Lil Gator Game Review: a heartfelt adventure about childhood antics

At some point recently, Crocs became cool. And as someone who grew up in the “Crocs are for dweebs” era, this makes little sense to me. Crocs? Cool? These fools must be wrong. Luckily, after a couple of weeks with the Lil Gator Game, I finally get it. Of course, all these people weren’t talking about the shoe! They talked about the Lil Gator Game, which has the most lovable crocodile of all (please don’t lecture me on the difference between alligators and crocodiles, I love them both equally).

Lil Gator Game is exactly what you would expect from the title. It’s both a game about a lil gator, and also a lil game about said gator. Now, get ready for this one, folks – it’s a lil game about a lil gator who makes his own lil game. If we rated games on the accuracy of the title, this would be an instant winner.

Incredibly accurate titles aside, Lil Gator Game mixes honest, whimsical charm with an idyllic island paradise that you can wander around at a leisurely pace, helping it reach heights as good as A Short Hike. It’s a delightful open world adventure with fun exploration, cozy vibes and an abundance of funny lines that had me mashing the screenshot button.

It all starts with the titular gator asking his big sister to play some games in the park. However, older sister is busy with a college assignment and has no time for games anymore. That doesn’t deter Lil Gator, oh no! Instead, they decide to use their imaginations to create the best game ever, hoping to convince big sister to join the fun. So you set off to collect some gear, become a hero, and make lots of friends, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, your older sister will join too.

I have to say I really admire Lil Gator’s attitude here. Sure, it’s a little naive, but their willingness to do an entire adventure rather than endlessly torment their siblings is admirable. It’s certainly not the path I took as a child, which was probably a pain for my poor brother. Lil Gator sure is a cool crocodile, and their playful, innocent nature immediately made me root for them. They are just a kid who wants to play with their sister and will do almost anything to have fun together. While the plot certainly isn’t overbearing (exploration and meeting NPCs are really the focus here), the lovable hero is sure to make you tear up when the few emotional punches come.

Me, all the time.

Since Lil Gator and their sister really like a video game called Legend Of Hero (one of many references to a certain Nintendo series), the adventure starts with collecting a sword, shield and a floppy little hat. They are not particularly involved quests, lasting little more than a few minutes once you find the right friend and collect the item. The quests are almost always simple throughout, but they provide relaxing little tasks to complete as you explore. As a reward, you’ll usually get some fun new toy, a bunch of confetti (Lil Gator Game’s currency, which you use to buy or craft items), and a new friend to invite back to your village.

These quests are also an excellent introduction to the nature of RPGs for youngsters. You run around, maybe do a timed run, find an item or kill some monsters, and return to the quest to get your reward. Simple things. It’s especially perfect for those who want to introduce their kids to a game without any real battles or challenges, as all the enemies are just cardboard cutouts made to look like monsters, so there’s no actual killing or fighting. It might sound boring to some, but it makes it incredibly easy to pick up. That doesn’t make it an infantile imitation of an RPG either, I should note. Sure, it might not be challenging, but after a year of slicing my way through the Elden Ring, Lil Gator Game is a delightful change of pace.

Missions are chill, but the real joy in them comes from the dialogue. Lil Gator and his many friends are a sometimes awkward, always silly bunch of kids, which makes for some lines that you really couldn’t predict. You never quite know who you’ll find when you explore, but everyone has a certain lovable charm. Lil Gator’s responses are usually torn between hilariously confused comments, or just playing along to make some longer gags (my favorite is when Lil Gator takes on the role of judge for an impromptu trial). As Rachel found while reviewing Frog Detective 3, it’s hard to fully explain why it’s so funny without spoiling the punchlines of some jokes, but here are some images that hopefully illustrate the charming personalities found throughout.

Lil Gator Game screenshot showing the hero texting his friend.

Lil Gator Game screenshot showing a character dressed as a vampire, standing on their throne in a dark cave.

Lil Gator Game screenshot, where Duke talks about Martin doing a federal crime on trial.

Lil Gator Game doesn’t just bounce you between jokes. The simple act of exploring the world is endlessly delightful, thanks to the many tools at your disposal to navigate the environment. A few of these mirror Legend Of Zelda Hero, who can climb anywhere (stamina permitting), glide through the air with a shirt, and surf around on your shield. Others are weird and wacky, such as the bubblegum that lifts you into the air, or the sticky hand that you can use as a grappling hook. Even the simple acts of running and swimming are joyful, thanks to the adorable ways the hero tumbles around, or bobs his nose in the water. Making exploration fun is always the key to making me fall in love with an open world, and my heart is full after swimming, swinging and scurrying around in Lil Gator Game.

Lil Gator Game screenshot, showing the hero gliding through the air using a shirt, surrounded by trees.

Key tools you don’t have are a map and mission journal, meaning you’ll need to remember character locations and missions, while using landmarks to navigate. I found myself getting lost a few times in the beginning, but things got a little easier once I started to rely on certain structures, such as the massive wooden cabin in the forest or flashing lighthouses towering over the village, to guide me. There’s even joy in getting lost, though, as all your time is spent outdoors and the autumn mood is exquisite, with trees a scattering of orange-browns, reds and greens, while distant vistas are blanketed in an expanding ripple of yellow and amber tones.

The warm colors, together with a brilliant sun and blue sky, make it incredibly cozy, and listening to the water trickling past in streams and leaves rustling underfoot as I whiz around is like being transported into the physical interpretation of a Headspace – sound image. Layered with the background music, which always provides a comforting backdrop, it all comes together to make this a world I just want to be in. I’ve even climbed to a peak and just let it sit on my second screen while I work, as you might with various lo-fi channels, after completing my roughly 5 hour playthrough.

Lil Gator Game screenshot, showing the hero in baby mode perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean.

Lil Gator Game is a short, simple and sweet adventure about a kid who just wants to play with his sister. The noble quest sends them on a loving adventure around a truly beautiful island, and it’s packed with a bunch of playful NPCs who are just out to have fun. Their whimsical, comedic nature drew me in – as did the Frog Detective series – and the pairing with the simple yet compelling exploration of this gorgeous island makes the aforementioned A Short Hike perhaps the better comparison. It wasn’t long before I found myself swinging from trees, skating down mountains, and hunting down more weird toys and fun characters to play and chat with. Lil Gator Game is all about finding joy, and pairing that goal with the warm tones, joyful music, and natural backdrop made for a surprisingly grounding experience that’s sure to stick with me as a favorite in 2022.

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