Despite that I am not a big fan of Breath of the Wild, I am happy for its existence due to other developers taking its concept to create original and even better projects. Be it a short hike’s enjoyable trip or the great take Ubisoft did with Immortals: Fenyx Rising, there are certainly multiple alternatives to choose from. Another one that embraces this trend, is Lil Gator Game. This initially looked like a small, but comfortable adventure that was too adorable to pass up, which I am glad to say that I was right about for the most part.
Taking on the role of a little alligator that you name, you are experiencing a flashback where you are having a blast playing pretend with your big sister. However, years have gone by with your sibling being severely busy with college, even when she now comes to visit you for the fall break. Saddened by this, you decide to make her excited for a day of an imaginary expedition by setting up a fantasy world using props, with your good friends helping you out too.
It is an endearing tale that undoubtedly has a message about growing up versus keeping your childhood close, and while it is far from deep, it is decently presented. Regrettably, the remembrances you can discover do not enhance the relationship your avatar and his sister had in the past, as it only shows them playing together. This is admittedly sweet, but by not showcasing a personal connection between these two, these scenarios struggle to strengthen their bond.
What does keep this journey charming, are the other events and people you encounter. You might be asked by a fellow warrior to fend off cardboard monsters, assist a cowboy in collecting her herd or go on a quest to find an ancient rock for your upcoming blacksmith. All these tasks contain humorous dialogues that are cute and emphasise that this is a title that just wants the player to have fun. There is even a trial about not being afraid of being yourself, and I love how exaggerated it is, similar to hilariously serious animes.
Frankly, I do wish the characters had more personalities to them to become memorable, though they are still fine with minor traits to be enjoyable. Another element that I was constantly perplexed about was what age they all were, as it was inconsistent and simultaneously hard to grasp. Yet, even with these oddities and the plot being underwhelming with a strange ending, I had a constant smile just by the sheer creativity presented and the adorable text that made me frequently chuckle.
Story Score: 8/10
Lil Gator Game is an open-world game focusing on exploration and very little else. Even your abilities are merely relegated to a simple jump, swinging with your preferred weapon, sliding on your shield down any surface, climbing once you got your bracelet for stamina, walking on tight areas like rope lines, and a parachute sweater for gliding. The platforming is quite limited also due to none of the environmental structure testing you, which makes it never challenging.
In fact, I do wonder why you can even attack, as you only do this to destroy cardboard or jars for getting craft stuff. These trinkets are either used as currency for getting tools or creating new ones you have recipes for, though most of these are just visual treats. Honestly, it is exciting to get hats, shields, and swords that vary heavily in looks, but they serve no unique purpose except for a few. This can even affect your imaginary style, like making you solely wear the bandana so you can actually run fast.
Luckily, you can also gather items that serve as additional abilities, such as paper shurikens for hitting targets at a distance or balloons to levitate yourself with. There are going to be repeated setups of these, but they are nonetheless practical. While all of this might sound mediocre at best, this indie project is saved by the exploration. After the tutorial island to get you quickly to grips with what you can do, you will be able to venture to the main one with plenty of high mountains, canyons, forests, and beaches. There is no map, so you will have to look for landmarks in order to navigate around and find people to aid.
You see, a buddy of yours gathered other folks to support you in setting up this fantasy play, each with a quest of their own for you. If you help them, you will earn rewards in the form of recipes, tools, or craft stuff. Most importantly what you will get no matter what though, are friends. Having enough companions will let you build more of the playground’s kingdom, which is the primary goal in order to get your sister on board. Despite that none of these structures does anything, they are nice visual representations of your progress.
Unfortunately, the tasks are uneven in quality. Some will have you scour for hidden treasures or make you race using either your parachute or shield through engaging obstacle courses, both offering exciting diversity and varied layouts. However, others will require you to do the bare minimum, such as talking between two individuals or giving someone their right lunch. These are easy to finish with brute force, and while they are short and forgettable, they could have still been more creative in their mechanics.
Simplicity is not a bad thing, which Lil Gator Game does show due to its comfortable exploration and having other content being quick to breeze through. Yet, it never grows as the journey continues and does not demand much in terms of skills or thorough examination of the environment, which is a shame. Thankfully, it does end before it becomes stale by clocking in between four to five hours, making for a heartwarming trip.
Gameplay Score: 5/10
Minimal retro landscape
The crunchy look of the 32/64-bit era needed iconic art to be memorable, which this indie title clearly understands. Incredibly enough, this can be seen in the entire cast consisting of different adorable creatures in imaginative attires. Be it the ninja racoon, astronaut hawk, or just some friends having cosy a picnic, all are visually distinct and cute. The highlight is of course the avatar because of the number of tools and hats he can equip, causing him to become quite the endearing hero.
Furthermore, I love how cardboard is utilised to make monsters, constructions for your evolving hub, and obstacles. Every single one has a crude drawing and there is enough variety to make them fun to encounter, even if they do nothing but stand still. Besides this, the game is colourful and captures the autumn season gorgeously, with leaves flying by and trees altering in pigments being sights to behold. I just wish the terrains were more diverse, as there is a huge sense of deja vu in each region. While there are landmarks such as the radio tower, the similarities to structures and textures can go so far as to make you wonder if you actually went in circles again.
I will say that the style is still commendable, especially with how you can choose between having smooth or crunchy graphics. As for the audio, it is genuinely great with the swings of your weapon, your claws hitting any surface, or even skipping stones, adding to the setting. What also enhances the immersion, are the ambient sounds like those from critters or grass moving, which makes it all a fantastic experience.
When it comes to the music, it has a strange problem. I wish to stress that all melodies are catchy, whether they be uplifting or mysterious with wonderful rhythms and emphasised notes to them. What also helps, is that the tracks utilise unique instruments to keep up the mood and avoid becoming repetitive in the long run, such as switching from a guitar to a piano. The issue is that few are used for environmental or eventful purposes, making none provide a thematic attachment. I find this extremely odd, as there are a couple of compositions utilised for three specific quests and any flashback to encounter through subtle changes in tone. Being this sporadic can easily disturb the atmosphere, despite how solid it overall is.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Akin to a sparkler
Making more hats, swords, shields, and other equipment is good for a laugh, but some of the amusing additions are quickly forgotten about, such as the ragdoll physics. Exploring the island is still engaging and completing this title is not a difficult task since after finishing the main objective, you get tools to point you to where the last of the crafting stuff and potential friends are left. While the buddies are not that hard to locate, getting all the collectables could be tedious as it would be like looking for a nail in a haystack.
Admittedly, it is here where you are not discovering where things are anymore, just being directed towards them and that can be underwhelming. Yet, this also depends on whether you use these devices as hint units or spam them to get things done as soon as possible. If nothing else, the side missions for racing are all enjoyable and the reward for seeing this adventure through is a sweet one and does add an extra hour of content.
Extra Score: 6/10
Cute is probably the best way to describe this game. It is far from deep in any category and it is clearly a case of style over substance due to relying on charm and minimalism for a general audience. Nonetheless, the exploration is still entertaining even if the mechanics for getting around are not strong and are affected by the mediocre layout of this island. Additionally, the plot is forgettable, but the quests certainly are not thanks to the humour they bring. If playing pretend sounds fun and you are in for something comfortably adorable, you will find it here.