Button City might be the cutest video game ever created, and that was the main reason I wanted to review it. The visual style is just an explosion of bright colors and adorable low-poly animal characters, accompanied by a soothing soundtrack (except for the metal yoga music, which is exactly what it sounds like) that enhances the bright atmosphere. However, Button City also provides things on Nintendo Switch I was not expecting, both good and bad. And it’s the good parts that make this game surprisingly memorable beyond its aesthetics.
Button City thrives as an experience
The game has a comfortably familiar premise: Fennel the fox has moved to a new town with his mom, and he needs to make new friends. The local arcade, Button City, provides him the chance to do exactly that while also learning how to play the most popular arcade game, Gobabots, which feeds somewhat into the narrative. You can play Gobabots, as well as a rudimentary racing game, a Dance Dance Revolution-style game with a few different songs, and, later, even a short, simple visual novel about the Gobabots characters.
Although Button City gives you plenty of opportunities to challenge random NPCs to play most of these games, they are almost entirely optional. The core of the game is simple slice-of-life narrative-driven adventure, where each day Fennel meets with his new friends and shenanigans ensue, often involving their rival team of Gobabots players. You will buy or collect various items to complete short sidequests, expand your wardrobe or decorate your room, or provide slight new functionality to the arcade games. You will also visit assorted locations like your friends’ houses, the local convenience store (which is one of your friends’ homes), and a recycling center.
The game is full of positive and healthy messages, as one of the game’s sidequests is just to pick up 50 pieces of trash. Plus, all the Gobabots characters are fruit, and a vegan theme seems to run through the game (which makes sense, if they’re all animals). The script, meanwhile, is full of quirky jokes and offbeat humor aimed at kids and adults alike. And if that’s all the script were, that would be fine. But it goes beyond that.
Button City tells a surprisingly poignant and subtle narrative about making the best of intractable hardships. The characters in this adorable world have a lot of real-world problems that aren’t magically fixed at the end. Fennel’s mother works long hours because his dad ran out on them. One of the characters is in a wheelchair, and her grandfather has worsening dementia. The kind owner of the arcade contemplates selling the arcade to a generically evil businessman due to a [spoiler problem].
At first, I thought some of the game’s characters were oddly and excessively grouchy, which made me initially think it wasn’t actually a great fit for children. But put into perspective and following the narrative through to the end, it almost all makes sense. Button City is ultimately a respectable piece of art — even when the gameplay isn’t particularly great.
But the bugs!
Button City is not perfect. For starters, the walking speed is annoyingly slow. And any time you want to interact with anything, Fennel will arbitrarily move to one predetermined spot before starting the interaction, which slows things down even more. Exacerbating all this even further is that the game has a few too many mindless fetch quests to pad the length. In tandem, it makes exploration less fun than it should be.
But more seriously, Button City has many bugs. Firstly, audio can randomly disappear when playing arcade games. Secondly, I experienced several softlocks where the game screen just faded to black and never came back, requiring me to reset; fortunately, the game auto-saves often. A few of the softlocks came from trying to “restart” a game of Gobabots twice in a row. And the reason I would try to restart twice is due to another bug, where the berries would not fully reset the first time.
To explain, Gobabots is a 4v4 arena game (with all AI teammates/opponents, unfortunately, as Button City is one-player) where you collect berries from trees and bushes and drop them in a blender at the center of the map to score points, all while fighting off the other team. It’s simple but surprisingly fun. Each Gobabot plays differently in terms of speed, strength, and attack range, and it’s fun to collect them, even if the one you start with is one of the most useful.
The most unforgivable bug in the game though is in Gobabots. One of the Gobabots has a broken attack hitbox, meaning most of the time his attacks just don’t do anything. It makes completing one of the game’s sidequests almost impossible.
The other Button City arcade games aren’t buggy, aside from the audio issue. The racing game is enjoyable, but with a simple race track and easy enemy AI, it loses its luster quickly. Meanwhile, the DDR-ish game is difficult because the visual prompts use arbitrary symbols instead of clear button names like “A,” “B,” etc. However, the visual novel is cute and silly while it lasts.
A city as cute as a button
Ultimately, Button City delivers a deceptively poignant story wrapped up in an extremely adorable package. The playable arcade games also add some brief extra fun and novelty to what is otherwise a straightforward adventure. In total, it adds up to be a unique, memorable piece of art. But the slow walking speed is a drag, and the game’s so buggy right now that maybe you should wishlist it and wait a few weeks to play it.
A Nintendo Switch review code for Button City was provided by the publisher.