Sly Cooper has given video games a sugarcoated portrayal of raccoons, one of nature’s most mischievous creations. These cute critters are born to do the dirtiest work with their opposable thumbs and identity-concealing masks, not steal from jerks to avenge their ancestors. DONUT COUNTY is almost an exposé on the bastard nature of raccoons as they send holes to unsuspecting citizens and ruin their lives. It may be an evil concept by an equally evil species of mammal, but it’s one of the most thoroughly charming and hilarious games I’ve ever played.
Most of Donut County’s charm comes from its characters. The game is presented as a story told over a campfire as all of the town’s residents are gathered in the hollowed insides of the Earth discussing how they got there. And the reason is, to no one’s surprise, because of all the god damn holes. This setup gives everyone an opportunity to speak and show their quirks and, while their tales set up a legitimately engrossing mystery, it also lets them to interact with two stars of the game: Mira the human and BK the lying raccoon behind the whole ordeal that also happens to be a hole ordeal.
Donut County Review: One Person’s Trash Panda…
BK is a total goofball and his reluctance to take responsibility combined with his clumsy silver tongue serve as the basis for most of the game’s fantastic comedy. He’ll use stoner logic to smooth talk his way out of the literal and metaphorical hole he’s dug himself in and it’s hilarious every single time. Mira, who is also his roommate and fellow employee at the donut shop, doesn’t let BK get away with his shenanigans and some of the best jokes often come when they butt heads.
But their discord is never strong enough to upend the underlying bedrock of their friendship. Even with all the bickering and stress, Mira and BK’s platonic friendship also has plenty of relaxing, lighthearted moments that show the broad range of emotions good friends experience together. She might destroy his property and he may have literally displaced the entire town but they also text each other duck emojis and talk about how they would approach a video game boss fight in real life.
The game finds humor in their conflict and peace and sets up an unexpectedly touching narrative arc for each character. Let me reiterate that: a game about raccoons terrorizing a city with holes has more compelling narrative and character arcs than most triple-A games you’ll probably play this year. Its excellent soundtrack even finds ways to match the tone of those disparate moments from its chill acoustics for quieter moments to the absolute jam that plays at the end of most levels.
Donut County Review: …Is Another Person’s Treasure Panda
BK’s style of jokes extends to almost the entirety of the game in one form or another. The Trashopedia is, ironically, full of treasure as it’s a list of the boring, everyday stuff you’ve collected but described in BK’s brilliant, signature voice. Dialogue runs the gamut from bizarre to genuinely funny and both are written with a sharp wit that makes the many lines of text a blast to read through. Since its comedy is thoughtfully woven into just about every aspect of the game, it’s a never-ending onslaught of funny moments. And since it has multiple different types of humor, it doesn’t get dull or repetitive during its three-hour runtime.
While the writing and story structure are clever, curated bits of comedy, the gameplay adds in the necessary slapstick. You play as a hole that grows as it sucks in more objects, which is tricky to talk about without sounding perverted. It has been mechanically described as an “inverse Katamari Damacy” and aptly so, but it also gives off the same sense of endearing absurdity. Both animate rather crudely and this stiffness combined with the aloof characters are comic gold when being manipulated by the physics of the hole. The way the townsfolk flip around and fall to their doom welcomes in a good bit of spontaneous humor that will almost make you laugh as hard as the well-written, scripted dialogue and cutscenes.
It’s also a decent mechanic to center the game around. Gobbling up small objects to get a bigger hole is oddly satisfying as you move from eating small plants to devouring entire buildings in just a few minutes. It’s the most simplistic realization of the primal video game urge to consume and grow more powerful. Some of the levels even involve goofy puzzles, putting a much-needed twist on the typical “eat and grow” gameplay.
Donut County Review: Digging Deeper
But they don’t always go far enough. Oddly enough, the hole-based gameplay, while entertaining on the surface, isn’t quite as deep as it could be. Donut County doesn’t need failstates, timers, or a scoring system to be more gamey. Although it would have benefited from pushing its simple concept further and adding in more mechanics that expand upon what the core gameplay does so well. Using the hole to mix stew and manipulate water wheels feels like a tease of what could have been if it had some more intricate systems.
That minor shortcoming doesn’t keep the game from achieving greatness. While some parts of this review can also be read as a hit piece against raccoons (and those adorable dirtbags deserve it), it mostly serves as a glowing endorsement to how special Donut County is. It didn’t just throw in raccoons and coast on the goofiness inherent to those thumbed dorks like some dumb, thoughtless meme. Instead, it built a hilarious narrative around that silly concept and used that concept as a vessel for its heartwarming story and incredible humor that comes out in its writing and irreverent gameplay. For a game about garbage, its wholesomeness and “holesomeness” make it the very opposite of trash.
Donut County was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.