A fantastic sandbox experience featuring a bored Lil Gator with a BIG plan!
I want you to close your eyes and think back, if you can, to when you were younger. Playing with your friends and siblings, and acting out your favourite video game at the time. Lil Gator Game captures that nostalgic feeling perfectly, and the developer MegaWobble has truly emulated the feeling of childlike adventure.
Our titular Gator is a young, imaginative little tyke, who usually spends their days playing with the appropriately named "Big Sis". They talk about past big adventures and their favourite game about a courageous hero clad in green with a funny hat (sound familiar?). Big Sis equips us with our own silly hat, sword and shield and then departs big school to learn and do other boring things that aren’t playing with Lil Gator.
Upon Big Sis’ return, Lil Gator hatches a plan with his friends to devise a new fun adventure to distract Big Sis from her school work, which he dubs totally boring and not important at all. After a minor setback we set out on an island-wide journey to make more friends, have more fun, and remind Big Sis that all work and no play makes Big Sis a dull gator.
Developer MegaWobble has built a really good experience here. The parallels to The Legend Of Zelda are really strong and it’s lovely to see the influence the series has had on them. Our Lil Gator controls with precise movement and a really responsive jump. The in-game physics are a delight too - an example being how you waddle slowly uphill, but waddling downhill makes you faster. Lil Gator is nimble and agile, tackling tightropes with ease and swimming with gusto and pace. Even the shield surfing mechanic from Zelda: Breath of the Wild is present here. Whilst riding the shield, you can actually keep jumping to continuously gain momentum, allowing you to traverse really quickly.
There’s an array of toys you can find, like the magical ‘Stick’ or the “Wooden Sword of adventures past”. Use them to break things like pots (the nemesis of any adventure gamer) and the adorable cardboard cut-outs of slimes, killer plants, stone people that Lil Gator and his friends have also decorated the island with. As this is a playful and imaginative experience, these “foes” can’t hurt us. Lil Gator himself doesn't even have a health bar, which feeds into the gaming stereotype of children believing themselves to be invincible.
Breaking objects gives you craft scraps, an in-game currency used to make Lil Gator new items and hats. The hats, though purely decorative, all look cool and are naturally a very important part of any adventure game, especially the slime mask obtained from helping Gerard the Giraffe. NPC’s give you quests to unlock new items or recipes, others sell you things, and some even change how Lil Gator acts or moves. Talking to your friends or other NPCs may also initiate interactive flashbacks of Lil Gator’s memories from previous adventures with Big Sis.
There’s also an unusually dressed individual that sells a ‘Bracelet of Power’, which unlocks the ability to climb. This doesn’t remove the challenge of upwards traversal mind you as the ability to climb comes with a stamina bar. Eventually, you're able to buy more stamina, allowing you to climb even higher, and finally you get access to a glider!
There are standard items, like stones and bombs, and then there’s wacky ones like a stuffed bear: I won’t spoil what it does though, it’s better kept as a surprise.
Pressing the ‘-’ button opens the scrapbook, which works both as an inventory and a crafting menu. It wasn’t until I checked the settings that I discovered ‘ZL’ refocuses the camera, which is a helpful addition. There wasn’t any in-game guide for how to jump, attack or access the menus. I think for younger or newer gamers, they may have benefitted from having these pointed out. Personally, I found it deepened the sandbox experience and was fun to just press everything and see what happened.
Sadly the game lacks motion-control support, so aiming can take a bit of getting used to. That said, anyone who’s played a 3D Zelda title before will feel at home here. It’s a shame there wasn’t the option, especially for accessibility purposes, but it didn’t harm my own experience.
It’s difficult to not just gush about how immensely charming this game is. It has a similar atmosphere to previous indie darling “A Short Hike” and that’s a huge compliment. The gorgeous cel-shaded world and the quirky character designs make it almost seem like you’ve stepped into a pop-up picture book. There’s no sense of danger, and the world itself is so inviting. Tall mountains, thick woods, rivers - It’s an epic landscape, perfect for an epic quest.
A variety of visual filters are offered, including an old-school Pixelated filter that makes the game look ‘crunchy’,, and a Smooth option, my preferred choice, that really amplifies the cel-shaded look.
There are multiple islands to explore, each beautiful in its own right and populated by different animal friends, blocky birds, and a large variety of plants and trees. There’s this really nice blocking effect on areas further in the distance, where they blend into the skybox. The water looks immensely refreshing, to the point where I wanted to drink it all up, on top of feasting on the delightful landscapes populating it.
The Friends (NPCs) are all quirky and unique, even down to the way they move. Occasionally Lil Gator will copy them, much like any kid would, and the movement in general just looks satisfying. At one point, a Frog Friend is going home and they just cartwheel into the sea! I don't recall any animations looking stiff or unnatural, and the lack of voice acting means there’s no requirement for lip-syncing. Instead, we get cute text bubbles that are colour coded to each character's defining colour.
From the get-go, the soundtrack is brilliant. It’s hard to define the exact genre, but the mellow melodies that accompany us on Lil Gator’s island hopping journey are so soothing. The mix of woodwind, percussion and other instruments really sell the feel of childhood exploration. I highly recommend playing this game with sound on at all times, the music is just that good.
The general sound design, from the pitter patter of Lil Gator’s little feet, to the cartoonish rocket-like sound that plays when you fall from a great height, all helps to exentuate the adventure we’re having with our friends.
This game performs like a dream on Nintendo Switch. Its frame rate is rock solid, the textures are gorgeous, and the physics are really reliable (unless you’re on a shield). The game is small, with a file size coming in at under 500MB, and it’s really not going to be taxing the hardware that much. It runs pretty much identically docked and undocked, with little significant battery drain, so it’s perfect to play on the go or on the couch.
This game is such a unique and fun breath of fresh air, miles apart from the muddy and gritty AAA games of the current day. Lil Gator Game is one of those rare jewels that you find and keep coming back to for years to come, just to relive it. It’s a beautiful homage to The Legend of Zelda, childhood and friendship. You can feel the love and wonder MegaWobble poured into this peaceful, wacky but warm romp.
With such a charming, wholesome story about friends, family and fun, all wrapped up into a lovely package, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing at the brilliant writing and humour. I can confidently say it’s one of the cutest and friendliest games I've ever played.
Where to Buy
Written by Luke Young,
Edited by Mark McAllister, Paul L. Russell and Jen Griffiths
Graphic by Paul L. Russell