovered on that journey. Except for a few trailers, issues have been fairly quiet since then. And now we now have the completed recreation.
Donut County seems to be completely cute. The artwork is nice, and the physics modelling works completely with it as you topple bigger and bigger objects into your gap to clear the display. Which is, just about, all you do. It varies this barely as you progress via its two to a few hours, little twists or modifications for a stage, however in the primary it’s about watching objects plop via a gap. And the reality is, that’s very satisfying plenty of the time. Nevertheless it’s actually not sufficient.
There are such a lot of beautiful concepts, however weirdly they every in flip go unrealised. Take rabbits. The first logic of the sport is, the extra that falls within the gap, the larger it will get, so it’s a second of beautiful shock that when two rabbits fall in, the digicam zooms in to point out hearts popping above, and the opening grows lots bigger. Naughty rabbits! Besides, this isn’t the ingenious resolution to a difficult puzzle – it’s only a factor that occurs. Thrice within the stage, more and more pointlessly. You don’t work it out – you simply do it as a result of at a sure level, the primary two rabbits are the one issues left on display sufficiently small to slot in the opening you’ve at present acquired.
Higher is the frog, which is fired out to catch different objects, however then as quickly because it’s appeared it’s gone. Later comes the catapult, which helps you to fireplace sure issues again out of your gap, and once more looks like it ought to supply all kinds of fascinating conditions. However as soon as once more you simply do the one accessible motion, and it really works, after which that’s that. That is endemic to the entire of Donut County, the place your actions are inevitabilities, the place progress is about doing what there’s to do, after which the extent ending. Gosh all of it seems to be and sounds fully splendid as you do it, however it’s, oh so appropriately, a really hole expertise.
The degrees are interspersed with story scenes, which inform the story of what the opening is all about, with what I’d argue is a point of helpless reaching. A raccoon, you see, owns a donut store. However everybody who ordered a donut from him as a substitute had their native space fall down a gap he managed by, um, an app on his cellphone. Every particular person’s incident is then performed out by you, earlier than returning to the placement a thousand ft underground the place a gaggle of anthropomorphised creatures and one human berate the raccoon, who acts as if he’s achieved nothing incorrect.
I don’t need to dwell an excessive amount of on the type of writing, as a result of I actually can’t inform if it’s simply that I’m achieved with the Night time In The Woods-style aloof faux-millennial chatter, or if there’s one thing significantly over-arch and dismissive right here. I adored it when Oxenfree did it, I favored plenty of how Night time In The Woods used it to alienate and endear, but right here it simply grates for me. However on the bigger scale, I don’t get it, I don’t perceive why this group of unintroduced creatures are sneering at one another on this recreation in any respect, and I’m completely sure none of it was vital. I don’t suppose any narrative justification for the opening was wanted, and whereas it will definitely reaches a ridiculous finale that makes its personal kind of sense, I discovered myself wishing they’d all be quiet so I might get on with taking part in the sport.
Oh bottoms. I actually wished to like this. Since 2013 I’ve been quietly enamoured with the idea. And when it seems to be and sounds this good, when the programs all work, it’s such an anticlimax. Once in a while it appears as if it’s about to blossom out into a correct puzzler, the place you may want to make use of your mind a bit – there are machines to function, popcorn to pop, timber to set on fireplace – after which it goes nowhere. I feel there might have been a Donut County that, maybe with a much less meandering growth, may need been a very quiet ingenious puzzler. This seems like a recreation as a substitute extra centered on attempting out tiny concepts earlier than getting distracted by the following. The penultimate stage hints, I feel, at what might have been. However what’s, sadly, is a really middling execution of an especially beautiful thought.