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Friday Night Bytes: The Button Affair

It just so happens, it's Friday again, and I played another sweet free game that I think you should check out. Serendipitous! And so Friday Night Bytes returns.

I have a fascination with the "runner" genre. I've written about it before with games like Solipskier, how a game that allows me to feel fast and graceful almost always captures my imagination. Tonight's game doesn't nail quite everything about that, but it gets enough right that I still strongly recommend you check it out.

"The Button Affair is the story of Enzo Gabriel. His quest. To steal the priceless Button Jewel from the infinitely wealthy business tycoon Victor Meirelles." The product of The Button Experiment (4 fine folks you can read about right here, if you like), The Button Affair is an automatic runner in the style of Canabalt or Solipskier, in that you're stuck constantly moving one direction and the gameplay primarily consists of avoiding obstacles. It is not, however, "endless", comprised of three distinct and fairly short levels. BIT.TRIP Runner might be the better parallel, actually, though there's no rhythm component to the gameplay here.

Oh, those look bad for your health.

The game's strongest element is its style, without question. Lighthearted and self-aware, it hearkens to all sorts of pleasant influences from across entertainment media: James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Prince of Persia, Flashback, Mad Men. It's self-assured and playful, knowing just what it wants to be and communicating it to the player extremely well. Video is going to convey this better than I can in words:

So, yeah. It looks and sounds great, and you should download it for that reason alone.

Whether The Button Affair's gameplay holds up to its aesthetic is going to depend strongly on how well you tolerate trial and error. Controls are simple and tight - the arrow keys are all you need - so there's no problem there, and I rarely had any issues with the game being "unfair" in terms of not respecting my input. The level design, though, essentially boils down to pattern memorization. Jump, roll, roll, jump, jump, roll. The quicker you can do it, the higher your score will be, but you'll never see a Game Over screen here; failure leads to a death animation and a return to the most recent checkpoint, and you can repeat that as many times as you need to.

A couple of clever variations are scattered throughout - each checkpoint has a quick code entry minigame that determines whether or not the checkpoint will "register", for instance, and one late section introduces a start/stop mechanic in short bursts. But on the whole, we're talking about a very one-note game. It'll probably take you 20 minutes to finish your first time through, and I imagine you can do it in half that once you've practiced, if you want to try for a higer score.

For being as short as it is, though, the game contained a little more frustration than I expected. Obstacles sometimes seem to come out of nowhere, to the point where failure is the only way to learn, and even on repeat trials I found some sections to be maddeningly difficult. Not "cheap", necessarily, but sometimes you can hear the designer laughing at your failure. If that bothers you, be forewarned.

Still, for a free game made by a team of four, I think The Button Affair is pretty great. It's slick and polished, challenging without restricting your progress, and while it doesn't have a lot of tricks up its sleeve, it doesn't overstay its welcome either. So get in there. Get that diamond. Or don't. I'm not giving away the ending.

The Button Affair is a free download for PC and Mac. If you like it, the team asks that you donate to a charity for disabled gamers. That's a pretty stand up thing, in my opinion. Bravo.

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