I have a particular soft spot for cute, wholesome indie games. These are often the titles that don’t try to do too much, understand their audience well, and leave me completely satisfied after finishing them. Whilst not revolutionary by any means, they are pleasant and fun. Sometimes, that alone is enough. I’m glad to say that Subliminal’s Button City falls into this category.
Button City is a colorful, low poly adventure game. You play as Fennel, a young fox trying to make some new friends. He stumbles across the local arcade and meets a group that calls themselves the Fluff Squad. They aim to become the champions of Gobabots, a popular team-based competitive game. After joining up with them, you work together to rise to the top and become the Gobabots champion.
Now we’re gaming
Most of Button City‘s gameplay revolves around its slow paced narrative. You warp between key areas and search them for requested items. Each area has its own characters that you can interact with as well. These interactions usually prompt some kind of fun response from either Fennel or the character you’re speaking to. A lot of the bubbly personality behind Button City surfaces during these moments.
In the overworld, the only two available actions are: walk and interact. You’ll spend most of your time in this mode searching for a particular item or character, and most objectives boil down to simple fetch quests. It can get a little repetitive over time. Also, there is no run option, which can make going back and forth between areas unnecessarily tedious.
However, the same cannot be said for each of the three playable games. Given Button City‘s theme of arcade gaming, it’s only fitting that you can play some arcade games. The three available games are Gobabots, rEVolution Racer, and Prisma Beats.
REVolution Racer is a pastel art arcade racing game that takes inspiration from ’90s classics like Ridge Racer and Sega Rally Championship. Meanwhile, Prisma Beats is a rhythm game that shares some similarities with the Hatsune Miku series. For side games, these are both surprisingly well made. Prisma Beats even has an extra unlockable stage which can be purchased from the in-game music shop.
With Gobabots being the focus of the story, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that it’s the most fleshed-out of the three. The objective of Gobabots is to collect fruit from bushes and trees and deposit them in the smoothie machine in the middle of the map. You can take down enemies trying to deposit their own fruit to steal them and claim the points.
As part of the story, you are given the Pinerang Gobabot to use but it’s possible to unlock up to twelve others. These all have their own various strengths, weapons, and special attacks. It’s not hard to win in Gobabots as the A.I isn’t that smart but for a side game that exists to compliment the main story, it’s impressive. I’ve certainly seen worse attempts at the game inside of a game concept.
A dark twist
Most of Button City‘s story is light hearted and focused on friendship. Whilst trying to become the best Gobabots player possible you spend time with your friends and find out more about them. But it’s during these quests that I realized that Button City has more substance than you might expect.
Each of your closest friends — Sorrel, Lavender, and Chive — all have their own internal struggles to overcome. Although it doesn’t dive too deep into the various darker topics raised, they’re still there and manage to be thought provoking. Some of the most interesting topics introduced are disability, loneliness, and self-doubt.
Perhaps it’s to be expected of a family-friendly indie game, but none of these topics are explored beyond a surface level. They are mentioned and it’s made clear that they trouble our cast of furry friends, but that’s as far as Button City ever goes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Button City definitely has the potential to highlight these very real problems further in the story, though.
However, most of the main story is about what you’d expect from a kid-friendly game like this. It’s cute and sees Fennel create bonds that will last him a lifetime. The theme of community is emphasized throughout with the various groups coming together for a greater goal. I won’t go into too much detail as it would be a shame to ruin the story, but there’s definitely enough there to leave most players satisfied.
Taste the (low-poly) rainbow
Small-scale indie games tend to sell themselves via their gorgeous art, and Button City is no different. The low-poly but extremely vibrant art style is one I’m fond of. It reminds me of the iconic Choro Q racing games I grew up with. There’s a certain charm to it. It tells me that regardless of the budget for Button City, the passion of the art team is unmatched.
I can appreciate a small group of indie devs putting together something this pretty whilst working around their limits. The spectacular lifelike AAA experiences offer their own merits but, at least for me, nothing is as fun as a passion-filled project like this. Button City‘s art is simplistic but timeless. It will still look good in ten years which is a serious feat given the developer’s limited resources.
What could have been
At just $20 USD, you can’t really go wrong with Button City. It’s not the longest game, which may bother some players, but I found it to be just the right length. You can pick it up and play through it in a couple of sessions knowing full well you’ll come out the other side feeling uplifted. It’s a fun and wholesome experience for a perfectly reasonable price.
I would have liked to have seen the darker aspects of the story explored further, though. I understand that Button City‘s target audience is younger players and a darker narrative may not have complemented that well, but there is some missed potential. Button City raises the issues and briefly discussed but then leaves them alone and never mentions them again. Without that extra layer of narrative depth, Button City ends up being just a good game rather than something truly worth playing.