Donut Dodo (Review)

When I started Indie Gamer Chick, I thought I was going to be playing a lot of weird and experimental games. Well, now that I’ve played a LOT of retro games, I know it didn’t get any more weird and experimental than an 80s arcade. I love to hear stories about the Golden Age of Arcades from my readers. I’m jealous, really. I think I would have really loved it. Especially during the early-to-mid 80s, when so many novel and unique concepts seemed to hit one after another, with no rhyme or reason to them. A gorilla throws barrels at a carpenter (no, not Jesus, though try telling that to his fans) who must also avoid sentient fire as he tries to rescue his girlfriend. Sounds like a hoot! A yellow circle runs through a maze eating dots while being pursued by ghosts. Sure, why not? A spelunker must exterminate torsoless goggle people and dragons by impaling them with a hose and then pumping them with air until they burst. Actually, that sounds pretty deranged and sadistic and I really think you should seek help, buddy. Nothing had to make sense and all that mattered was that you had fun, whether it was from blowing up rocks with a spaceship or shooting at giant space bugs or helping a mama kangaroo rescue its Joey. It seems like it would have been right up my alley.

Really the answer to “is it like..” is “yes” before you even say what game it is. “Madden?” Oh ha, ha, you smart ass. (ponders) Well actually.. come to think about it, a little bit, yea.

Well, thanks to Donut Dodo, I think I have a good idea what kind of thrill that must have been for those who came before me. Because, holy crap, this is one of the best indie games ever made! You play the role of a pastry chef who had his donuts stolen by a strabismus-eyed dodo. You know, that’s exactly what drove people to hunt them to extinction. True story, donuts and everything. As the chef, you have to zig-zag around five single-screen levels to get them back. Donut Dodo is purely an avoider-type platformer, as there’s no methods of attack and your only option is to not touch the baddies. So, what’s it like? Well, it’s kind of like Donkey Kong, as you have a giant animal trying to kill you indirectly, and various minions that get in the way. And it’s kind of like any collecting game like, say, Pac-Man, where the level is filled with donuts and the object is to collect them all. And it’s kind of like Bomb Jack, as you get a bonus for grabbing the donuts in a specific order. And it’s kind of like Donkey Kong Jr. where sometimes you’re climbing ropes/vines using the same method used in that game. And it’s kind of like the 1982 Popeye, as there’s a toilet seat that stalks you similar to how Bluto does in that game. And it’s kind of like.. you know what? Screw it. Name any game of this genre from the Golden Age and there’s probably some nod to it in Donut Dodo. If that makes it sound like something that couldn’t possibly stand on its own, think again. It’s this weird game that both somehow feels like every other single-screen platform game and also like nothing you’ve ever played before.

I searched Donut Dodo high and low for SOME imperfection, and the best I could come up with is that there’s nothing that indicates you can actually touch the two oil barrels at the top of the second level. They’re big burning things with visible fire (aka a universal “do not touch” of gaming) that spit out the level’s fireball enemies. BUT, as long as the fireballs aren’t coming out at that moment, you can harmlessly walk right past them. In fact, you need to. I knew my jump wasn’t high enough to clear them and spent far too much time trying to figure out how to circumvent them before Angela said “are you SURE they’ll kill you?” I replied “of course they will! Look, it’s fire! The ouchie-form of oxygen!” Five seconds later she was rubbing it in that she figured it out before I did. I didn’t appreciate that, Pixel Games!

It’s like someone took all the best Golden Age games that followed in Donkey Kong’s wake, put them in a blender and hit the puree button while cackling like a mad scientist. I used to do that with food when I was a kid, and I never got in trouble for the mess I made doing so. My parents always took pity on me because the resulting unholy concoction usually left me traumatized the moment it hit my tongue. That could have so easily happened with Donut Dodo, but instead, the end result ended up being the best of its breed ever made. Go figure. Part of why that works is that everything the game took inspiration from is just done better here. It starts with the absolute precision controls. I always found the ladders in Donkey Kong annoying, but here, they’re just automatic. You can’t camp on them. When you hit up or down, you just zoom up and down the ladder. That works shockingly awesome and also helps with the many close-calls you’ll inevitably have with enemies. While I personally experienced a slight learning curve to the jumping physics, keep in mind that I really sucked at this game. Like seriously, the dodo might be extinct but the species got revenge on humanity by kicking my ass the last few days at this. No, this is a fair game with razor-sharp controls and I couldn’t stay alive because I never learned to mind my surroundings. Had I been Ra’s Al-Ghul’s student, I would have died like five minutes into training. Plus I was so comically bad at timing things that at one point I worried I might have cracked a rib laughing at myself. Maybe my most hilarious fail ever.

What a snooty looking bird. God, I’m glad they all died.The dodo tends to move itself and it’s usually not far away from the giant donut, which you have to grab to clear the level. Another masterful design decision.

Not that it’s impossibly hard. In fact, everything about Donut Dodo is fine-tuned to perfection. This features some of the most genuinely amazing level design I’ve ever seen. Layouts are maximized for heart-pounding close-calls with the relentless, but ultimately predictable, enemies. If it’s not the enemies that get you, it’s the level itself. Oh, and the dodo spits fire. Did they do that? AND THEY STILL WENT EXTINCT? Was a Song of Ice & Fire’s dragons based on dodos? Well, regardless of the real bird’s fate, the fictional bird’s game never lets up on the intensity, even on the easiest difficulty. BUT, it’s never unfair. It’s always on you when you die. That’s a lot more rare than you think. Like the best arcade games of the era it aspires to slot-in alongside of, Donut Dodo is a game about figuring out patterns and creating your own strategies for collecting the items. After beating the five stages, they recycle once with more enemies added. A possibly problematic choice somehow remained fairly designed. Plus, Donut Dodo throws twists into the formula. Like, sure, you can just collect all the donuts in any order, willy-nilly if you want. That’s how I started out playing Donut Dodo and I had a good enough time with it. I’ve never cared really about points anyway. There’s no online leaderboards, which might actually be the only turd in this game’s punch bowl. Without them, what incentive do you have to go for points? Glory? Pssh, glory is for people with courage, and I piss myself a little every time one of my own hairs touches my skin just slightly enough to trigger my “OH MY GOD THERE’S A SPIDER ON ME!” alarm.

UPDATE: The Steam version does, in fact, have online leaderboards. This didn’t effect my opinion of the game at all.

It also didn’t make it clear that, in the bonus stage, you control the pumpkin, not the chef. It has two arrows point at the pumpkin, but like, I thought it was saying “land on this.” Arrows with “HEY DUMMY, YOU ARE THIS” would have worked better, at least for me.

Then, I realized I suck at this and could use extra lives. You get a free life every 15,000 points. Well, fudge, I said. So, I played along and started going for the flashing donuts, and suddenly this was one of the best games I’ve ever played and roughly as addictive as all the drugs in the world and gambling in the world and even all the gambling on drugs in the world COMBINED. You can collect any donut to start, but then one donut will begin to flash at random. Collect that one without collecting any other donuts and you score 150 points instead of the normal 25. Another donut begins to flash, and now there’s a multiplier in effect. As long as you keep the chain going, you can score massive points. Going for combos forces you to zig-zag back and forth, thus crossing paths with the various monsters and traps much more frequently. What had been a relatively fast-paced game was now a relatively methodical one. BUT, it still never manages to feel like a slog. It’s also, simply put, one of the most elegant scoring systems I’ve ever seen. One that nets you sometimes more than one life per level. It’s an absolutely genius design that further adds to your ability to create your own strategies. Not only that, but it forces you to improvise, since you can’t simply memorize specific point-A to point-B routes like in, say, a Pac-Man game. You never know what will be the next target donut. And this, mind you, is the optional way to play it. I often talk about how games benefit from being flexible enough to allow players to come up with their own play styles. This will be my go-to game for that from now on. It’s that good. I’m not kidding: this should be shown and taught in game design schools. And has any indie EVER been a better fit for an Arcade1Up cabinet?

Some people might say that only having five levels (plus a bonus stage) is a knock on the game, but not me. If the stages were just alright, I might have wanted more. But, Pixel Games made five levels that were basically perfect. Like, seriously, they all feel totally different from each other, require different strategies, and are among the most clever video game stages for a game of this type ever made. Props to them for that AND for walking away a winner. It just takes one stinker to sour the whole experience, and why risk it when five levels was enough to make this an instant indie masterpiece? I’m not kidding about the Arcade1Up thing. Seriously Pixel Games: you should be pitching this to them.

So here I sit, saying to myself “I can’t fucking believe the developers of Sigi: A Fart for Melusina made one of the ten best indie games I’ve ever played.” Not that it wasn’t obvious they were very gifted. In fact, Sigi came so close to winning my Seal of Approval and coming up short that, if I included EVERY indie I reviewed and separated the games I liked versus the games I didn’t, the game at the top of the bad list would probably be Sigi. It was like 49.9 YES to 50.1 NO on it, and it just barely missed for me. But, I knew Pixel Games was a studio to keep an eye on. And now, they’ve turned-in what is, frankly, the biggest surprise game of my eleven years of writing game reviews. Hell, Donut Dodo might be the best game of its genre ever. And I don’t just mean “for indies” mind you. I’m trying to figure out any single-screen platformer, from any era or platform, that I liked more, and I can’t. I mean, I’ve been on a pretty big arcade/retro kick lately, so that’s really saying something. I liked this game so much and the potential it shows for what I call New Arcade Games as a genre that I’m going to play an indie game like this once a week from now on.

Pixel Games’ Sigi had really bad screenshake, to the point of distraction. That’s in Dodo, BUT, it’s optional! You can turn it off. Awesome! You can also turn off flashing, though they might want to check the bonus stage for that one last time.

Ultimately, I play video games to have fun. I couldn’t put Donut Dodo down. Even as it kicked the crap out of me, I kept playing and having a good time. Which is why Donut Dodo kept climbing my leaderboard. Without exaggeration, my experience playing Donut Dodo started with me getting my first game over in about thirty seconds and grumbling “yep, it’s a lot like an arcade game from 1983 alright.” But, Donut Dodo was just getting started. Over the next few days, I went from “this is pretty good. Kind of hard, but good!” to “I could see this being my go-to game with ten minutes to kill!” to “this is one of the best indie games I’ve ever played” and finally “I need to delete this fucking thing from my Switch or I’m not going to be able to get anything else done for a while, including the review of it!” That should count for something, and in my case, it counts for a lot. It’s why I started Indie Gamer Chick.

Dodo Donut is Chick-Approved
Leaderboard Ranking: #6 of 306 Indie Gamer Chick-Approved Indie Games*
Top 99.1 Percentile of All 640 IGC-Reviewed Indie Games
Top 98.0 Percentile of All 306 IGC-Approved Indie Games
*Rankings based on time of publication. Check the Leaderboard for updated standings.

Donut Dodo was developed by Pixel Games (Published by Flynn’s Arcade)
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, Steam
$3.99 (normally $4.99) had fingers that refused to type “Dodo” and instead kept typing “Dojo” in the making of this review. Hey, there’s a sequel idea, Pixel Games!

A review copy for Switch was provided. A copy was purchased by me on Steam afterwards, and someone in my house is also going to buy it on Switch. A old man who made too much fun of me for not paying attention while I played the game. LET’S SEE YOU DO BETTER oh shit wait he actually did do better.

About Indie Gamer Chick
Indie game reviews and editorials.

4 Responses to Donut Dodo (Review)

  1. I’m so glad you got to play this, let alone loved it! First I picked it up, I just thought “IGC would love this” although I never expected to quite this extent… I know Flynn’s Arcade have been pushing this hard, so a lot of people have had the chance to play and review it, but I think they hit the jackpot when you got your hands on it — exactly the right person to, hopefully, give it the attention it deserves.

    I have one minor gripe — and I don’t even share your annoyance with the bonus level — it’s that middle rail on the ferris wheel stage. I’m just not skilled enough to use it and I only ever grab it by mistake and the damn thing always automatically kills me… but that’s probably on me 🙂

    #6 … wow!

    • I’m stunned here. I initially had it #53, but then another day passed, and another.. and I never got bored, and suddenly I’m looking at my leaderboard saying “I’d rather play Donut Dodo” over and over, finally ended when I got to Shovel Knight.

      Who’d of thunk?

  2. Pingback: Chompy Chomp Chomp Party (Review) | Indie Gamer Chick

  3. The snappy toilet? I’m sure that’s a shout out to Jet Set Willy.

    Also: thanks for the rec, this game rocks hard!

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