Secret Shelf: Button City Is The Video Game About Loving Video Games
If a love of video games is something you’ve inherited from your childhood, chances are there’s one arcade cabinet that’s stuck with you, and maybe even kickstarted your interest in the medium in the first place. For me, it was the cabinet of 1991’s The Simpsons, that sat idly in the leisure centre I learned to swim in. It’s long since gone now, and it’s taken many of my (and others, I can presume) memories with it. It sat there, out of place in a liminal hallway, but it gave me a lot, and it may well have been a catalyst for my relationship with video games today. So if one cabinet could do that for me, imagine how an entire arcade could have impacted me.
I never got to have the true arcade experience as a kid, but living it through Button City, it’s clear as day what it means to so many. An instant community, bound together by a mutual love of button-mashing is something that a lot of video game fans have experienced, and it’s something that Button City set out to reflect.
Save The Arcade!
Button City follows Fennel, a shy fox who moves to a new town and makes some unlikely friendships and rivalries at the local arcade - but it’s up to you to save the arcade from being bought out by the greedy (literal) fat cat Peppermint Pepperbottom.
It’s a simple premise for sure, but that’s by design - because Button City exists to shine a light on those things that bring us together in adversity - in this case, video games. It’s all based on personal experience, though, as Subliminal Gaming’s programmer Ryan Woodward and art director Shandiin Yazzie Woodward revealed to GGRecon.
“Around the time we started working on Button City an arcade actually came out here, and we started going and started getting injected into the arcade community”, says Ryan. “Shandiin started getting into the rhythm game community, I started getting into the racing game community, and actually forming bonds and friendships over that. It’s very much like, a love letter to the games that bring us together and the communities that bind us.”
The Gamer's Game's Mini-Games
Rhythm and racing games might have been the duo’s access point for the arcade community, but it certainly didn’t go without its representation in-game. They reappear in Button City in the shape of rEVolution Racer and Prisma Beats, some of the mini-games you can try in the arcade, along with Gobabots - the team-based battler that uses toys you can collect to change your in-game bots. “When we were in Japan showing off the game for the first time, before Gobabots was a core part of it, we saw an Ultraman game, and it had this machine you’d insert tokens or something into it. We thought that was absolutely cool, so we wanted to put something like that in there.”
It’s this game that guides the narrative of the in-arcade rivalry between the Fluff Squad and the Tuff Fluffs, the charming gangs that fight for supremacy of the arcade and for the grand prize of the golden Gobabot. While you spend the most time in the game as Fennel in the city itself, it’s these games that remind you what exactly you’re fighting for. Though the rivalries feel earth-shattering at the height of competitive Gobabots gameplay, it’s nothing compared to the fight for the arcade, and the very rivalries that spur your intrigue in Button City in the first place become a gift to its central narrative.
Next-Gen Analog Gaming
Their first and only game credited on their website is a mobile game that was released back in 2015, so they’ve had a lot of work to do in order to bring Fennel’s world to life. “It’s been a constant learning curve!”, chuckles Shandiin. “There’s new surprises along the way for all the different consoles, for all the different needs we need to put into the game… but it’s been fun! I enjoy learning things as I go, and in the next game we’ll be all set!”
Button City is a slow-paced pastel dream, that exists to tell a story about the importance of community. Of course video games take centre stage here as it’s something we can all connect with, but truly, the game is a lesson in what’s really worth fighting for. Plus, frankly, it’s nice to just wander around, chatting with the residents of the town, pick up trash and unlock new hats for Fennel to wear. It’s a laid-back experience, but it gives back what you’re willing to bring to it.
“If you love games where you’re exploring small towns and interacting within them... I’d say it’s like a cute Yakuza or Majora’s Mask”, says Ryan. “If you resonate with those types of games, you’ll really love it.”
He’s got a point, though Button City might have fewer adult babies and vengeful moons. The game has plenty to find and explore, but if all you want to do is play the arcade mini-games, it will accommodate that. At its core, though, Button City is in many ways a love letter to video games, good friends, and what we all can accomplish when we come together, despite our differences and arcade-gang allegiances. And if it’s 90s nostalgia and candy-coated colours don’t bring you roaring back to your childhood smashing sticky buttons at your local arcade, I’m not sure that much will.