Don’t Touch This Button! is a game of Simon Says where nobody ever says Simon Says.
You wander into test-chambers, very much in the vein of Portal, The Turing Test and QUBE, and you are presented with a billboard. On that billboard is an outright lie. It might say something like “The solution is in the room”, and you will mentally translate it to the opposite. The code is very much not in the room, so you’re peering through the windows of the test-chamber and – boom – there it is, there’s a code written on a wall outside. You input the code, press the button (the title of the game is just another of those lies), and march through the open door to the next chamber.
Nobody said Simon Says, you see.
It’s a deft idea for a game, and it really does work. Even just listing the billboards here, you can begin to guess what they want from you. “Do not stand still”, “Do not press the Y button” and “Lasers are dangerous”. So, you stand still, you press the Y button on your game controller, and you merrily wander through lasers like you’re a lazy Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment.
But understanding what the test-chamber wants from you is half the battle. Interpreting it into action is the other half. In the opening thirty levels or so, the problem is one of translation. What does it mean when it says “Watch your step?”. Does that mean I have to look up constantly? Does it mean the solution is high up somewhere? As it turns out, you have to push blocks on the floor so that they match the layout of holes in the ceiling. So, you’re untangling what that contrary statement might mean.
But in the second half of Don’t Touch This Button!, the emphasis shifts. It’s less about interpreting the billboards – although they do occasionally turn up. It’s more about platforming, and jumping around to find the buttons in a level. We won’t reveal too much, as there’s something spoilerific about how and why this happens, but the timing of jumps and the paths you take gets pushed up, while the puzzling gets pushed down. Don’t Touch This Button! begins to resemble a traditional platformer or test-chamber game.
The first half of Don’t Touch This Button! is significantly better than the second. It has its flaws, mainly around the interpretation of a billboard. Occasionally, the statement doesn’t quite give you enough or feels misleading. So, there are flabby rooms that leave you in a process of trial and error. But broadly they’re superb, as you race into a room and start working through a list of mental approaches. “The walls are real”, eh? Well, I guess it’s time to start bump-and-grinding until I tumble through one.
It has a cracking sense of humour, too. Sure, a few of the walls in “The walls are real” aren’t real, but one of them is a dead-end, and another one tumbles you into the abyss and then death. Bloop, you get an achievement for finding this novel way to die. It’s got a cruel, masochistic sense of humour, very much in line with GlaDOS (we half expected her to chime in and make a comment), and we enjoyed these thirty-or-so rooms.
If only it could have stretched over the full game. By leaning on platforming in the second half of the game, Don’t Touch This Button! not only exposes its shoddy first-person controls, but it becomes homogeneous. We’ve played plenty of games where you have to time a jump or run across a precarious bridge. But we’ve played very few games where you have to do the opposite of what the game tells you to do. We want that latter game, not a budget version of Tomb Raider.
By the end, Don’t Touch This Button! has doubled down to the degree that there’s a final boss. It looms over an arena and action-platform sequence that could have been ported in from Skylanders. The lovely, contrary puzzle game is dead, twitching roughly thirty levels back, and you wonder how everything came to this.
And can we all agree that platforming in first-person, particularly where you can’t see your feet to judge distances, is a very bad thing? One particular sequence had us jumping on alternating falling blocks, so that we had enough falling blocks remaining to make the journey back. But it was FUBAR, a complete roll of the dice: we couldn’t tell you if we’d stepped onto a falling block or not. After twenty or so tries, we rolled a couple of sixes and managed to get into the next room.
As the old football cliche goes, Don’t Touch This Button! is a game of two halves. The first is a delight, a test-chamber game with a sense of humour to rival Portal’s, as it hangs on the cute and contrary hook of doing the opposite of what the game tells you to do. It might not look attractive in the slightest, but it shouldn’t put you off.
But the second half falls off a cliff. It abandons its lovely premise for first-person platforming sections that could have been ripped from any other game. We can only imagine that a designer, somewhere, said that perhaps, just perhaps, we shouldn’t turn our game into a generic platformer? And everyone did the opposite.
You can buy Don’t Touch This Button! for £4.99 from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S