We all develop an active imagination and role-play as children. It’s an important part of processing and understanding what we experience, and it allows us to simulate activities and social interactions we’ll one day need to thrive. Of course, truly understanding something often experiences we don’t yet have. With that in mind, Lil Gator Game does an incredible job of capturing the wonder of an epic childhood make-believe adventure session, even if it’s tinged with sadness at the lack of perspective we have in our youth and the inevitable loss of time and freedom that adulthood often brings.
Heartfelt writing and uncomfortably familiar memories
Regardless of whether you’re focused on helping Lil Gator try to get Big Sis to join in his game and play as they used to, friend circles grappling with internal dynamics, or just one-off encounters with other children roaming on the island – the writing is always a highlight. It feels age-appropriate for the cast, tugs on the heartstrings, yet still manages to riff on many gaming-related quirks for constant smiles or the odd laugh. Encounters, big and small, are always easy to relate to and sympathize with, making the story feel far more personal than I expected.
A brisk prologue reveals the start of Lil Gator’s strong relationship with his Big Sis, and reveals her knack for conceptualising game systems. Events jump forward several years when she’s returned from college for a supposed break. Hoping to rekindle their old relationship, Lil Gator has gathered all his friends – highly-motivated friends anyone would be envious of – to turn an island playground into an elaborate real-life role-playing game, complete with costumes, appropriate dialogue, no shortage of quests, and monsters crafted from plywood and cardboard.
Naturally, things don’t go to plan and Lil Gator decides a more elaborate spectacle is needed to draw Big Sis from her assignement, setting up the basic structure for the rest of the game. From a central playground hub, Lil Gator sets out to find their close friends, help them resolve issues within their extended friend circle so they’ll return to the playground, and aid other wondering children with issues of their own. The more kids you get to the playground, the more elaborately they can redecorate it as a fantasy fort.
On this epic journey, you’ll encounter the intellectual kids who too often forget learning should be a fun and shared experience; a gang so desperate to be the “cool kids” they struggle to express themselves as individuals; and a group of outspoken creatives that struggle to find compromise when their ideas clash. Along the way, you’ll assist dozens of other children dealing with relationship problems and doubts that”ll feel all too familiar. You’ll also discover plenty of memory echoes that recount Lil Gator’s time with his sister when they were younger.
It all builds up to an excellent finale that challenges Lil Gator’s memories, perception of events, and true intentions; reveal more about Big Sis; and work towards a satisfying ending that demonstrates considerable character growth.
Breezy but repetitive fun
I’d argue to get the most out of Lil Gator Game, you need an emotional hook. You need to immerse yourself in its somewhat implausible premise and – given the lack of any voice acting – prepare yourself for a lot of reading if you want to truly appreciate the diverse cast and Lil Gator’s journey of discovery. The reason I say that is Lil Gator Game is a playful but by-the-numbers 3D adventure, with a focus on exploration, stamina- and gear-restricted traversal, and tons of checklist-style quests in an open-ish world – a well trod formula.
The adventure takes place across two peaceful and incredibly picturesque autumnal islands, with improbably clustered biomes and topography that would make it a death trap for real children in real life. From a gameplay perspective, that verticality is the perfect excuse to run, jump, slide, climb, and glide about constantly as you destroy hordes of cardboard monsters, shatter ceramic pots, and discover new questing opportunities.
That said, I was just glad Lil Gator Game has brisk pacing and you can see the ending within 4 hours as all those quests – even the more elaborate ones essential to progressing the story – are reliant on the quality writing and humour to entertain, more so than the gameplay loop.
The tutorial island provides the basic gear you need to climb, slide, and glide, but gameplay barely evolves from that point on. That’s not to say questing won’t reward you with paper scrap to purchase new outfits that slightly modify your abilities; bracelets to improve climbing stamina; or the odd bit of specialised “gear” that might allow you to grapple and float (badly) or hit distant monsters with projectiles. The problem is even if you go in with a playful attitude and willingness to experiment with every tool, they’re ultimately more efficient ways to perform the same tasks you’ve been doing all along. The great writing ensures the context of your “quests” may change but the gameplay mechanics do not.
Now, if you enjoy exploration and checklists, Lil Gator Game is full of charming sights and sounds. The visuals look simple but they’re chunky, vibrant, and striking. The cast is surprisingly expressive despite their angular features and there’s an optional filter if you want a heavily-pixelated look that still holds up well. The catchy soundtrack includes string and piano pieces, coupled with a few chiptune beats – all of which feel appropriate for the different environments and add to the playful atmosphere.
Imagination, memories, perspective, and hindsight
First up, credit to MegaWobble for crafting a game that makes it difficult to criticise the gameplay without undermining praise for the narrative premise! Even if you truly believe gameplay is the only important element of a game, there are still a few hours of fun to be had, and Lil Gator Game serves as a reminder that aggregated, pseudo-objective review scores are ultimately meaningless.
In four briskly-paced hours, Lil Gator Game provided a more compelling premise, cast, and narrative trajectory than any big-budget cinematic adventure in recent memory. It’s clearly a passion project for the developers, presumably inspired by their own experiences, but the themes are so broadly relatable that it’s hard not to engage with it emotionally. That alone makes it easy to recommend to anyone.
A review code for Lil Gator Game was provided to gameblur by the publisher. Lil Gator Game is also available on Nintendo Switch.
Lil Gator Game (PC) ReviewLil Gator Game (PC) Review
Story10/10 The Best
Audio8/10 Very Good
- An unexpectedly heartfelt and easily relatable story
- Great writing, brisk pacing, and a short runtime
- Humour interspersed with touching moments
- Charming visuals backed by an excellent soundtrack
- Breezy, fun, but repetitive gameplay
- Collectible-focused achievements