The resurgence of one button gaming can in large part be attributed to the phenomenal success of the use of smart phones as a gaming platform. Because of the limitations of these devices, developers have been forced to create incredibly intuitive control systems so that the player (or game screen) doesn’t become overwhelmed.
One of my favourite games at the moment is Ninjump, by Backflip Studios. The premise of the game is simple: you run along the walls between two huge buildings avoiding obstacles. The higher you go, the higher you score.
The ‘button’ in this instance is the screen, simply tap it to jump from one side of the screen to the other.
It is worth remembering that a button has two states, on or off, and that you aren’t limited to using just the on state. Honeyslug made excellent use of both the on and off state for their game Poto & Cabenga in which you control two separate characters. Pressing the button makes one character jump while releasing it makes the other jump.
As already mentioned, the advent of touch screens means the screen itself becomes a button, albeit one that can also track the user’s touch. This presents a host of new options to the designer as they can now track the player’s movement and create more advanced one button games. Many of the top games on the app store do this (Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope for example). This isn’t to say that making these games is easy. Just as designers can be accused of using too many buttons when fewer would suffice, the reverse is also true.
You could make near enough any game one button by making it context sensitive and to automate certain controls but would Sonic the Hedgehog be a better game if Sonic ran automatically and all you, as the player, did was jump?
Of course not.