Back when I was a kid, most games were solo challenges or co-op games you played sitting next to your friend on the couch. You’d bicker over things like who got to be first player, or whether or not the other person was spamming buttons in a fighting game. Things are much different these days, but Amazon is bringing a bit of that old school gaming feel back with its Echo Buttons — buttons you actually press, so you can sit down in the same room with someone and play a game together.
I have two kids — a preteen and a teen. The battle over how much game time they’re each allowed is an ongoing one. Even though they say “OK” when I tell them “take off the headset,” I can tell they’re thinking “noooo”. Keeping up with their trends (or whatever you want to call them) is basically a full-time job, too. My younger kid thinks Fortnite is cool and goes around the house doing the Electro Shuffle, while my older teen thinks Fortnite is “so last year.”
One thing both kids have in common, however, is their fascination with Amazon Alexa. They use their Echo Dot smart speakers to listen to music, turn their lights on and off, prank each other by turning each other’s lights on and off, and of course, play more games. Because they know I work with smart home products, they ask me questions about Alexa, and they’ll even ask me to play games with them on the device. So, when I was given the opportunity to test out the Echo Buttons, I jumped on it thinking it would be something we could do together as a family. Here’s how it went.
Small, Bluetooth RGB buttons
When the buttons arrived, I opened the box to find two, small buttons each just shy of three inches in diameter and with a thickness of just under one and a half inches. They’re small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, so you can easily tuck them away in a drawer or small storage space. On the other hand, they are also small enough to get lost if you don’t store them in the same place after each use.
The buttons aren’t the best quality devices, but they’re not the worst either. They’re made of plastic, but they seem to be able to withstand those hard button hits during intense trivia matches.
The base of the button is black, and the “button” part itself is translucent white, containing RGB LEDs that light different colors when the button is in use. On the bottom of the device, there’s a battery compartment. Each individual button requires two AAA batteries, which are included in the box. The buttons connect to your Echo device via Bluetooth. They also come with a 90-day limited warranty.
I had no issues setting up the Echo Buttons. The process took about two minutes, and my hard-headed teenager probably could have accomplished the task. I simply said “Alexa, setup my Echo Buttons,” and Alexa walked me through the process, which just involves pressing each button while it paired with the Echo. Some customers have complained that the Bluetooth connection gets lost easily, but I have not experienced any issues as long as I stay within 15 feet of the dedicated Echo device.
Amazon is usually very good about including useful instructions and supplemental materials with their gadgets. While the buttons included a quick start guide, a very brief user manual, some cards that listed a few games to try, and some information about Blueprints (custom skills you can make yourself), I didn’t feel like I had enough information about what I could do with the buttons.
Good games, meh games, and crap games
After I paired the devices, I searched Amazon for “Echo Button Games,” and I added over a dozen. One thing I immediately noticed is some of the games, like Simon Tap and Battleship Tap require four Echo Buttons. “OK, so why didn’t Amazon include four buttons in the package?” I thought. “Perhaps only a few games actually need four buttons?” I wondered. I called the kids and my husband into the living room to play the games I added.
We started with Trivial Pursuit Tap. Since we only had two freakin’ buttons (thanks, Amazon), we had to play on teams of two vs. two. The game was fun, and the questions were challenging but not impossible. However, if we wanted to try other question “packs” outside of the 2000s time period, we had to buy them.
The next game we tried was called Hanagram — a game where Alexa provides a category and then individual letters that are part of an anagram you have to solve. We had to play on teams of two (again!), but the kids had a lot of fun with this one. The family and puzzle packs were free, but like Trivial Pursuit Tap, we had to purchase additional packs if we wanted to expand the game and add more categories.
Over the course of about two and a half hours, we played several other games, including Bandit Buttons, Party Foul, Rush Order, Don’t Cut that Wire, Alien Decoder, Fan Disney Trivia, Hot Tomato, and The Mystery of Thorium Manor. Some of the games were very basic applications where you simply press the buttons in the order they light up (similar to Simon), some were “choose your adventure” style games where you press one button to perform one action and the other to choose an alternate action, and others were games where you answered questions or used the buttons in some other manner. A few of the games were really fun, some were decent, and some of the games were comically bad. If you buy the Buttons, I’d recommend you play several to find your favorites.
What else can they do?
You can choose from more than 100 compatible skills for the Echo Buttons, but this absolutely does not mean these skills are created equally. As I mentioned before, some of the games are complete stinkers and others are actually pretty fun. If you use Amazon Blueprints, you can make your own game show and use the Echo Buttons as the buzzers.
You can also program routines to your Echo Buttons. In other words, you can basically use them like a remote control, and instead of saying “Alexa, do this,” you can press the button instead. In the Alexa app, I went under “Routines,” and programmed my son’s Echo to say “it’s time for dinner” when I press one of the buttons. I also programmed the other button to turn off the light in my hallway because it puts a glare on the TV.
A few annoyances
I like the Echo Buttons overall, but there are a few things about them that annoy me. I absolutely feel like the buttons should come as a pack of four instead of a pack of two. As of February 2019, the buttons cost $20 for a pack of two, which is a bit high anyway. With four in the package, the customer could get more of a complete experience. A single person could play Simon Tap, and a family of four could play trivia and all have their own buzzer.
In addition to the two buttons thing, the buttons are also a bit finicky sometimes. When you place the button on a soft surface like a couch, it doesn’t always recognize the press. However, if you place it on a hard surface or if you hold it in your hand, it rarely (if ever) misses a press.
Are Echo Buttons Worth it?
While the buttons have their quirks, they did have all of us, as a family, gathered around doing something fun together. We didn’t need any headsets or screens; we just needed the buttons, an Echo, and the family.
We play a lot of board games in our home too, but it was nice to be able to compromise and play something electronic, yet still be interactive with the other people in the room. While the buttons probably aren’t going to make your Echo device do anything more high tech than it already can, they will provide a fun and interactive experience. Heck, even the bad games are fun to try once.