Found in RPGs and Action Adventure games, this requires players to execute a command, such as a button press or joystick rotation, within a certain window of time. Mostly used during combat situations, proper execution will reward a player, often with a bonus to attack or defense or with recovery items. Implementation usually differs between the two genres.
Not to be confused with Combos. Action Commands have a limited-time period to be activated, and they're usually no more than a few button presses and/or joystick rotations, as opposed to a longer string (though a game can require several Action Commands to be performed in a row). Also can be different from the Context-Sensitive Button , depending on the game: in some cases, the Action Command's essential function never differs, and it's primarily used in combat situations. In other cases, there are many possible actions in many various situations, but only so many buttons on the controller, of course. This is especially noticeable if one particular sequence of actions is not executed with the same sequence of button presses every time.
In RPGs, executing Action Commands while striking the enemy may result in greater damage than usual, or successfully triggering an action command when the enemy strikes may trigger a defensive maneuver that reduces the damage received (or evades the attack altogether). It also serves as a way to keep players more engaged in the game: Rather than just clicking through the menu commands repetitively, players can receive a bonus for paying attention to the actual gameplay that results.
In Action Adventure games, players receive a visual cue in the Main Window, often connected to the targeted enemy. Action commands allow the player to kill regular enemies more efficiently, and are sometimes necessary to defeat more advanced enemies (especially bosses). Again, it serves to reward players for attentive gameplay, rather than simply Hack and Slashing their way through. Compare the Counter Attack, which usually does not have an overt visual cue.
Action Commands that occur during otherwise non-interactive Cutscenes, as a means of subverting or averting Cutscene Power to the Max and/or Cutscene Incompetence, are known as Press X to Not Die.
The Ur Example is the arcade game Dragon's Lair, where players controlled Dirk the Daring in his quest solely by performing well-timed Action Commands guided by on-screen cues.
Not to be confused with Squad Controls.
open/close all folders
Devil May Cry 4 has a variant, in that although the Devil Bringer is used normally against most Mooks, against bosses it is necessary to find specific moments of vulnerability before it can be used. Also, there are some "hidden" Devil Bringer attacks that work in this way by requiring a precisely-timed input, like catching Credo's spear and throwing it back at him.
Bayonetta has access to torture attacks to finish off enemies, requiring an action command to activate and Button Mashing to execute properly.
In addition, it overlaps with Button Mashing when maiming a boss, most of which are magnitudes bigger than the eponymous player character.
DSS Actions in the Macross Plus game. If timed right, pushing a button can result in such actions as instantly dodging a large swarm of missiles, getting into an ideal position to shoot your opponent's giant mecha, or even solidly kicking it in the face for massive damage.
In The Force Unleashed, after damaging an AT-ST or Rancor enough, Galen can perform a flashy and elaborate multi-step fatality to finish them off. Said action commands are required during boss fights after draining the boss's health to zero.
Spider-Man 3, during action cinematics, flashed the necessary buttons to press moments before in order for Spidey to win the battle.
Manhunt 2 used these to perform 'executions' — although thanks to meddling from censorship groups, these segments became essentially unplayable, as the player could rarely see what was going on.
Ninja Gaiden 3 uses these to mortally wound enemies after they are weakened enough (in replacement for the dismemberments of 2): when Ryu sticks his sword into the enemy, you have to press Square to, well, get the sword out the brutal way.
Done often in Asura's Wrath and allow the player to perform feats like punching out a deity THE SIZE OF THE PLANET EARTH! And that's still in the first act of the game.
In a unique twist to the formula, the True Final Boss of the story DLC pack Part IV: Nirvana, Chakravartin, has Counter Action commands in the last phase of his fight. As he keeps getting beat down, it becomes an inverted version of a Hopeless Boss Fight, as most of the boss's action commands start to fail automatically. And it is awesome.
Lollipop Chainsaw features a number of action command events. Getting them wrong will cost you a bit of health or even kill you, while getting them right earns you bonus points and Zombie Medals you can use to get upgrades.
After The War uses action commands when you have to finish off bosses or just weaken them.
The Path Of Neo uses action commands to suggest more effective combos against enemies.
God of War III put a nifty, helpful spin on the standard formula: the on-screen prompt for each button appears relative to its position on the controller. For example, the prompt for the Triangle button is near the top edge of the screen.
In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Action Commands were available in battle, usually right before the enemy strikes. Though called "parry attacks", they actually involved Link dodging by rolling around the enemy, then leaping up to slash his foe in the back of the head. Especially effective against Darknut knights.
Yakuza (Ryu Ga Gotoku) uses this to a small extent to enhance certain special attacks. Yakuza 2 uses it to a greater extent, occasionally pausing a battle to force you to dodge several scripted attacks or dish out a string of your own. In both games, the window of opportunity is frustratingly short and has to be learned through repetition that usually involves you being stabbed repeatedly in an unavoidable manner.
In Bully, the Chemistry Class and Auto Shop Class required a series of inputs to successfully complete the minigame. Succeed, and get a new item or bike. Fail, and... don't get the bike or item.
Batman: Arkham Asylum has an icon appear above foes' heads in the combat sections, whereupon the player can press a certain button to counter them.
All but averted in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. While they do appear (mostly as finishing moves), more often than not the player is in complete control of Drake as craziness unfolds all around him. The team at Naughty Dog stated that one of their major goals with the game was to move past this trope and give the player more control over situations that are normally handled by cutscenes. This makes the already amazing experience that much better.
In Assassin's Creed II, action commands allow you to subtly alter cutscenes. For example, in one, your character is offered coffee. If you press the action button, he accepts it and comments on it; if you don't, he refuses it. These choices don't affect gameplay, so it's a rare instance of non-infuriating action commands.
Non-infuriating, true, but in one cutscene, LeonardodaVinci holds his arms out to you for a hug. If you miss it, he makes a sad face and you feel like an awful human being. Tales are abound across the internet of players missing the hug, then reloading their most recent save so they could make sure to get it right.
In the original Assassin's Creed, a similar non-gameplay system occurs during scripted sequences; Hitting a button when the Animus's screen does a variety of camera shifts, and lets targets give their final soliloquy as if undamaged. The result is surreal, but expressive, as the mark's speeches are long and emotive, losing effect when given by a reclining figure unable to support his own head. (Plus their unnaturally clear vocal acuity considering the hole in their necks.)
Metroid: Other M turns your standard movement with the D-Pad into a flashy dodge roll, instant beam charge, and near-perfect aim at an enemy if you move 'just' before their attack strikes you. In at least one case, it becomes a quick-time event, allowing Samus to dodge an enemy in a fashion most would not expect to be interactive. Part of what makes them so intuitive is that the action itself provides the input on what button needs to be pressed, without needing to show the button on-screen (as in the page image).
However, since the game doesn't punish you for repeatedly mashing a direction instead of trying to time the dodges, most of the combat can easily devolve into mashing a single direction whenever there's any enemy attack on the screen and pelting the enemies with an endless stream of instant charge shots.
Sonic Spinball has one if you fall onto the platform located under the drain of the first "table" of the first level. First the display will tell you to jump to get back on the flippers before a robot chomps you. If that fails, Sonic will struggle to keep the robot's mouth open and the display will just say "the buttons!" - mash them enough and you'll escape.
Kingdom Hearts II uses the Reaction command, where a triangle appears in place of the normal attack command on the menu at certain points. These moves can be used to defeat enemies quicker, perform defensive maneuvers, and trigger some truly awesome moments during boss battles (like cutting skyscrapers in half). Sora's One-Man Army battle against 1,000 Heartless is a clear example since both of the enemy types used in it have Reaction Commands well-suited for wiping out large amounts of enemies, with one enemy's Reaction Command involves hijacking and sweeping its own laser beam across the field to mow down Mooks by dozens at a time, while the other involves Sora making rapid sweeping dive slashes.
Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep features something of an evolution of the reaction commands, the shotlocks and various finishing moves are powered up with well timed presses of the x-button, D-Links require pressing a button, or a combination of buttons that's different for each attack, and the few special moves performed with party members are set off with the square button. Boss-specific commands are used much more sparingly than in II.
Mega Man X: Command Mission calls these Action Triggers. Each character has at least one; in exchange for all of the character's subweapon energy, the Trigger starts up a simple minigame which can unleash some of the game's most impressive attacks.
Mass Effect 2 allows you to pull either the right or left triggers during dialogue to pull off interrupts, which generally allow you to cut someone off violently or to give them assistance. These events can net you bonus Paragon or Renegade points, or get you other bonuses like weakening an enemy gunship before it attacks you.
In some cases, you have so much time that it comes off feeling like a But Thou Must — one Renegade interrupt has the prompt hanging there flashing for a good minute while a krogan goes on and on about the horrible things he's going to do.
Generally speaking, Paragon Interrupts are heroic; they include breaking a would-be merc's gun to keep him from being used as Cannon Fodder or hugging a squad member who's suffered a devastating personal loss. Renegade Interrupts are... not evil, but leaning hard towards anti-heroism; they include weakening that gunship by electrocuting its mechanic or punching a reporter who's falsely blaming you for the deaths of hundreds.
Dante's Inferno has quite a few of these. They're random buttons and you must push them at exactly the right time, and yes, it's hard. Then again, the game is unashamedly ripping off God of War, so what else would you expect?
Taken to such extremes in Indigo Prophecy aka ''Fahrenheit' that buttons in the same visual style as 'Simon Says' appeared before action was to be taken, which then flashed in the order necessary to succeed. Any action in the game was based around immersion-jarring button-punching sequences that overlaid what might have either been enjoyable cutscenes or character interaction.
However, the designers put action commands of that nature in specifically to increase immersion, so, for example, instead of just pressing O to jump a fence, you'd raise both sticks up to simulate pulling yourself over. Other interactions were made the same way, intending to make the player feel like they're performing the action naturally. How successful this was is apparently a point of contention among fans.
One action command is a trap - while Lucas is being interviewed by police, he begins to hallucinate invisible bugs. If you hit the action commands, he'll react to them - which makes the cops suspicious. Ignoring the commands gives you a better result.
The team reuses this type of mechanic in Heavy Rain. They subvert Press X to Not Die a bit though, as missing commands isn't always immediately fatal.
Beat Em Up
If you stun an enemy in God Hand, you can launch a super "Pummel" attack by getting in close and hitting the circle button. Don't be fooled, though — sometimes the enemies will drop to the ground, their faces blue, and flash the action command. If you fall for this, you get hit with a Groin Attack.
The game is full of enjoyably bizarre action commands, with many of the unique ones appearing during boss fights. One of the most notorious examples can be summed up as "Wiggle Left Thumbstick To Punch Gorilla Luchador In The Groin."
Mario & Luigi, a similar series on the handhelds starting with Superstar Saga, takes this to extremes, where the success of attacks is solely determined by your ability to use action commands (rather than them just being a way to power up the attack) and every enemy attack in the game can be dodged/blocked/countered with a properly timed action command.
Partners in Time, the sequel to the above, actually has the final 'boss' be beaten purely via action commands, since 'Shrowser' doesn't give the bros any chances to attack.
Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story continues the trend, with even Bowser's giant form battles utilizing action commands to attack and defend, and both these and his special attacks using the DS touch screen as the button stand in.
Mario & Luigi: Dream Team continues this trend, with more complex giant battles that need to be countered with more complex commands (and stricter timing) and attacks which go from being fairly simple to practically entire mini games on their own.
Sabin's Blitz ability in Final Fantasy VI worked this way; the sequence you entered determined what attack was performed, while an invalid sequence would result in a wasted turn. However, the sequences still had to be unlocked for them to be considered a valid entry, probably to prevent experienced players from using advanced Blitz moves to one-shot everything for the first half of the game.
Final Fantasy VIII, where Squall (the main character) and Seifer (the rival, during the brief time he's playable) could deal increased damage if the player pressed R1 during regular attacks.
For Limit Breaks there are several different versions for different characters; Squall has a string of timed hits, Zell has input commands for special moves and finishers, and Irvine has button mashing to rapidly fire his gun at the enemy.
There is also the Guardian Force summonings, with a certain skill, that allows the player to press select and mash the square button at certain points to power up the attack.
Final Fantasy IX, while not having any examples to speak of in battle, had a staged sword-fight that required Action Commands to put on a performance for an audience.
Cinematic Actions are quick time events during certain boss battles, where inputting them successfully will help you in a battle, ranging from stat boosts to dealing damage and getting bonus items after the battle if you do them perfectly.
Feral Links are special abilities by monsters that require Action Commands. The faster you push the buttons, the more likely the enemy will join your party after the battle if the special attack kills them.
Breath of Fire III and Breath of Fire IV have the Super Combo skill, where the user inputs action commands within a certain time, and attacks the target as many times as buttons were pressed.
In The Legend of Dragoon, your normal attacks were combo attacks. To keep the attack going, at each hit you had to press X in time with an on-screen indicator. As characters leveled up, they got more advanced combos, usually with more difficult timing. Occasionally, an enemy would try to Counter Attack you, so you'd have to press Circle instead to avoid taking damage yourself. An early boss also punished you if you didn't complete the sequence.
Similarly, in the Summoner series, there were special one-button attacks (up to four of them could be assigned to individual buttons) that had to be activated exactly when a symbol appeared onscreen; these chain attacks had various unusual effects and became harder to chain with each additional attack.
Valkyrie Profile had the ability Counter, where you had to hit X after dodging an attack to deliver an unblockable counterattack. Poor timing would result in either not dodging at all (too early), or not activating at all (too late).
Mother 3 lets you get extra hits for your attack by tapping A in time to the music's beats.
In Magical Starsign, you can tap the casting character with the stylus at the right moment to perform a critical hit. Similarly, you can tap a character about to be hit in order to guard.
Used heavily in all three Shadow Hearts games, whose combat system relied on the Judgment Ring. The player had to press the X button when the Judgment Ring's rotating bar was inside certain colored areas of the ring. Good timing was rewarded with a stronger attack, spell, or item effect; bad timing meant a blown turn (thankfully, you didn't use spells or items if you failed their rings, preventing wasted supplies or MP). The Judgment Ring was also used to get discounts at stores, and in the first game, it was even used in a few extra mini-games. The second and third games allowed one to set the attack to "Auto Ring", but this prevented you from earning Strikes and limited available attacks.
A slight variation exists in the Tales Series, where magical characters, when controlled by a human player, can use a special skill called Rhythm; repeatedly pressing the Attack button while spell casting would shorten the time the spell takes to cast.
A few early games had an equippable item called the Combo Command. Equipped to a non-mage character, it would replace the standard four-command tech equipping with a fighting-game-esque button command system.
Tales of Vesperia includes Fatal Strikes which, if executed correctly, provide bonuses and instant-kill (non-boss) targets.
All the combat in Vagrant Story had this, and made a very important mechanic of it. Ashley Riot, the main character and professional stomper of colons, would gradually recover special abilities as he regained his lost memories. The player assigns specific attacks to individual buttons, and then uses those attacks by pushing the associated buttons at the proper time, according to the type of weapon used. Chaining the attacks would eventually yield impressive damage output, though overuse of them would overtax Ashley, decreasing accuracy and (eventually) killing him. It also applied to defensive skills as well.
Sonic Chronicles features a variation with Elite Beat Agents-style stylus tapping minigames for every special move, both to use and avoid them. More powerful moves generally have more difficult sequences. However, there is a Chao that can be equipped that makes these moves automatically succeed — extra useful for Cream and Tails, whose moves will fail unless executed perfectly (attack moves simply do less damage for each mistake).
This is how you defend yourself in Eternal Sonata. As an attacker is about to attack, the word "Chance!" appears, usually (always, before a certain point) with a little shield, indicating that you can press a button to reduce the amount of damage that attack does, or thwart it entirely. At first, you can only block, but later, you gain the ability to counter with a regular attack, and still later, you can use Special Attacks in this capacity. Speaking of Special Attacks, at some point, you gain the ability to use "Harmony Chains", which allow you to follow one Special Attack of the appropriate light level with the other one (provided any targets are in range) if you press the Special Attack button in the little window of time while the first Special Attack animation is going on when the words "Harmony Chain!" appear. Later, you can add a nearby party member's Special Attack if you press the button in the same window while the second link in the chain is activated. And still later, the potential length of a Harmony Chain doubles.
There are several story events in Blue Dragon that consist of trying to spam a button to fill up a charge meter to get out of the way of an attack, fight back, etc., etc...
Dubloon features battle items, which are short-timed minigames where you score points for massive damage. Also, every boss has at least one attack which can be completely blocked with your mouse.
The XBOX 360 RPG Lost Odyssey has an Action Command for every melee attack launched, due to the game using a system of rings that confer various attack bonuses(almost all of which can be made by the player with the right materials collected from the right monsters...), and requires the player to pull the right trigger while the character attacking approaches the enemy, with how much a large contracting ring overlaps with a smaller, stationary ring determining how well the bonus is applied. A word appears on the screen to signify how well the player timed it: 'Bad' means none of the bonus is applied, 'Good' means a moderate bonus is applied, and 'Perfect' means all of the bonus is applied.
Xenoblade makes use of these in the form of burst affinity. Occasionally in battle the player gets the opportunity to press a button to increase the team's tension and affinity, without major consequences besides the possible tension loss should the player fail. The same mechanic is also used to extend chain attacks, Dunban's "Blossom Dance" attack, and for triggering the visions in the final battle against Zanza.
South Park: The Stick of Truth used timed hits similar to Paper Mario (which has been cited by the developers as a major influence) to execute attacks as well as to defend.
Dissidia: Final Fantasy has Action Commands for all twenty-two of the game's EX-Bursts, each one unique though sometimes heroes and villains from the same game will have similarly styled ones. (Squall and Ultimecia, for example, both utilize the Trigger command described above, only difference being that Ultimecia uses the O button instead of R.) There are also miniature Action Command sequences integrated into some of the aerial battle segments. Doing this well can result in kicking your opponent from one side of the battlefield to the other and possibly back again.
Used in the Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi games. Whenever a character does one of their Blast 2 or Ultimate Blast moves, the player can input an action command (varies depending on character and move) for extra damage.
They've been doing this as early as Dragon Ball Z Budokai 2, with moves requiring the player to: spin the joystick, hit buttons in order, spin the joystick faster than the opponent, hit a different button than the opponent, etc. to make "ultimate" moves do more damage or not blow up in the user's face.
In Tekken, these moves are referred to as "Just Frames". For these, you have to hit a button at the precise moment when a move connects (during its active frames) to get special enhanced moves, usually signified by blue sparks. In online movelists, these are denoted by a colon, e.g. Paul Phoenix's f,f+2:1 (the 1 is pressed just as the 2 connects).
First Person Shooter
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare features guard dogs that will happily run up to you and knock you down. If one gets hold of you, you have one chance to execute a strangely timed button press to snap the doggie's neck before he worries your throat out.
Later games in the series featured this as well. In World At War, attack dogs just damage you and give no opportunity for a button press. Instead, action commands are given when Japanese soldiers knock you down and attempt to stab you with their bayonets. Here, you have one chance to knock their gun to the side and then stab them in the throat.
In Modern Warfare 2, not only do dogs and their associated action commands return, but several other new ones pop up as well. The first major one is pulling triggers to simulate climbing a glacier with ice axes. Others then pop up when being stealthy to perform silent takedowns. And in the finale against Shepard, there are a ridiculous level of commands ranging from crawling after a gun to pulling a combat knife out of your own chest.
Call of Duty 3 was the first Call of Duty game which has action command. In the game, you end up fighting Germans in hand-to-hand combat and they have rifles or knives to attack you with, and you must press on R1 and L1 buttons many times at the same time once they cling on you in order to take their rifles from them and riflebutt them to death. One time, you have to use the action command in order to pull out the pin of a grenade a German soldier had and push him inside a building before it explodes.
Call of Duty: Black Ops also features occasional action commands. One of the first Vietnam levels homages the example from 3 (both made by Treyarch) by having the same thing happen with a Viet Cong soldier.
Heavy Rain invokes this trope during fight scenes. In many other cases, innovative uses of the joystick may be required.
Used throughout World of Warcraft by a number of classes. For example, the Hunter ability Counterattack, which roots an enemy in place allowing the Hunter to escape to range, only becomes available for 5 seconds after parrying an attack; the Warrior attack Overpower only becomes available for a few seconds after the enemy dodges one of your attacks; Rogues specializing in Combat have the Riposte attack which becomes active after parrying; and so on.
The Overpower is Exactly What It Says on the Tin in PvP case against a rogue. Overpower cannot be dodged, parried or blocked and is activated by a dodge. Rogue relies on dodges, especially one of their talent tree skills which makes them dodge all attacks. That is the butter for warrior's bread called Overpower, especially if you have an additional talent that makes Overpower always do critical hits. A thoughtless rogue is toast against a warrior. It becomes like the button smashing variation of Action Commands.
In Ragnarok Online, the Taekwon class can use 5 "Stance" skills, which enable the use of 5 "Kick" skills. However, the Stances trigger randomly when attacking (except one, which triggers when recieving an long-range attack). Using more Stances enables more Kicks and increase the chance overall of using a skill, but that also makes fighting an enemy harder, since you can't do anything when the Stance triggers except using the correct Kick.
Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man Pinball plays with this. In the first maze, the Ghost only moves when Pac-Man does. In subsequent mazes, however, the player has only a short amount of time to move before the Ghost advances.
In Kirby's Pinball Land, if Kirby drains through the bottom of a table, he will land on a springboard. Pressing the "A" button at the right moment will make Kirby bounce back onto the table without losing a life.
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones had a variant of this. The "Speed Kills" had to be executed by positioning the Prince in a specific location and were used to initiate, or pre-empt by killing off, combat instead of being used as Finishing Moves. More conventional examples show up against the bosses, which almost invariably need Speed Kills to be defeated.
Sonic Unleashed uses a mostly optional (but extremely fickle) version of this in the Werehog stages. While you can always beat things to death with your regular attacks, once you've gotten an enemy's health low enough you can press the grab button when near that enemy to attempt a Critical Attack, which involves timing button prompts to finish off the enemy in a spectacular fashion, and gain more experience than killing it normally. However, if you screw up a Critical Attack, you take damage and the enemy regains health. It's possible to use Critical Attacks against bosses and minibosses, but these always require more than two button prompts whereas regular enemies usually only require two, and if you get more of them right before making a mistake, you take even more damage. In addition to this, many bosses and minibosses have at least one attack which knocks you down, requiring you to mash the indicated button to get back on your feet. The button prompts aren't limited to these levels either- at least once in the game, you have to man the turret gun on Tails' airplane, shooting down enemies and their projectiles. Every single thing to shoot displays a button prompt, and if you press an incorrect button, you can't fire again for a split second.
You also get these in the day stages during big jumps or tricky landings. Usually failing these doesn't kill you (but does put you on a slower path), unless you're playing the Hard Mode side missions.
Resident Evil 5 uses this whenever you are physically attacked by any creature (even some of the bosses), doing so allows your character or your ally to perform a physical attack (such as a kick, punch, or a stab). During boss battles, it's used to dodge certain attacks, many that can result in a game over including in the second to last battle where failing to dodge the attack causes the boss to rip out your heart.
Condemned 2: Bloodshot uses these in Chain Combos (not to be confused with the game's Combos, which are series of regular attacks) that range from doing massive damage, to broken arms, to instant kills.
Dead Space has these when an enemy grabs you. The command can either be a single press of the E button to squish a bug, or the frenzied hammering of said key to rip off a Personal Space Invader and bludgeon it around the head. Then stomp on it. Repeatedly.
Deadly Creatures uses a combo system of attack button and Wii-mote waggles. More closely to the trope, the Scorpion has a unique "Finishing Move" for each type of enemy in the game which is pulled off by a creature-specific action command. This results in everything from a double-pincer pound to the jaw, followed by prying the jaws open to stab the stinger down the throat (lizards), to rolling an enemy over and stabbing them in the underbelly (wolf spiders).
Shoot Em Up
The second Star Wars: Rogue Squadron sequel, for the most part an arcadey SHMUP, had a particularly frustrating round of this in one level. Here, you must use the Force to raise Luke's X-Wing out of the swamp. Many controllers were hurled.
In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon, Dog Fight Mode has the player get into and out of on rails one-on-one engagements with the shoulder buttons, dodging missiles and sending back your own between somersaults and other evasive maneuvers. The distressing part is that all the planes have this feature against any other plane, which leads to situations where the dinky starter fighters do this against Raptors.
Mario Super Sluggers has these when the ball and a runner approaching 3rd base or home are close. If the runner presses the button first, they're safe. If the catcher presses first, the runner is tagged out.
Attempted justification in Metal Gear Solid 4, during the battle between Rex and RAY. The designer of your vehicle wanted to program it to perform close-range combat, but couldn't get it past military regulations. Being an Ascended Fanboy, he decided to install the program anyway, but since the program was still incomplete it was too context-sensitive to be very flexible. This means that the action command pops up on the screen whenever the vehicle is in an appropriate situation for melee.
In Mercenaries and its sequel, action commands pop up when you try to hijack most military vehicles. (Jeeps and civilian vehicles can be taken without a fight.)
While there's plenty of them in Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, there's a highly gratifying one in the latter. A captured Optimus is brought before the Decepticons and a gloating, ranting Megatron. Moments before he is to be executed, Metroplex, an Autobot the size of a city, appears from behind them to tear the roof off the Decepticon base. No one noticed he was there until he attacked. At that point, most of the sensible Decepticons have retreated. Megatron attacks, and the player receives a command... PRESS BUTTON TO COMMAND METROPLEX, followed not long after by PRESS BUTTON TO DESTROY MEGATRON. Metroplex drops a fist the size of a two story building on Megatron. Four times.
The Wii version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game combines this with a "Simon Says" Mini-Game when you have a ghost in your Capture Stream. To wit: At certain points, an arrow will flash in one of four directions, and you have to swing the Wiimote in that direction to "wrangle slam" the offending beastie.
Turn Based Strategy
In the critically loved but poor selling Gladius by LucasArts (XBox, Gamecube and Playstation 2) almost every attack your characters make is an action command, with a timing bar across the bottom of the screen. different types of maneuvers had different timing bars ranging from as simple as "press the X button in the green part" (primarily for status inducing attacks) to combo attacks that required each button in a string to be pressed at certain intervals along the bar, to complex strings of button presses (up to 12 buttons, with more successful button presses causing more damage), to alternately pressing X and Y or A and B as quickly as possible. On damaging attacks, completing the attack in the red section of the timing bar resulted in a critical hit. This system is optional and you can simply allow the game to handle attacks automatically; however, with a little practice, you can guarantee a critical hit almost every time, breaking the "heavy" classes (whose primary weakness is low accuracy against lightweights.
The Last Remnant uses action commands for increasing damage and counterattacking after dodging or blocking, this happens randomly.
In The Witcher, similar to the above The Legend of Dragoon and Summoner examples, regular attacks caused Geralt to do a combo, and continuing the combo required the press of the attack key or mouse when his sword glowed. The Witcher also used the reverse with charge-ups, by holding down a button and releasing it on time for successful attacks and magic.
The Penny Arcade Adventures game uses timed blocks and a variety of minigames for the main characters' special attacks.
Wide Open Sandbox
No More Heroes uses this to the point where you're not sure where it begins and where it ends. The most common one is the Finishing Move, which shows an arrow in a direction you must swing the Wii remote to kill an enemy. There's also the various wrestling moves, which also use onscreen prompts, a Super Mode that causes a One-Hit Kill when the right button is pressed, and a "Weapon clash" that happens when you and an enemy attack at the same time, which requires you to spin the controller around to get out of it. Also blends into Press X to Not Die in certain boss fights, where you need to shake the Wiimote, nunchuk, or rapidly press the A button to get out of various traps.
The same system is implemented in MadWorld, but taken even further. Finishing someone off by grabbing his ankle, and swinging the Wiimote back and forth over your head to slam him into the ground until he explodes is scored as routine violence.
Prototype also uses it. Mostly to throw stuff at helicoptors, steal tanks, and keep Super Soldiers from smashing your head into the pavement for the umpteenth time. You also get to use Action Commands to take on the final boss, by jumping on it while it's stunned and pounding its skull in. Very fun.