From the developers MegaWobble and publisher Playtonic comes a new adventure snapping at the heels of beloved games of your youth.
Those games are definitely not specific games where you play as a green pointy hatted hero, definitely not.
In Lil Gator Game, you are the titular Lil Gator trying to persuade your now college-age Big Sis to play with you while she is home for the summer. Of course, to do this, you must become the hero of legend, the prophesized savior, the Hero of Hyr…wait, no. Definitely not that last one.
To convince Big Sis, you somehow enlist your friends and anyone in the immediate vicinity to set up an elaborate fantasy game across two islands. There are cardboard creations to combat, side quests to complete, and a creepy monkey man that sells bracelets to seek out. An open world of exploration awaits you as you recruit more random people to participate in the game and collect craft scraps to create new weapons, shields, and, most importantly, hats.
As you travel around the islands, it becomes clear that there’s more going on at the heart of Lil Gator Game. The titular hero is determined not to grow up and is dismayed when anyone attempts anything that even remotely resembles anything grown-up. Don’t these people understand that it’s Summer Vacation?! Hidden across the landscape are memories of past games played with Big Sis that appear almost as spectral figures frozen in time. While they don’t move, you can walk up to them to get a snippet of past games or reflections from the precocious lead. There’s a sense of melancholy mixed in with the adventure, a feeling that childhood is coming to a close, no matter what. The game almost feels like one last hurrah for both summer and innocence. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.
The world is a beautiful, sprawling island setting that begins on the Small Island and soon expands onto the Big Island. There is no set path to reach your goals. Instead, you can simply wander off and smash up cardboard monsters and clay pots to your heart’s desire. There’s always someone new to encounter, help, and enlist hidden around the world, so it’s rare that you will go without meeting a new and strange ally for a long time. This brings us to the cast of supporting characters, a cornucopia of eccentric and delightful animal characters who all want to play the biggest game the islands have ever seen.
Lil Gator’s core friends are Jill, Martin, and Avery! (I have not added the ! that is how Avery, and only Avery, is stylized throughout the game.) Avery is one of my favorite side characters in the game, a flappy-headed frog obsessed with setting up an in-game restaurant to create drama for the narrative. Another standout character is Twig, a massively fluffy dog in skinny jeans who would win the strangest character of the game if it weren’t for Creepy Bracelet Monkey.
Creepy Bracelet Monkey appears, arms waving and adorned with multi-colored bracelets, in different places around the world. You must seek them out to purchase bracelets that increase your climbing stamina gauge, which is a set of rings that deplete over time as you climb.
Again, this is definitely not like any other game with a green, pointy-hatted hero.
Creepy Bracelet Monkey is extremely creepy and mysterious, and I still love them. The game also has a wonderful sense of humor and leans into the fact that you are recreating a particular video game series in real life. There’s even a joke about collecting yellow triangles. Heroes love yellow triangles.
The graphics are simple and beautiful. Summer is drawing to an end, and the island is slowly turning to the golden-red hues of Fall. There are different types of environments within the islands. Forests, creeks, mountains, and beaches are all available to explore, all distinct but still very much a part of the same world. The one thing I found to be an issue was getting lost in the environment. There’s no map, apart from occasional signs showing the main points of interest in relation to where you are.
This is clearly a design feature of the game. As the player, you are meant just to wander around, encountering enemies and allies alike whenever you stumble on them, but at the same time, when you are actively trying to get somewhere, it’s easy to get turned around. For example, I went around in circles, somehow missing the Trash Racoon for quite a while before stumbling onto him.
The gameplay is simple; you have a sword, a shield, and a secondary weapon/gadget you can switch between. You also receive a glider as an early side quest reward which is activated by tapping the jump button in the air. The glider is a t-shirt. As you battle the cardboard creatures and collect confetti and craft materials, you also collect crafting recipes for different hats, weapons, and shields. Things like princess wands, berets, and those weird boards with wheels on that you have in gym class are all available, plus more. It is easy to accrue the necessary materials for anything.
Lil Gator Game is not designed to be complicated. It’s designed to be fun. It’s intended to be played at your own pace, in your own way. Sure, there are quests, but it doesn’t matter what order you do them in, whom you encounter first or where you go in what order. Lil Gator Game is all about creativity, joy, and friendship.
Just…keep an eye out for Creepy Bracelet Monkey. I’m not sure I trust them.
A review copy was provided by the publisher for Nintendo Switch.