Everyone remembers their favourite cartoons from when they were younger; ragtag groups of friends getting into all kinds of mischief but with a real solidarity and bond between them against any and all adversity. And playing through Button City I am immediately transported back to cartoons such as Recess, Rugrats and Hey Arnold! with a narrative adventure designed for all ages. Kids will enjoy the camaraderie and art-style of Button City, and the big kids will appreciate some of the more mature undertones and throwbacks.
You play as the new arrival in town, a fox named Fennel who is ushered outside by his mother after spending too long moping around his bedroom and feeling sorry for himself. He learns of an arcade called Button City and, being a gamer, decides to check it out. He quickly becomes engrossed in a game known as Gobabots where two teams of four battle it out to collect fruit and create the biggest smoothie. Gobabots has a cult following with collectible characters and rival teams all competing to be crowned the champions in Button City.
Fennel is quickly scouted by a team of Gobabot players who are a player down. One game and one victory later, Fennel is now the newest member of the Fluff Squad.
It isn’t long though before news starts circulating that Button City is facing closure. Fennel – and his newfound friends – must find out exactly why the arcade is closing and put a stop to it.
After a very linear opening hour, Button City opens up and allows Fennel to explore this new town. Each area – whether this is the arcade, his home, downtown or more – can be fast travelled to and are presented in a diorama point of view. You can pinpoint the exact point you want Fennel to arrive at as well, as you have complete 360° control over the dioramas.
There are several points where Fennel and the Fluff Squad are required to play a game of Gobabots against an opponent. Normally, these would be sticking points for those who wish to simply play through and enjoy the story, but Button City allows you to skip it if you are struggling. You are still required to at least give it a go, but if the challenge is too great you can choose to not play the rematch and continue enjoying the story instead.
As well as Gobabots, the arcade is host to a few other playable games such as Prisma Beats and rEvolution Racer. You can also challenge various NPCs around town to these minigames, but these aren’t always a walk in the park. It is best to get some practice in beforehand before challenging the best. You are the new guy after all.
There are also various other side quests to partake in, ranging from finding hidden characters or uncovering the truth behind a reappearing piece of toast. Most of these involve some well-written characters but devolve into nothing more than fetch quests. This is the same issue with the main narrative as well; a lot of brilliant writing and fun characters but the story is only really progressed through fetch quests.
Button City also has some morality about it, and it does so without forcing it down your throat. During the main story you will learn of the impact littering has and the benefits of upcycling, and it is a nice touch for the younger gamers. For the older generation, there are moments of real poignancy and more mature storytelling. These elements will likely be glossed over by younger players but will stick out for older folk and provide those moments of reflection. The looks between Fennel and his mother for example, indicate something far deeper going on that younger players likely won’t pick up on.
The art style and aesthetic give Button City an undeniable charm when coupled with the writing. All the characters are named after herbs and spices and designed as anthropomorphic animals in a world that is sickly sweet, saccharine, bright and colourful. It is low poly but retains that cartoonish look and is a really unique looking game.
The main story of Button City will take only around six hours, but the world lives on after completion, allowing you to complete the remaining side quests and continue to explore the world. These themselves could take around a similar time to find and complete and it is a world you will want to keep exploring long after the conclusion. Many of Button City’s achievements are also tied into completing these side activities and collecting the various rewards that come with them.
Main narrative-wise, Button City is first rate. It’s a charming throwback to cartoons of the ‘90s that kids and big kids will enjoy in equal measure. Both Gobabots and rEvolution Racer are also decent minigames in their own right as well, but there is an over-reliance on fetch quests in order to progress the story. It’s after the linear first hour of Button City where the game opens up, with a lot to explore and fully engross yourself in.
Spend your pocket money at the arcade in Button City on Xbox Series X|S