It seems lately all the games I’ve been reviewing have been heartwarming little indie adventures, which has certainly been a welcome change given how genuinely horrible the “AAA” industry has been lately.
It’s definitely been a nice change of pace to sit down with a games like Chicory: A Colorful Tale and now Button City; where you can just enjoy a story being told, the fun little ways it implements it’s gameplay in a completely non-threatening and non-stressful environment—it takes me back to my younger days when gaming was simple and fun.
Button City puts you in the role of Fennel—a small fox who’s new to town and doesn’t really have any friends. While on a quest to get his mom a sandwich, he overhears some local kids talking about the local arcade: Button City, and driven by his love for video games, he decides to check it out.
Once there, he’s swept up in the frenzy of the arcade’s most popular game: Gobabots, whereupon he makes friends with one of the local teams, the Fluff Squad. From there, the story unfolds deeper as Fennel and his friends try to be the best Gobabots squad, while also trying to thwart the plans of the local fat-cat who wants to buy the arcade and convert it into a big-box store.
It’s a genuinely funny and heartwarming story as each of the characters are multi-layered and their stories are much more deep—and in some cases sad—than you’d assume for what is essentially a kid’s game. For example, early on, you join the Fluff Squad’s glib and sarcastic Chive, who asks Fennel to join her in the junkyard, so she can find parts to modify her favourite driving game: rEVolution Racer—since she’s bound to a wheelchair and the game doesn’t have alternate controls.
It’s a cute little bonding moment that does add dimension to Chive as a character, but there’s a moment where you go back to her house, and are told not to bother her grandfather who is watching TV. As she builds the mod in her room, her grandfather comes in and refers to Chive by her mother’s name—implying that he has dementia, or possibly Alzheimer’s disease.
“There were so many moments within the story that start out as fun little romps, but then display a lot of thought and depth.”
It’s such a tragic little detail, and does so much to flesh out Chive’s character. There were so many moments within the story that start out as fun little romps, but then display a lot of thought and depth. It’s the kind of thing that’s great for older players, who are going to get these themes, but the game doesn’t try to hide some sadder details from kids, expecting them to be mature enough to understand, or have things explained by their parents.
Gameplay is simplistic, which works for a game that is definitely more interested in telling its story than the “how-to-play.” For the most part, players guide Fennel around multiple little areas, be it character’s houses, the Button City Arcade, a Café, and many more. Players will mostly be talking to characters, interacting with things for minor objectives, and watching the story unfold. The deeper gameplay resides in the three main arcade games: rEVolution Racer, a drift-focused racing game; Prisma Beats, a Step Mania style rhythm game; and Gobabots, an arcade style brawler where players fight to get more fruits in a blender than their opponents.
The games themselves are fairly simple, rEVolution Racer doesn’t seem to have more than one track; Prisma Beats does have a few songs to unlock in both simple and hard mode; and players can purchase different Gobabots to use within the game, sort of like toys-to-life. But like I said, the gameplay isn’t really the main focus of the game, and it’s inclusion just adds more to the story—like the NES games in the original Animal Crossing.
“Button City is an adorable, interesting, fun little game that doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t overstay its welcome.“
In the looks department, Button City utilizes a simple, minimalist polygonal style—combined with a pastel colour palette and lack of line work that gives it a distinct look and adds to the charm and personality that is overflowing in the story. Audio is equally minimalist, but not always in the best of ways. There are some moments of noticeable looping within the soundtrack which comes off a bit amateurish, but I’m willing to forgive it.
Button City suffers a few other flaws as well. Trying to interact with objects can be a bit of a crapshoot. I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that the game was designed for PC first, or it has to do with how touch-screen functionality is available on the Switch; but often times when trying to interact with an object Fennel would kind of dance around until he was in the right spot to trigger the interaction.
Also, some story specific Gobabots matches don’t seem to have any consequence for losing. In one moment when Fennel and his friends were challenged by the local champions: the Tuff Fluffs, and upon playing the game, I lost pretty horribly; but once the match was over, the leader of the Tuff Fluffs still said, “you may have won this time, but you won’t be so lucky next time.” I’m not sure if the game expected us to have some underdog win, or they just didn’t account for losing the match, but it made the whole thing feel very weird.
But despite some minor flaws, Button City is an adorable, interesting, fun little game that doesn’t ask for much, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. I think gamers both young and old will enjoy this love-letter to the days of arcade gaming where friendships and rivalries were forged and any quarrel was settled in the cab. Definitely give it a look!