Crispy Gamer

One Button. Five Games.

As a game designer I'm well aware of one of the most fundamental rules of creating games: simplicity is everything. It's all too easy to get carried away and add game systems on top of game systems; developers love to throw on things like cover systems, combos and multipliers into a game that may not need them at all. Likewise, games love to utilize lots of buttons for gameplay; Street Fighter 4 has three different buttons just for punching (three for kicking as well). While it could be argued that certain designs demand more button utilization, I think there is a certain aesthetic beauty to a design that minimizes the variety of user input while keeping the interaction space as open as possible. The pinnacle examples of this, or course, are games that require but a single button for the player to press.

Before I list them, let me define a one-button game quickly. One button means a single point of interaction that the player can press and depress. Anything more than that is no longer one-button; games that use a mouse are not one button (X/Y axis movement is more complicated than pressing / de-pressing), games that use directional pads are not one button (up/down/left/right are each a button), games with analog sticks are not one button (joystick-only is a single point of interaction, but the actions are more complicated than simply pressing / de-pressing). Also, I'm only concerned with the core gameplay, so menu navigation or name entering does not disqualify a game. 

One Button Bob 

One Button Bob is an independent flash game with some nice retro graphics. The design here showcases a great variety of gameplay without the need for more than one button. In each room the one button has a different function; examples include holding to let Bob walk, holding to make Bob stop walking, pressing to climb ladders, holding to build up jump strength, rapidly tapping to gain speed, etc. The goal is to reach the end with as few clicks as possible. Give it a shot!

Rhythm Heaven

Nintendo's Rhythm Heaven requires one button (represented on the touch screen) to be pressed in all of its 50 game sections, though it has more buttons to get through menus. In the game the top screen visualizes the theme of each game, such as putting together bolts or singing to a crowd. Each game has rules on when and how the player should act. The three basic actions that involve the single button is a quick tap, a held press, and flicking the button away. Some games are simple, like the bolt game where the player flicks whenever two bolts align, while others are more complex, like the singing game, where the player listens for song phrases and must tap, hold or flick when certain words come up. Again, cramming a ton of functionality into a very simple interface.

Star Trigon

From the makers of Mr. Driller, Star Trigon is probably the strangest of these one-button games. The player controls a ship that orbits around a planet automatically. By pressing the button the ship boosts off the planet, moving in a straight line until it drifts into space or gets caught in another planet's orbit. The goal is to connect these paths between planets to form triangles; when a triangle is formed, creatures inside are captured. Combo points are rewarded for multiple captures in one triangle and an air supply meter acts as a level time limit. The concept is so simple yet deep that it was one of few (49 to be exact) games that was ported to the iPod (the click wheel version, not iPod Touch).
Helicopter Game

You'll probably remember this one from the early days of Flash games on the internet. The player here pilots a helicopter which goes forward at a steady speed, but falls steadily. The one button here causes a slow gain in altitude; holding it down here is essential for avoiding crashing and running into obstacles. Simple, yet so very addictive.


By far the most famous of the one-button games is Canabalt. The gameplay is absurdly simple: your avatar runs forward with increasing velocity...jump when gaps appear and to get over obstacles! Behind it there is a good amount of depth (it's sometimes a good idea to run into obstacles to slow your speed, not jumping too high when a ceiling is coming up) and beautiful, fluid graphics. Canabalt began as a flash game and became a very successful game on the iPhone. 

One-button games are difficult to make and can certainly only become so deep. The design lesson here is that even the simplest mechanics can become very successful designs if utilized correctly.