Film reviewers don’t have this issue. When film critics talk about ‘challenging’ films, they’re usually talking about films that have shocking content, ones that have disconnected dreamlike narratives, or ones that touch on difficult subjects. Mulholland Drive is a challenging film. But I still managed to watch it all the way through.
Donut Dodo on the other hand is a challenging game. It doesn’t have shocking content – it’s a cutesy affair about a baker collecting doughnuts (we are a UK publication.) But I couldn’t bloody finish it. I failed to collect those doughnuts. Because I was being hunted by a sentient toilet.
I maybe need to rewind a little bit.
Donut Dodo is a one-screen tribute to classic arcade games like Donkey Kong, Burger Time, and Popeye. It looks like you remember those games looking. That is, much better than they actually did, with crisp and bouncy animation. It plays like they played, with simple mechanics.
The aim is to collect all the doughnuts on the screen, dodging enemies and climbing ladders, before touching the giant doughnut on top. Sounds simple. Except for a few little twists. First, you earn massively more points if you collect the doughnuts in a certain order. Collect one, and another doughnut will start flashing at random. Keep collecting the flashing ones and you’re in for big points.
But of course, going a specific route brings risks. There are enemies and hazards littering the playfield, ready to kill you with one touch. One of these enemies is a sentient toilet, that reminded us of an ‘80s Ghostbusters toy. You can’t jump over the toilet, and it tracks you across the playfield. It’s an 8-bit murderous psychopath latrine. I hate that toilet.
Collecting all the doughnuts takes you to the next round, and there are five unique stages, all with their own unique mechanics, quirks, and soundtrack. One stage puts a giant carnival wheel in the middle of the screen. One has Donkey Kong Jnr-style vines to climb. There’s also a bonus stage. And then it loops back around. Complete all stages twice and you’re done.
That’s your lot. Every 15,000 points you get a new life. There’s an endless loop mode when you’re done. It’s a paltry package. It should feel mean. It should grow old quickly. It should feel a bit lacking.
And yet, I recommend Donut Dodo wholeheartedly. It’s all about how good it feels.
The movement is pixel perfect. Jumping feels great, and every action feels precise and snappy. It all just feels so nice to play. It’s also quick to get into a game, which makes dying much less of a hassle than it otherwise would. Donut Dodo also nails the rhythms of an arcade game. The running, the waiting, the tension. It coalesces into something that’s way more than the sum of its parts.
Of course, it isn’t perfect. The stages all have pre-determined layouts of platforms and doughnuts. Great for speed running, but often the best games have a little more randomness. Still, anyone who has any love for arcade games should give Donut Dodo a go. It sits next to those classics and holds its own, being both a loving tribute and something with its own voice and personality.
Donut Dodo is out now on Switch and Steam. Published by Flynn’s Arcade.