There’s a certain atmosphere that Button City manages to conjure, right from its opening moments: it’s an air of friendliness and compassion that players of games like Slime Rancher or Animal Crossing will be very familiar with. It’s a laid-back, comfortable time — but unlike its contemporaries mentioned here, it sadly isn’t able to quite break through its wholesome foundation to become anything truly compelling.
Maybe compulsion isn’t necessarily what Button City is going for, though. It is at heart a narrative adventure game: you play as new-fox-in-town Fennel, making friends at the titular Button City arcade and working to save it from being bought out by the profit-minded capitalist Peppermint Pepperbottom. It can sound like a game for children — and indeed, kids will likely have an entertaining time — but it’s much more a nostalgia trip for adults, hearkening back to simpler times. The writing isn’t condescending or trite in the way that many games trying to exploit this feeling can easily be (bar a few forced pop culture references that maybe weren’t super necessary).
To this end, Button City’s characters aren’t necessarily two dimensional, happy-all-the-time caricatures, but instead have nuanced issues and personalities, and it’s a joy to learn and understand them as the game progresses. I’d love to give a little shout out to the wider representation and compassion shown to characters with a disability from Subliminal here as well, it’s really lovely to see in a video game. You’ll progress the narrative as you wander round town, chatting to residents, completing little fetch quests; it’s essentially a point-and-click adventure, and outside of the character work doesn’t throw anything too challenging at you. It plods along at its own relaxed pace — as I said, it’s not compelling, but it can be a lovely stroll if you’re in the mood for it.
What lets everything down, though, is the minigames. Core to the experience is playing Gobabots with your friends: a 4-v-4 MOBA that has you collecting fruit from around a map, fending off bots and (in-fiction) real enemies as you deliver it to the central blender. It plays like a cross between Splatoon 2’s Salmon Run mode and League of Legends and at its core is a fairly interesting game — but the AI is sorely inadequate, and it’s trivial to absolutely crush every match. This, alongside the long runtime for a single Gobabots battle, made it a dull chore rather than an exciting diversion.
It’s not quite the same for the other optional arcade games you’ll get to play, but they still aren’t good — I am an avid rhythm game fan, and I got unreasonably excited when presented with a Dance Dance Revolution clone. That DDR clone isn’t dull by any means; instead, it’s far too chaotic and fast to possibly play on a controller. I did better on the Switch’s touchscreen, but this isn’t a rhythm game, and the input lag stopped me from passing a single round. There are little spots of frustration all around like this: interacting with items in the game world requires you to be positioned just so, or nothing will happen. There’s just nothing fun happening, and I found myself avoiding minigames wherever I could in favour of progressing the fun story which, while not fun to play, was at least interesting to be involved in.
Don’t get me wrong: Button City is a cute, wholesome distraction, but it lacks the polish and thoughtfulness needed to make it a fun gameplay experience. It’s got some sharp writing and some lovely characters, and it nails the nostalgic, wholesome atmosphere it was aiming for, but lets itself down with sub-par interactive elements.
It’s a cute, wholesome distraction from the everyday, but Button City is weighed down by poor interactive elements and a general lack of polish.
Ben reviewed Button City using a Nintendo eShop code provided by its publisher.
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