Poll: How many buttons is too many?

One is all I need. 3% (1)
Two is most efficient. 12% (4)
Three covers everything. 21% (7)
Four fingers, four buttons. 42% (14)
You can't have too many buttons. 21% (7)

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2D sidescrollers most commonly have four directional buttons plus two command buttons. One of the command buttons is for jumping while the other performs actions like shooting. If you wanted to have something like dashing you'd have to add a third button or add a double-tap sensor to your directional buttons. Adding buttons to cycle through items or to open an inventory screen further complicates things. Having yet another button to use said item makes things even more unwieldy.

It seems like most PC gamers have some way of playing games with a controller, but when designing your game to use many buttons it can come out like a mess for someone stuck with a keyboard. Just how many buttons is too many?
I'm for four buttons. It works out well with SNES classics like Mega Man X and Super Metroid.
Haha, the first game I thought of was Shank, too. I can never manage to grapple/block in that game because it has so many buttons.

I would say an important distinction between the buttons is how often they're used. I would say I can personally manage 4 directions and 2 commands in heavy action/combat scenarios. For accessing inventory and other secondary commands, simply assigning them to a button that's easily remembered is sufficient, as they aren't time-sensitive.

At the end of the day, though, only playtesting will tell you if your control scheme is manageable.
In response to DarkCampainger (#2)
DarkCampainger wrote:
At the end of the day, though, only playtesting will tell you if your control scheme is manageable.

The problem with that is you could box yourself into a corner by designing a game requiring X amount of commands to be available at all times when it turns out the game is played best with X-1 commands. Test early, test often, I guess?

Though, I guess in the case of Bionic Commando it could be a happy accident where removing the jump button actually benefits the game a great deal.
I like using one button per finger as a general rule. However, I really only use 3 fingers per hand at a time.

Most recently, I've been a fan of WASD and IJKL for primary actions with Q, E, U and O as secondary actions. That leaves me with roughly one primary and one secondary per finger.
WASD to move, Shift to sprint, Ctrl and/or C to crouch, Space to Jump, Mouse for actions, 1-9 for switching items/using abilities.
For most sidescrollers if you use WASD, S probably also crouches. I suppose if it relied on directional firing ala Contra a separate crouch might be useful. Using a mouse for actions may work for an fps, but I think it might feel odd in a scroller.

Since a player will probably using one hand for directional movement with the thumb on space for jumping, probably no more than 4 action keys would work. If the game doesn't use up for directional aim (Castlevania) you can also have up + action trigger an alternate action.
I'd go with two buttons excluding the motion keys. In mode side scrolling games i plated there is usually one button that is used for jumping/double jumping/falling off platforms, whilst the other one is used for actions with the objects around you. This is a typical theme, but works pretty well however a game with more than this amount of buttons could be interesting in it's own way [E.G maplestory is a 2d mmo and it uses mostly all the keyboard].

I'd think it's better for the artist to choose how many buttons in used to go with the flow of his game :3