If you’ve ever found yourself pining for the good old days of hanging out at the local arcade with your buddies while arguing over who was the best at Tekken 2 (it was definitely me), you may immediately feel a sense of familiarity in the world of Button City. It’s a narrative adventure game developed by Subliminal, and it’s main topics of focus are making friends, growing up, and saving the titular arcade that binds the community of this world together. If you’re looking for a cozy experience that you can play at your own pace, this may be the game for you.
You play as Fennel, a timid fox who’s just moved into town with his mom. Almost immediately, you fall into a group of friends who are in desperate need of a fourth player for the hot new competitive arcade game Gobabots. From there, it’s a whirlwind of events that range from beating the rival team for the ultimate prize to shutting down a greedy fat cat from gentrifying the town you live in. Along the way you’ll be able to take on side quests and play mini-games while exploring each area of the town.
The world of Button City is bright, pastel, and cheery. The vivid, low-poly aesthetic is easy on the eyes and makes exploring a comfy delight. Rather than having an interconnected world to explore, the game has you zapping between different little dioramas (which is an in-universe thing that is explained, by the way) which further adds to the cute, pocket-sized vibe of everything. There are tons of unique NPCs to chat with and they’re all absolutely adorable. As far as I’m concerned, this game’s visual presentation is a slam dunk. It indulges in a bit of 90s nostalgia with the arcade and the wildly patterned floors, but it never goes completely overboard with it.
On the audio side of things, it’s more of a mixed bag. The music in particular isn’t outright bad at any point, but it’s a bit repetitive and I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the soundtrack. I also encountered a bug on the Switch version a couple of times where the music would stop completely after exiting a mini-game, but restarting the game helped both times and I was never able to replicate it again. These are mostly just nitpicks on my end though, as it wasn’t enough to truly detract from the overall experience.
As I briefly mentioned in the first paragraph, Button City is primarily a narrative-driven experience. You’ll be spending 90% of the game talking to characters and advancing the story by fulfilling certain quest objectives. Most of these boil down to warping to the appropriate diorama and collecting certain items or simply talking to specific characters that are crucial to the questline. There are also side quests scattered throughout the world, like collecting trash or finding hidden NPCs. It’s almost simplistic to a fault, but the structure of this game lends itself well to its overall coziness. That being said, some quests come a little too close to mind-numbing territory, like one that has you literally doing a back-and-forth in the same room several times over (which, to be fair, is played up for comedic effect, but it can definitely feel grating in the moment).
Thankfully, there are mini-games to break the potential tedium apart. The central focus of Button City is a competitive arcade game called Gobabots. It’s a 4v4 game where the main goal is to collect fruit and throw it into a giant blender in the middle of the arena. Whoever throws the most fruit in the blender wins. This relatively straightforward mini-game is further bolstered by the ability to collect several different Gobabots with different abilities to play as. It’s not particularly challenging given that this is strictly a single player affair and your AI opponents don’t put up much of a fight, but it’s fun enough to be a tiny distraction from the main narrative. Plus, you can challenge several NPCs in the world Gwent-style and win money to buy cool accessories for Fennel.
There are a couple of other games to play in the arcade, but they’re a bit smaller in scope and a little clunky in execution. There’s rEvolution Racer, a sendup of classic arcade racers, and Prisma Beats, an homage to Dance Dance Revolution and other rhythm games. Both of these are fun the first few times, but they wear out their welcome quickly and by the time I was approaching the final chunk of the game I ended up ignoring them altogether. Still, I can’t help but appreciate their inclusion as it helps bring a little more personality to the arcade. After all, the story is the real bread and butter here so any gripes I have with the quality of a couple of mini-games is negligible.
Button City probably won’t change your life, but what’s presented here is an incredibly wholesome story about coming together; not just as friends, but as a community. All of the main cast have something going on in their lives or some sort of internal/external strife, and there are plenty of little moments that flesh these characters out and make them so much more likable as a result. There’s also a surprising bit of social commentary in regards to capitalism and big-box stores swooping in on small towns with the empty promise of making things better, but I won’t dive too deep into that because of spoilers. It may be a bit on the nose sometimes, but there are some genuinely heartwarming moments in between the childlike antics that made me smile so I don’t think I mind a little bluntness in my storytelling.
I really enjoyed Button City despite the few gripes I had with it. It doesn’t have a grandiose premise or a narrative that’s going to move mountains, but I don’t think that was ever its goal. It’s an earnest piece of art that tells a much more personal story about growing up and the bonds we form along the way, and I think that’s good enough. My misgivings with some of the mini-games aside, this is a cute, breezy narrative adventure that’s absolutely worth picking up if you’re looking for something a little more chill to play.