Video games are beautiful things. They make us laugh and cry, they give us a way to socialise, and they can tell stories in a way no other medium can. It's funny, but for how many games there are out there, it's a rare occurrence when we find one that takes the time to look at how important this art form is. Button City is one such game, and the way it incorporates minigames into its narrative experience is a masterstroke.
From the outset, Button City looks like an adorable thing. Set in a world populated by anthropomorphic characters - not unlike Night in the Woods, one of our favourite indie games - most of whom love playing video games, the whole vibe is utterly charming. You play as Fennel, a young fox who recently moved to a new town with his mother, who works a lot, leaving Fennel with plenty of free time to explore his new surroundings.
See the game's trailer below...
Before long, Fennel finds the eponymous video game arcade, Button City. This beloved hotspot is a beacon to the community, offering a place where friends and rivals can compete in various video games, from the rhythm action of Prisma Beats, to the speed tests of rEVolution Racer. There's also Gobabots, a mini MOBA title considered to be the biggest thing around by many in-game characters.
Speaking of characters, there are plenty to meet in Button City, and almost all of them are endearing in their own way. There's Chive, a smart and sarcastic rabbit, who may seem cold at first but is a delight once you get to know her. Then there's Sorrel, an energetic cat who wears her heart on her sleeve. My personal favourite is Lavender, a kind and creative panda who loves to cosplay, and is just generally lovely. These three characters, along with Fennel, comprise the Fluff Squad, a team who play Gobabots with the dream of winning the local tournament.
In addition to playing minigames and meeting quirky characters, there's a whole world to explore in Button City. Split into different levels and arranged in an easily accessible deck, there are plenty of places of interest. As well as the arcade, there's a park, a cafe, your friends' houses, a downtown area, and more to take in. Each location usually offers things to do, such as shopping, side quests and finding collectibles.
The main story of Button City plays out over a handful of in-game days. I won't reveal too much about what happens, but the main narrative is all about the importance of video games. It's not just because of the amount of time you spend playing them in-game, but also what they mean to each character. Many of your new furry friends have challenging lives. One is scared of being judged for their hobbies, while another lives with a family member suffering with dementia. Then there's the main character Fennel who is facing his own demons.
I'm not saying all of these issues magically go away because of video games, but they do help. Playing Gobabots gives Fennel a fun hobby to share with positive people, and that kind of comfort is so important when you feel like you're all alone with your problems. Life can be beautiful but it can also be hard, and Button City understands this perfectly. Seeing what the titular arcade means to Fennel and his friends is so heartwarming because it's relatable. I mean, who among us hasn't relied on a video game to help us through a difficult time?
The art style of Button City is delightful. The combination of low-poly designs with boisterously bright colours brings to mind a child's playset come to life, and it's a magical world to delve into. It's so enrapturing that you'll get sucked in despite its open admission of how synthetic it all is from a visual standpoint. Part of that is the gripping story and the characters' different plights, but it's also down to how striking the world looks and feels. I just wish there was more of it to explore.
Button City is a short game, with the main story taking only a few hours if you streamline your play. That's no bad thing, especially as it has side quests and minigames to keep you going long after the credits roll, but I'd love a bit more of the main story just because of how much I enjoyed playing through it. However, that's arguably just me being greedy. It's also grounds for a sequel, to be fair.
From a technical standpoint, it's not all smooth sailing in the world of Button City. Interacting with NPCs and items is a bit fiddly at first as you have to avoid positioning your character too close to the article in question. I also encountered two black screens during my playthrough, with sounds indicating the game was still running. Luckily, the game's autosave feature helped me out on one of these occasions, and hopefully there will be a patch to fix this issue in due course.
Ultimately, Button City is an excellent game. There are plenty of lovable characters to interact with. The minigames are delightful, especially Gobabots. The main story will fill you with a range of emotions, and I've no doubt you'll want to play through it multiple times. Lastly, it's a game about games, and that's something to be cherished.
Pros: Charming art style, relatable themes, range of minigames
Cons: Maybe too short, a bit fiddly at first, two crashes
For fans of: Night in the Woods, Animal Crossing, A Short Hike
Button City is out August 10, 2021 for PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X'S and Nintendo Switch. Game tested on Xbox Series X with code provided by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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