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 sillies must be mistaken. Thankfully, after a couple of weeks with Lil Gator Game, I finally get it. All these people weren't talking about the shoe, of course! They were talking about Lil Gator Game, which features the most loveable croc 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'd expect from the title. It is 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 making their own lil game. If we reviewed games on the accuracy of the title, this would be an immediate winner.
Incredibly accurate titles aside, Lil Gator Game blends honest, whimsical charm with an idyllic island paradise that you can roam at a leisurely pace, helping it reach similarly excellent heights as A Short Hike. It's a delightful open-world adventure with fun exploration, cosy vibes, and an abundance of funny lines that had me mashing the screenshot button.
It all kicks off with the titular gator pleading with their big sister to play some games at the park. Big sister is busy with a college assignment, though, and doesn't have time for playground games anymore. That doesn't deter Lil Gator, though, oh no! Instead, they decide to use their imagination to make the best game ever, hoping to convince big sis to join in on the fun. So, you set off to gather some equipment, become a hero, and make lots of friends, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, your big sister will eventually join in too.
I have to say, I really admire Lil Gator's attitude here. Sure, it's a bit naive, but their willingness to go off and make an entire adventure rather than endlessly pestering their sibling is admirable. It's certainly not the path I took as a kid, which was probably a pain for my poor brother. Lil Gator sure is a cool croc, and their playful, innocent nature immediately had me rooting for them. They're 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 is really the focus here), the loveable hero will surely have you tearing up when the few emotional beats do come.
Since Lil Gator and their sister are really into a video game called Legend Of Hero (one of many references to a certain Nintendo franchise), the adventure starts with collecting a sword, shield, and a floppy little hat. They're not particularly involved quests, lasting little more than a few minutes as you find the right pal and collect the item. The quests are almost always simple throughout, but they make for relaxing little tasks to complete as you explore. As a reward, you'll usually get some fun new toy, a pile 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 into the nature of RPGs for young'ns. You run around, perhaps do a timed race, find an item, or kill a few monsters, and return to the quest-giver for your reward. Easy stuff. It's particularly perfect for those wanting to intro their kids into a game without any real fighting or challenge, as all of the enemies are mere cardboard cut-outs made to look like monsters, so there's no actual killing or combat. That might sound dull 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 Elden Ring, Lil Gator Game is a lovely change of pace.
Quests are chill, but the real joy in them comes from the dialogue. Lil Gator and their many pals are a sometimes-awkward, always-silly bunch of kids, which makes for some lines that you truly couldn't predict. You never quite know who you'll find as you explore, but everyone has a certain loveable charm. Lil Gator's response is usually torn between hilariously confused remarks, or just playing along to create some longer gags (my favourite of which is when Lil Gator assumes the role of a judge for an impromptu mock 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 a few jokes, but here are a few images that hopefully illustrate the charming personalities found throughout.
Lil Gator Game doesn't just bounce you between jokes, though. The simple act of exploring the world is endlessly delightful, thanks to the many tools you have to navigate the environment. A few of those mirror Legend Of
Zelda Hero, as you can climb anywhere (stamina permitting), glide through the air using a shirt, and surf around on your shield. Others are weird and wacky, such as the bubble gum 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 in which the hero waddles around, or wiggles their 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.
Notable tools that you don't have are a map and quest journal, which means you'll need to remember character locations and quests, while using landmarks to navigate. I did find myself getting lost a few times at first, but things got a bit easier once I started relying on certain structures, such as the massive treehouse in the forest or flashing beacon that towers over the village, to guide my way. There's even joy in getting lost, though, as all of your time is spent outdoors and the autumnal vibes are exquisite, with trees a scattering of orange-y browns, reds, and greens, while distant views are cloaked with an expanding ripple of yellow and amber tones.
The warm colours, paired with a bright sun and blue sky, make it incredibly cosy, and listening to water trickle by in streams and leaves rustle underfoot as I dash around is like being transported into the physical interpretation of a Headspace soundscape. When layered with the background music, which always provides a comforting backdrop, it all comes together to make this a world in which I simply want to be. I've even climbed to a high point and simply left it sitting on my second screen while working, as you might with various lo-fi channels, after completing my roughly 5-hour playthrough.
Lil Gator Game is a short, simple, and sweet adventure about a kid who just wants to play with their sister. That noble quest sends them on an endearing adventure around a truly beautiful island, and it's packed with a bunch of playful NPCs who are simply out to have fun. Their whimsical, comedic nature sucked me in - similar to the Frog Detective series - and pairing that with the simple-yet-engrossing exploration of this gorgeous island perhaps makes the aforementioned A Short Hike the better comparison. It wasn't long before I found myself swinging from trees, skating down mountains, and hunting for more weird toys and funny characters with which to play and chat. 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 favourite of 2022.