Button City

If you grew up in the 1990s, cartoons and sitcoms were very likely an important part of your daily life. As a kid, I loved shows that made me laugh but that got real at times. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Boy Meets World, and even The Simpsons had viewers laughing for the better part of 30 minutes. At times, though, these shows tackled hard-hitting themes like spousal abuse, abandonment, and terminal illness.

Button City from Subliminal is very much like a ‘90s TV show — it’s an often funny ride that knows when to get real, and it hits hard.

The world of Button City is made up of talking, anthropomorphic animals who live their daily lives like a lot of kids did in the ‘90s. The kids have their cliques, their quirks, and their arcade. You play as Fennel, who’s just moved to town with his single mother who works all day. Some kids who call themselves the Fluff Squad take a liking to you, and you join their group, whose activities include chilling at the arcade, snooping on the adults, and staying out all day.

Button City

If you’ve played Night in the Woods, you might get similar vibes from Button City. Where the former focused on young adults and their struggles with daily life and mental health, though, the latter focuses on those same themes as they pertain to early adolescence — think the first couple seasons of Boy Meets World. Everything hits kids that age hard, and while some kids hide their feelings and put on a gruff exterior, others wear their emotions on their sleeve. The game’s cast of characters offers a wonderfully wide range of personalities as no two characters are alike.

At first, things start out fairly lighthearted. You make some new friends. You challenge a rival group (the Tuff Fluffs) to a round of Gobabots at the titular Button City arcade. You snag parts from the dump to help your crafty buddy put together a robot. You’ll even aid a conspiracy theory-loving kid on a quest to figure out if the world they’re living in is real or just a video game.

Soon, though, things get a little serious when the kids find out that the owner of the arcade has to close up shop and is thinking of selling the local hangout. The arcade owner is a likable, mustachioed older fella, and though it isn’t initially clear, you slowly learn why he has to sell the arcade. I won’t spoil anything here, but Button City is able to hit a legit issue in a way that just feels very real.

Button City

The game is actually very good at focusing on real-world issues. One of your friends, for example, lives with her grandparents. They’re a kind couple, but you can instantly tell the grandfather’s health isn’t the best, especially when your friend tells you he often confuses certain people, and that it’s been happening more often as of late. As someone whose mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a couple years ago, that character beat pertaining to neurodegenerative health issues definitely hit close to home, and it truly made me feel something.

The adults have their own lives that are very lightly but still poignantly touched on, too. The emphasis is always on the kids, but you get an idea of the struggles the adults go through. The way Button City only offers a glimpse at the adults’ problems is very reminiscent of what it’s like to actually be a kid — you might know your parents or grandparents are going through something, but they do their best to hide their woes from you, so you just continue being a kid but knowing something might be going on.

The reason the writing of Button City works so well and is so easy to digest is thanks in large part to its cheery, humorous exterior. Though the game is able to deliver serious themes, it does so in between what’s a mostly lighthearted and often funny story about friends.

In addition to the story element, exploring the game’s different areas is a lot of fun for the most part. You’ll have to go on more than a handful of collection quests, so if these aren’t your thing, you might not enjoy those parts as much. This is partially due to the fact that Fennel’s movement is pretty slugglish. It’s not terribly slow, but because you walk a lot in the game, you’ll start to feel it after a couple hours.

When you’re not engaging in some nicely written dialogue and exploration, you’re likely playing some games at the arcade. Gobabots is the big quarter-muncher — a four-versus-four hack-and-slash game where two teams have to grab fruit from around the level and drop it in a blender in the middle of the stage. There’s also a simple but fun racing game, and you can even play a visual novel made by one of Fennel’s pals on her computer. These games blend nicely into the world of Button City and are genuinely charming distractions.

I played Button City on Switch, and I didn’t encounter any serious issues other than what appeared to be a softlock while playing one of the games at the arcade. I couldn’t progress past a certain point, so I restarted the arcade game — the game within the game and not the actual Button City game on my Switch — twice to no avail. I then quit out of the arcade game, and rather than get a chance to try again, the game just showed a cutscene as if I’d won. It wasn’t a big issue, but it was a notable bug.

Button City

You can get through Button City in five to six hours, and that’s without exploring every little corner of the game’s world. There are optional quests to follow, hidden trinkets to collect, and lots of dialogue to enjoy.

Everything is wrapped up in a candy-colored motif. The game has this soft, pastel look to it that’s a true visual splendor. Quite frankly, I hope we see some Button City-themed cakes make their rounds on social media at some point in the near future. Though there’s no spoken dialogue, the game’s music is super catchy and a joy to listen to as you check out the different areas. Even though there isn’t a huge tracklist here, the music never gets annoying.

I greatly enjoyed my time with Button City. It’s a fun narrative adventure with a lovely cast of characters and quite a few memorable moments. It’s also not afraid to get a little emotional. Expertly written and lovingly designed, Button City is the type of story-based game that should be played by anyone with a penchant for great storytelling.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x