Every day more games seem to be be implementing a game play mechanic which consists in displaying a button for the player to press in order to succeed in doing something. Although this mechanic is very popular in Guitar Hero and Rock Band games it seems to be extending to almost every game genre.
From action/adventure games like Prince of Persia to wrestling games like TNA Impact!... and every time I see it I try to figure out the reasons why the decision of using such a game mechanic was made.
It seems to me that the idea behind the whole mechanic is to insert some "fast thinking" philosophy into their games by telling the players to react as fast as they can to the action of displaying a button (or a sequence) which they are supposed to press in a given amount of time.
I think rhythm games have good use of this because the whole purpose of this type of game is having the player press buttons all the time. They implement it in different ways that make it more fun for the player like setting the lapse of time when each button must be pressed to the rhythm of a song... and with the use of a instrument shaped controller the player can actually fantasize they are really playing in a rock band. I really enjoy these music games but somehow I don't see the use of this game mechanic to fit well into other type of games.
I have a friend who loves the Resident Evil series. A long time ago when Resident Evil 4 for Gamecube was released he showed me a little bit of the game. At some point of the game he pointed out a part where a cinematic was taking place and suddenly you had to press a button in order for the cinematic to end with a happy ending.
He claimed that it was cool to have a game where it involved the player at all times. At that time I thought that indeed it was cool a game such as that, but I didn't took much thought in the mechanic used in order to do this.
When implementing a mechanic like this into a game, coherence with the general game mechanics should be taken into account. An example of how coherence can be added into the gameplay is by looking at the Prince of Persia series. The combat system used in this games use a intuitive controller setup which is consistent though all the game (this is true for the first 3 Prince of Persia).
However in the last one they ended implementing a new mechanic which consisted in pressing a random button in certain circumstances. Although this helps the player to be constantly paying attention to the combat, this mechanic involves breaking up with the whole controller setup consistency.
There's also the fact that being ready to press a random button isn't necessary to call the player's attention if the game mechanics are already designed to do so. So the most consistent combat system that could be implemented for Prince of Persia already existed in previous versions but somehow there was a turn back in this (just as with other game concepts) to try to make it more casual.
For the Resident Evil 4 example there's a very clear gamplay and the use of "the random button" mechanic disrupts the whole concept of it. There are a lot of mechanics which could be used in consistency with the general gameplay scheme to involve the player into the game in cinematics. One for example could be simply returning the the general gameplay and expect a quick reaction to something and then return to the cinematic (or continue with the gameplay).