If you’re of a certain age, you might have played a game called The Incredible Machine. This PC puzzle game gave an objective and a bunch of toys to satisfy it. By placing fans, dynamite, basketballs and even goldfish onto a screen, you’d nudge a ball to a goal. It was a kind of Rube-Goldberg simulator, encouraging you to create a sequence of dominoes that eventually fell in a manner that would lead to a satisfying conclusion. It was great.
Dog’s Donuts gave us some heavy The Incredible Machine vibes. We were all over it. The aim is to get five donuts (or doughnuts if you’re of the Blighty variety) from a cannon at the start of the level to a husky-looking dog at the end of the level. How they get there is up to you, but you’ve got a box with springboards, drones, spades and pinball bumpers to do it.
It’s a touch simpler than The Incredible Machine. We are, after all, in £3.29 territory here. The arena is never bigger than the game screen, and you’re often limited to only a few of the toys in your stash. So, what you have to do is often simple: how you get there is the challenge.
You are placing your obstacles in the environment and then firing the cannon with a press of the RT button to see if you’ve set it up right. More often than not, you haven’t, so it’s a case of calibrating everything. Dog’s Donuts has – for the price – a surprisingly large amount of dials to twiddle for each item, allowing you to move, rotate, enlarge and increase the power of your tools. Get it right, and the donuts roll, bounce and ricochet to the dog, who thankfully munches them even when they’re a few pixels away. Get five donuts in the maw of the dog and you’re done.
There are twelve tutorial levels here before things get real, and there are fifty levels total, which is more than enough for the price tag. Spikes and explosives begin to get folded in, and – if you’re anything like us – you will often sit with your head in your hands, wondering how on earth you are going to get one donut to the dog, let alone five.
But is it any good? Now, there’s a question, and we’re still cogitating on it. Dog’s Donuts is probably a good game, just on another platform. Never before have we had such an urge for a game to be touch-screen playable. We wanted to walk over to our TV and tweak our obstacle course manually, but science hasn’t quite caught up with the problem. Come on Microsoft, get Dog’s Donuts on HoloLens already.
Dog’s Donuts is mapped onto a controller by a crazy person. Even upon reaching the final levels, we were still accidentally firing the cannon, removing entities or accidentally placing them. Nothing, and we mean nothing, is intuitive in Dog’s Donuts, and it’s a mess of buttons to do something as simple as highlight a tool and then adjust its rotation. But we can imagine, on a tablet, tapping an item and then pinching it to rotate, and the skies would clear. But on Xbox, it just doesn’t work.
The pain is increased twofold by the game’s finickiness. There is a pixel’s difference between a pinball bumper firing a donut into a spike or to the dog, so moving it incrementally is important. Pssht, good luck with that, as getting that kind of precision with the pad is impossible. You have to move things and hope that, somehow, it’s snapped to the precise pixel you want. Thank St Bernard, then, that you have dozens of donuts to play around with, because you are going to need them.
Nowhere is this problem more acute than when using the spade. We often wanted to create slopes or gentle inclines by digging out dirt with the spade. But it’s used like a paintbrush in an art package: you are holding a button and digging, without the prospect of an Undo button. On the analogue sticks, where getting a gliding, perfect slope is almost impossible, it can feel like painting a wall by colouring your belly and smearing it on. It’s not precise or graceful.
Which, as you can imagine, undermines the rather precise and well-constructed levels. We could see them through the dirty glass, and we wanted to play with them, but By Jove we couldn’t. Instead, we had to manfully play and restart, play and restart, trying to nudge the boulder up the hill. We got there, but we wouldn’t classify it as enjoyment.
For £3.29, there is a substantial little game here, and it does invoke memories of The Incredible Machine with its clever level design. But in porting Dog’s Donuts to the Xbox, the joy has ebbed out. It needs precision and multiple buttons, which the Xbox game controller simply can’t offer. Find a means to play it with a touchscreen or mouse, because on an Xbox pad, these donuts are stale and barely edible.
You can buy Dog’s Donuts from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S