It isn’t very often that I feel riotously conflicted about a gaming experience. Button City does so many things right as you play through Fennel the Fox’s childhood adventures in Button City’s arcade. Yet it also throws you some really unpleasant curveballs at the same time. My advice with Button City is come for the story, suffer the gameplay.
Fennel the Fox is new in town and meets some other kids on a shopping trip that inspires him to visit the arcade. There he makes three new friends, to enable the team to play Gobabots – a 4×4 team arena minigame. This cute kids adventure evokes the time of arcade battles, making sandwiches, being grounded and in awe of other kids who have bigger marble or Pog collections than you do. It speaks to my 80’s/90’s child in a strong way. That nostalgia is well tapped into and explored across Button City’s charming story. The world is full of cute characters with often paper thin but comedic personalities. You can talk to and play against almost all of them and they cover a range of diverse backgrounds. What I love about this is that their background or struggles aren’t their story – its just a facet of their character. More of this in gaming in general please – it was a wonderful breath of fresh air. Add to that Button City’s vibrant and bold graphical style and you have something that is exploding with personality on the screen.
With Button City taking place in lots of different city blocks, you move between locations in a sliding diorama menu. It is great fun to switch locations, spin them around, see new things and then explore the area. It is a really neat and effective way of cutting out travelling and overworld maps on a distilled adventure.
You can spend most of your time in Button City – the arcade. Here Mr Button will open up shop and let you play his machines. Lots are on screen – only three are playable – and you’ll need to play them repeatedly. Doing this earns you currency that you can then swap for instore items at the exchange shop. Most of this ties to either accessories that you can dress Fennel in (and unlock alternative modes to the minigames) or buying collectable Gobabots to take into battle.
Gobabots is the main mini game that you’ll spend most time with and it has the most depth. Here, you pick a Gobabot that has a specific attack or defence move and launch into battle. Each team has four players and you need to attack one of four trees to get some fruit and throw it in a blender in the centre of the map. As you cross your opponents you can attack them and doing so can slow them down if you KO them and they have to float back to base slowly. It is very surface deep but worthy of a few good games. It gets old fast though with no arena changes or real challenge to be had. Often the games can happen without you even meeting the opponents more than once.
The other two minigames are appalling. The racing game has chronic understeer and so you bounce off of the walls. The AI car you race does the same thing until it doesn’t and then you bash it out the way and continue. It is a broken mess although it looks nice. The rhythm game has an unintuitive button placement that goes against every Dance Dance Revolution styled game every made. The down and up buttons are the wrong way around! That would be a small concern but the minigame itself suffers from terrible framerate issues on the PC version and the charts feel nonsensical. The rhythm game is also way harder than it needs to be and I found it defaulting to hard mode and not normal mode during the story, making the frame rate problem even worse. The timing allowance of button presses is very generous too so it just feels unsatisfying and chaotic at the same time – not a good feel. The music is fine though.
It’s this complete joy of the story mode mashed with the awful minigames gameplay that makes me so conflicted. I genuinely enjoyed my time with and loved Button City… when it was about the story and wandering around the city. As soon as any minigame popped up my brain either zoned out or I was angry at the whole thing. Can I fully recommend it as a game? Not without a huge warning saying this is a story game first and gameplay comes a huge wallowing second. Hopefully the developers can iron out some of the kinks as they have story telling, collectathoning and world building nailed down perfectly already. Promising but jarring fun.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Wonderful storytelling and world building.
Diverse cast of characters entertain and don't fall back on stereotypes.
Diorama styled locations are tactile and colourful.
Gives my late 30's self a lot of nostalgia and warmth.
Two of the three minigames are extremely poor and not enjoyable to play.
Frame rate and stability issues.
Button City arcade is full of various toys and games on display and I wanted more of them to be playable.
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