There was a time when video games could rely on only two buttons. Heck, there was even a time when video games relied on one, plus a joystick. Consoles like the Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo Entertainment System proved that people were interested in games, and, unlike their modern-day counterparts, they did so without the use of controllers that required a PhD to comprehend. Today, an easy-to-play game might be looked down upon because of its simplicity. But does that really make sense? If one of the primary reasons we play is to have fun, why should we set artificial benchmarks for how complex our fun is?
Case in point is Donut County, a recent indie game that’s making waves with its sense of humor and its easy-to-pick-up gameplay.
In Donut County, you control a hole. That is, a hole in the ground. The object of each stage is to swallow every object around you. As you move the hole around the screen, gobbling down rocks and trees and fences, your hole grows larger. You’ll have to work your way around the environment finding ever-bigger things to swallow, all so you can get big enough to take in everything.
The gameplay here is as simple as moving a joystick. That’s right, you’re not even pushing any buttons. (Okay, there’s one mechanic added later in the game where you push a button. One button.) Your hole slides around the screen with ease, and you get immediate visual feedback on whether or not an object will fit. If it comes close to fitting, but gets stuck, the object in question is launched back out of the hole with no need for input from you, the player. Take that as a hint that you probably need to find some more things to size-up your hole before trying again.
Before each level, players are treated to a typically hilarious cutscene of the residents of the area, all of whom have been swallowed by the mysterious hole. It seems RK, a raccoon and the proprietor of the Donut County donut shop, has been using a strange new app to ship people donuts. Instead of donuts, however, it appears RK has actually been sending this bizarre hole to people’s homes. Understandably, everybody is pretty ticked off. But can you really blame RK? Enough deliveries earn points toward a brand new gyrocopter, and who could resist a prize like that? Apparently, none of the townspeople find RK’s gyrocopter wishes enough to overlook the fact that their homes and everything they own has been dropped deep underground.
By marrying a simple, intuitive user interface with a charming and hilarious story and colorful visuals, the creator of Donut County has created the perfect game for everyone. Not just the gamer in the household, but everyone.
Hopefully, more developers will take a cue from Donut County and develop fun and addictive games that don’t require the use of every button on a modern controller. Until then, at least we have Donut County to tide us over.