By Elliot Adams
Three men lie aching on the floor, ruined shadows of their former selves – sweaty, breathless and surrounded by thrown shoes and broken keys. The apparatus those keys belong to is being clutched by one man who stands alone, still bracing a foot against the chair he had used to shield himself from the others’ assault and clinging to the keyboard as proof of his victory. His thousand-yard-stare looked over his defeated friends, lines had been crossed brutally and without hesitation – things would never be the same again.
This is the way of the indie party game B.U.T.T.O.N. which appropriately stands for Brutally Unfair Tactics Totally Okay Now. Ostensibly the game is a simplified simon says, but with cute animated flashcards and a competition to be the first to complete the commands given. First the players are told to back up to seven paces away from the keyboard, then they are given an action to carry out – this can any number of things, for example pose like a ninja or look another player lovingly in the eyes. Then it is a race to carry out a specific action with your allocated button, which could be to press it a certain number of times, or not to press it at all. The computer plays no part in enforcing rules upon the game, by doing so B.U.T.T.O.N focuses the gameplay outside of the computer and puts the rules of that gameplay in the players’ hands.
New notions of ‘unfair’ slip into the house rules quickly as people don’t step back the full distance, or make a mad lunge for the keyboard halfway through a task, or trip other players and pull obstacles into their way, and frantically press each others’ buttons – literal and figurative. This is hilarious; like a cross between Twister, Last Man Standing and a pub brawl.
Your mileage on this experience may vary; what is permissible for players to do is entirely dependent on the people who are playing and to my mind this is the way games should treat their players. The game was part of a contest in designing one-button games at last year’s Game Developers Conference, and the other semi finalists were all impressive examples of what can be done under such limitations. But I feel only B.U.T.T.O.N. was truly unique, no-button or one-button inputs are increasingly common, for example you only have to look at the myriad imitators Cannabalt spawned.
B.U.T.T.O.N. seems to acknowledge that though the rules of a game are what makes it engaging, those rules should serve the player themselves. Rules should not merely serve the integrity of the game, they should serve the enjoyment of the people who are playing and be flexible enough to step aside when they are inhibiting that.
This isn’t necessarily a game you’re going to come back to, a few extra game-modes or some way of keeping score might have aided replay value. But it only costs £0.97 via their formspring(also available from Steam or Xbox Marketplace), which is worth it for something that is undoubtedly something special.