Lil Gator Game - Hijinks To The Past (Review)
Updated: Jan 7
Lil Gator Game Released: December 14, 2022 Developer: MegaWobble Publisher: PlayTonic Games Systems: PC, Switch (reviewed)
There are some games that make me happy just by existing. Captivating little videogames with a joy that radiates to such a degree it infects anybody playing it. Lil Gator Game is one such source of joy, a thoroughly delightful adventure that parodies The Legend of Zelda in the most adorable way possible. It takes place in a world where heroes are always clad in green and wear pointy hats, filled with monsters and stock fantasy characters in dire need of help. Best of all, it’s a world entirely made up by children who are essentially playing a massive LARP.
In Lil Gator Game, our hero needn’t wear green because his scales already do the job. Enemies are cardboard cutouts with vaguely monstrous creatures doodled onto them. Our intrepid alligator’s mighty sword is pretty much whatever whacking implement they can get their hands on. Oh, and those fantastical NPCs? Fellow kids awaiting recruitment to the game when their requests are answered.
The titular Gator is an excitable young child of unspecified gender who’s love of adventure games inspired their sister to devise a live roleplay experience. Said sister has grown up and become too busy to play anymore, so the Lil Gator comes up with a plan - run an ambitious version of the game across their entire island, get everyone to play, and show their sister how much fun is being had.
It’s a sweet, good hearted little story, and one that’s slightly heartbreaking - an innocent kid, not quite able to understand the pressure of education and work, strives to recapture the fun they used to have with someone who can’t play anymore. Despite the central theme, however, this isn’t a sad game in the least - it’s overwhelmingly pleasant, an optimistic game for which the word “wholesome” is perfectly appropriate. It’s pretty funny, too.
The Lil Gator themself is adorable, from the way they waddle around to their fun-loving innocence and tendency to get overexcited. The supporting cast of anthropomorphic animals are eccentric critters, each with amusing little “quests” for the hero to complete. The dialog is terrific, full of light nods to videogames and fantasy tropes without ever getting too meta or straining the joke. Self-referential humor can be quite hard to pull off, especially in videogames, but Gator Game's conceit is the perfect foundation. It never relies on breaking the fourth wall for the player, but gets to do it in-universe all the time.
On a surface level, Lil Gator Game takes the shape of an action adventure title with an abundantly clear reference to The Legend of Zelda. Despite its presentation, the experience in practice is far more laid back and places a greater emphasis on adventure over action.
As noted, monsters are merely cardboard cutouts posing no real danger, unable to fight back as you smash them to pieces. The quests on offer are amusingly inconsequential - a kid pretending to be a vampire needs you to buy her some ice cream because she won’t go out in the sun, a whale has a ball jammed into his blowhole, a trio of picnickers need help deciding what to eat. Once satisfied, each kid can be recruited into the game, populating a playground that’s being converted into a “town” by other players.
Exploring the island and making friends is at the heart of Lil Gator Game, and you’ll acquire a few items to help get around. Buying bracelets from a creepy monkey lets the Gator climb up surfaces for a limited time, a repurposed tee shirt is used as a glider, and a shield can be ridden like a sled or used to skim across the water. Controls are basic, but they couldn't be anything else - Lil Gator Game is absolutely straightforward with fairly limited interactions, but it's one of those titles that do a lot with a little, so the relative simplicity isn't much of a negative.
Other items can be earned, or constructed using the “loot” won as rewards and acquired most commonly from “enemies.” Destroying cardboard cutouts of monsters turns them into scraps of material that can be turned into all sorts of equipment, most of which just exists for fun. There’s bubblegum that lets you briefly float in the air, a sticky hand toy that latches onto surfaces, a teddy bear that inexplicably allows your character to flop about like a ragdoll, and plenty more frivolous playthings. Aside from some projectile items, most gear has no practical use - it’s just neat to play around with, and reinforces the general idea of stuff being fun for fun’s own sake.
Similarly, the multiple weapons and shields you can craft are purely cosmetic. I love cosmetic options when they’re actually part of the game and not gatekept by monetization, so I’ve really enjoyed unlocking all the silly things that serve as improvised weaponry. Sword options include a big pencil, a toy lightsaber, and a plastic princess wand, while shields can take such forms as trashcan lids, paint pallets, and a cardboard cutout - some of which have unique audio or visual effects.
Oh, and don’t worry - there are loads of hats you can adorn your Gator with, too. The bucket that constantly drips water on their head is particularly nice.
Lil Gator Game’s overall aesthetic is appealing and fits the tone of the game perfectly. The cartoony, brightly colored graphics and cheerful music give off strong Wind Waker vibes, and the cast of creatures are super cute, with especially endearing animations. That said, everybody's long club-like arms do take a little getting used to - I eventually acclimated, but it was a little freakish at first.
It's a little bit janky, with the odd bit of dodgy platforming, and the Gator's tendency to automatically climb up any vertical surface they touch proves mildly annoying. Given the laid back nature of the experience, none of these problems are ever truly ruinous or costly to the player's progress. There's just the very occassional low key irritation.
Outside of engaging with characters and fulfilling quirky requests, there are a few timed race courses dotted around to provide some extra challenge. These courses are... fine. Not exactly enthralling, not even really needed, but their inclusion isn't a problem whatsoever. The vast majority of content, however, consists of just talking to people and performing uncomplicated tasks that involve hitting stuff, making choices for people, or collecting items. The simplicity could become boring in a less well written game without such an original presentation, but it’s exactly right for Lil Gator Game. There's one kid who wants to join the game but doesn't have a quest, so he drops his pencil and thanks you graciously for picking it up. Then he just hurls it and sends you running after the thing. It's a wonderfully contrived take on the classic fetch quest.
Oh, and I just want to add that I appreciate some NPCs explicitly using they/them pronouns, and a general lack of imposed gender roles that runs throughout the story. It might not mean a lot to the majority of players, but it made this enby feel incredibly welcome, and that honestly counts for so, so much. I really appreciate MegaWobble putting that consideration into its writing.
Lil Gator is not a particularly long game, but it’s not the kind that has to be, nor is it the kind where any player should reasonably expect more than they get. You ought to know what you're getting by now with a game of this particular scale and style. It does exactly enough to remain darling and funny throughout the course of its narrative without ever overstaying its welcome.
At least that’s what I want to say, except for one little thing…
I didn’t want it to end.
Yes, being as short as it is quite likely works in its favor, and the charm might indeed have worn thin if several more hours had gotten tacked on, but damn did I not want it to end. I came to love this good natured little world, all the friends made, and the brilliant nonsense that kept offering itself up for my amusement. I was left wanting more which, for a game this lovely, is not exactly a bad thing.
Lil Gator Game is charm incarnate. Deftly, exceptionally charming. With its sincere, sweet little story and perfectly dorky humor, it provides a wonderfully enchanting adventure that kept me grinning and tittering all the way through. More importantly than anything else, Lil Gator Game made me happy. I’m damn happy this adorable goofiness exists, and while I’m sad I ran out of things to do, I’m delighted by everything I did.