I’m extremely partial to wholesome games—games that you can wrap yourself in like a blanket of good feelings. Animal Crossing is one that immediately comes to mind, and perhaps its surge in popularity has paved the way for more feel good games, or maybe I’ve just noticed them more after spending so many mental health hours on my island. Button City, while not in the same genre, definitely gave off the same vibe as Animal Crossing did when I first saw it. And while I’m happy to say it does elicit those fuzzy feelings, its gameplay is a little frustrating.
Button City is a narrative-driven adventure game. It’s sickly cute—you play as a young fox named Fennel as he navigates through the social complexities of 90’s adolescence and arcade games. As Fennel you meet a group of new friends who bond over the fierce competition around Gobabots, Button City arcade’s newest craze. What ensues is a surprisingly vulnerable, but always wholesome, story about a group of kids trying to protect the thing they love. As a game about arcade games, I was even a bit surprised to find that not only are there playable arcade games, but sometimes they serve as integral parts of the story. As someone who grew up in the 90s, Button City pressed all the right nostalgic buttons while fulfilling my need for comforting cuteness. But it’s not all perfect.
There are three arcade games that play an important role in Button City: Gobabots, reVolution Racer, and Prisma Beats. Gobabots is a sort of Killer Queen meets DOTA style game where you have to collect fruit to make the largest smoothie. It’s set up like a team versus team style game, but it’s purely single player with your in-game friends playing on your team—which makes you almost forget that they’re just “bots.” reVolution Racer is a simple racing game, and Prisma Beats is a Dance Dance Revolution style game—and they’re both incredibly rudimentary. I didn’t go into Button City expecting the highest quality minigames, but it was the bugs and performance issues that I had trouble with. reVolution Racer was frequently missing my opponent’s car, and Prisma Beats would often get stuck so I’d be unable to hit any of the notes, though I couldn’t fail, either. Since playing these games is integral to some plot points, it was a bit frustrating to have my cute animal game interrupted by bugs.
There aren’t just issues with bugs, however. Playing Button City can be a little annoying. While you’re not playing one of the three arcade minigames, you walk around in an isometric view interacting with objects, meeting characters, etc. Every time you interact with something, however, there is a finicky moment when Fennel has to position himself just right to interact. This goes for every single thing in the game, and it’s just not smooth at all. There are other quirks that are irksome throughout, like extended dialogue sections where you have to go between two characters, or dialogue prompts that don’t intuitively match up.
Button City is exactly what I wanted: a wholesome game about growing up in the 90s, but you’re an animal. It has good characters, and good writing that is occasionally funny. It’s just a little annoying to actually play, and meeting game breaking bugs doesn’t help. It’s not just one huge flaw that hurts Button City, but a dozen little ones. Technical issues aside, Button City is a delight, and if you can look past its problems, you’ll find a lot to love.
A Nintendo Switch key was provided to us for this review.
If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. Your support enables us to continue to provide this type of content. Patreon.com/3CR
You can also catch us streaming games we’re reviewing and staff favorites on our Twitch channel.