Sometimes a game will wear its influences on its sleeve. When Button City opened with a background that was taken directly from a 90s arcade carpet but with a little more pastel and a little less ultraviolet, I was sure I knew what I was in for. The joke was on me in the end, as the game seems to have just as much to do with 80s movie tropes as it does with the arcade culture of the 90s. Either way, you know you're in for a trip down memory lane as soon as you turn on the game and have to check your calendar to make sure you didn't fall into a wormhole at some point.
Button City is a cutesy adventure game that tells the story of a boy called Fennal who moves to a new town and spends his entire summer playing games instead of going out and making friends. On a trip outside, he comes across the local arcade and makes a new group of friends, only to discover that the arcade is going to be bought out by a rich 80s movie villain. Now it's up to you and the other kids in town to band together and do what you can to stop the coolest place to hang out in town from being shut down, all while dealing with some of the foibles of childhood along the way.
Gameplay-wise, Button City is mostly a 3D adventure game where all the characters are blocky little chibi animal characters and are mostly named after different herbs. You walk around small 3D environments in your new town, solving puzzles and talking to other characters to advance the plot. As the story revolves around an arcade, you'd better believe there are some arcade-esque minigames involved as well. 3 to be exact. A 4-player affair that's a bit like a MOBA but with only 1 map, a racing game with basic controls and again a single map, and a rhythm game that is insanely difficult to play until you get used to it.
It should be clear that Button City isn't coming forward with a great array of gameplay to offer, but honestly, despite the arcade setting, it doesn't really feel like that gameplay is the point. The real focus here is on the story and characters. Other than the 4-player game which you're forced into several times, most of the time you can just ignore the arcade machines. All they give you are two forms of money you can use to buy either cosmetic items or characters to use in the 4-player minigame. The two arcade games you get work fine, but they're a little underwhelming if you're thinking there's going to be plenty of playable minigames on offer.
So, if the story is the main focus, how well does it hold up? Honestly, it works out pretty well. Although the game does follow several 80s movies tropes, such as the cliched rich guy villain who wants to put all the small shops in town out of business, it's backed up by a lot of great characters and interesting relationships that go on throughout. As the main character, you meet the entire town and form various relationships, but the deepest is with the 3 friends you make right at the start of the game, Chive, Sorrel, and Lavender.
The 3 main characters are definitely the ones that get the most development throughout the course of the game and subsequently become the strongest characters. Sorrel is a very hyper person, rushing in without thinking and often getting herself flustered or in trouble. This also means she's the one who's going to say something rash and hurt people the most. Lavender is a shy character but is also the friendliest who tries to curtail Sorrel's outbursts, but is also a limit timid and finds herself getting
Without a doubt the best character in the game is Chive. She's a sarcastic rabbit who loves tinkering with tech and makes constant sardonic comments about everything that's going on. While she certainly takes some getting used to, she's usually the one that is going to prompt a laugh from the player. One other character of note in the storyline is Mr. Buttons, the owner of the arcade who is honestly one of the most endearing parts of the game. He's always nice to the kids in his arcade and goes through some emotional upheaval throughout the story that really makes you feel for them.
The reason that these characters are worth talking about is that they're the emotional heart and soul of Button City. That's not to say that other things in the game don't strike a chord, the relationship between Fennel and his mom for instance, but their characters are the ones that have arcs that demand resolution or character reveals that feel important. A lot of the other character moments feel a little rushed, or at the very least get blown right past as you approach the end of the game.
Speaking of the end, Button City isn't an incredibly long game. You can finish the story in only a handful of hours, even if you decide to pick up the side missions. Not only is it a little short, but the ending feels like it's a little abrupt for me. Just when everything feels like it's coming to a dramatic head, the big bad gets dealt with and all the problems resolved and the credits roll within a few minutes. On the plus side, the ending also features the funniest meta-joke in the entire game and the only one that made me laugh so loud that my entire street wondered what was going on.
A final note of importance here is the visuals and music for the game. Every area you can visit is contained with a square or rectangle that floats in a pastel blue void. Most of the colors are pastel for that matter, but that really does fit the aesthetic design of everything. The edges of the characters feel soft, and they're typically built out of very few polygons. This game would probably have suited the PS1 or N64 era if it weren't for the crisp HD resolution. The music is also a perfect accompaniment for this, with mostly a lot of chilled-out music that makes the game pretty relaxing. Except for when heavy-metal yoga becomes involved, then things get a bit crazier.
Overall, Button City is a great game for the right sort of person. If you're in the mood for an emotionally fraught, but ultimately wholesome story that relies on cliched 80s and 90s movie tropes then you should have fun here. While it's certainly a narrative-led game there is gameplay present, but is mostly minor, which may turn some people off. Still, the gameplay that is here all works adequately enough that you can get back on with what really matters, hearing the story of the characters, and enjoying the cutesy visuals and music that ties everything together.
TechRaptor reviewed Button City on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.
- Fun and Nostalgic Storyline
- Some Really Great Characters
- Main 4-vs-4 Arcade Game Has Some Life
- Limited Amount of Other Arcade Gameplay
- Quite Short With an Abrupt Ending