Last year, I covered a really charming game called Lost in Play, a ‘cozy game’ that saw you controlling two children in a world of imagination. It was so good that it received one of the site’s Game of the Year Awards for 2021.
What better way to start off the year than with another game that plays on the idea of childhood imagination called Lil Gator Game. After seeing the initial trailer, I was sold on this relaxed little adventure game and was ready to see what it had in store.
Many thanks to Playtonic Friends for the review code.
MAKE IT SNAPPY
Growing up can be really hard, as our small little Alligator protagonist has found out. He doesn’t have a name, but I called him Hero McHeroface just because it fit nicely within the character limit. Anyway, he’s a little sad because his big sister doesn’t play with him anymore since she just has too much work to do for university.
Our snappy protagonist has an idea though: he plans to set up an adventure across the island that is so damn exciting that she won’t be able to resist joining in with the fun. With his friends alongside to help (and some other kids that his friends were able to rope in), he helps prepare the island into a world of fantasy and cardboard creatures to fulfil all the quests a hero could possibly need.
It’s a really charming tale as our small lil gator waddles across the island (running like a child that needs a poop) searching for both new and existing friends to create something so exciting that he can reconnect with his sister. It’s full of mini stories as you explore the island and chat with all the other children, but everything all fits within the framework of a sibling connection that is drifting apart and is concluded in a real heartfelt way.
A SHORT GATOR GAME
As a ‘cozy game’ (a genre defined by being more chilled out experiences with no real pressure placed on the player), this narrative is what really makes the game so charming. However, that’s not to say that the gameplay is a slouch. Feeling like a cross between A Short Hike and The Legend of Zelda: The WInd Waker, you’ll be trekking across the island in search of quests and collecting equipment to help you get around.
Unlike A Short Hike, which this game is quite reminiscent of, there’s not a whole lot in the way of progression to be had. The tutorial area will see you gaining a sword and shield, as well as the ability to climb and glide – and that really makes up almost all of your moveset. With these at your disposal, you’ll be free to essentially go anywhere you want and do things at your own pace.
The main island has a central hub in the form of a playground, and this is where your friends’ town will be built up as the story progresses. In order to do so, you’ll have to complete certain main questlines and acquire enough friends to construct that area. It’s a pretty straightforward gameplay loop, but it never really gets old due to the variety in the sidequests required to make new friends. NPCs are all over the place, both individually and in groups, and chatting with them will hint at what will make them your friend. It could be skipping stones across the water, capturing bugs, taking out ‘ninjas’, bowling ‘bombs’ to take care of enemies, and so on. There’s so many different things to do, that just searching around for new friends is an absolute delight.
The searching is also, unfortunately, where the game stumbled slightly too. Whilst the focus is on free exploration, there’s never really any assistance on finding out where you are or where you need to go either. The island has map signs dotted around but their vagueness makes it impossible to actually utilise. Worse still, the lack of any kind of quest log makes it hard to remember what exactly you had to do or who you need to return to. This latter issue is by far the biggest issue with the game and makes acquiring every single friend a bit of a hassle.
Thankfully, you don’t actually need to get everyone on your side in order to beat the game. After my two hour playthrough, I had more than enough friends to get all the areas built with plenty more to spare – and had acquired almost every item too. As aforementioned, your key items will be gained right near the start so most additions end up being purely cosmetic – but seeing your gator dressed up as a princess or using bubblegum to float upwards is reward enough for seeking our new gear.
It’s a really pleasant experience that does end a lot sooner than you would hope. Running at around the same length as A Short Hike, Lil Gator Game also costs substantially more too. That being said, it also contains way more options and is presented far better too. With its beautiful aesthetics, and near-perfect controls, it’s a great little game that almost reaches cozy game perfection – and perhaps it could too, with a post release update or two.
Lil Gator Game may be as little as its name suggests, but it’s also a touching tale about two siblings that just don’t play with each other anymore. Its open nature is great for exploration, even if it’s a little too bit too unguided at times, but it makes for a very sweet cozy game to sit down with for a lil while.