Recently, I purchased and played through the entirety of a game in a single day. I stayed up very late to do it, but I managed to one hundred percent Lil Gator Game in an extended evening. I’ve been following the development of the game on Twitter for a while now, ever since I saw a retweet and was instantly charmed by the blocky but detailed aesthetics and the clear homage to The Legend of Zelda that the main gameplay revolves around. Over the months since then, I’ve watched as more and more detail has come out via small videos and trailers for Steam and then, on the 14th, I bought it immediately. While I’m normally leery of any kind of hype train, I can definitely say that this game delivered on every promise it made.
The basic premise of the game is that you are playing the titular Lil Gator who is having a fun adventure on a pair of islands while their “Big Sis” is back in town for a visit. Lil Gator spends most of the game’s duration trying to get their elder sibling involved in The Game, an adventurous romp involving make-believe and complex rules originally devised by Big Sis, which the two of them used to play back when they were younger (a snippet of which you see during the game’s introduction and then through glimpses of memories as you explore the islands). Big Sis, who the game implies is college-aged, is very busy with a group project and needs to focus on getting that done. Despite Lil Gator’s pleas, Big Sis says that she must focus on adult stuff right now and that her younger sibling will have to play with their friends instead of her. Eventually, needing to focus on her work, Big Sis moves away from Lil Gator who then convinces themselves that they just need to up the spectacle of The Game so Big Sis won’t be able to help but want to play.
The plot and conflict involved are relatively small, but you can clearly tell that this is something very important and meaningful to Lil Gator (who I named Gatey because I was exhausted and couldn’t think of anything else for reasons that should become clear soon), so the stakes still feel pretty big even if you’re just running around, making friends, smashing cardboard monsters, and seeing how high you can climb. As someone who is an elder sibling, who frequently was the leader and game-maker in pretend-play sessions, and who is also digging through their past in weekly family therapy sessions with their younger sister and parents, the stakes also felt pretty real to me, too. It was difficult to not see my younger siblings in Lil Gator as I played through the game immediately after the end of the last family therapy session of the year, and it was difficult not to see myself and the distance I’d created in Big Sis and her need to focus on her homework.
Despite how close the plot hit to home, it was a lot of fun to play. It helped that I knew what I was getting into, that I knew the game wasn’t going to be very long, and that I’ve spent the last few weeks working on my ability to process feelings that run in this direction, but it was honestly also just a blast to play. There’s a lot of fun, silly items and abilities you can get, including the ability to ragdoll (there’s no fall damage, which the NPCs make clear in a lot of different and fun ways, all without breaking the 4th wall since the premise of the game is that Lil Gator is playing The Game, which also invites a lot of fun double-entendre and tongue-in-cheek comments) down hills, dart guns, bowling balls with fire crackers in them, skipping stones, a paint gun, and bubble gum that lets you float. I know I already beat it, but I might go back to keep playing it just for fun. I cannot stress enough how delightful it is to use a sticky-hand toy as a grappling hook to drag yourself up cliffs, along the ground, or over water.
Honestly, I’d also keep playing it just to explore. While there’s a pair of mechanics at the end of the game to help you find anything you might have missed, I found myself not missing much in my initial run. The design of the enemies you’re supposed to track down for their building materials (recycling is important, as Lil Gator reminds us) gives you a fun mix of targets that blend in and targets that stick out, frequently leading you from one to the other with visual cues alone. It only took a couple minutes for me to get in the right mindset for the game so that I almost always knew where to look for my next target when hunting for paper scraps to trade for bracelets or weapons. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever played another game that had me in such perfect alignment with what the developers had intended other than Breath of the Wild. It was a genuine joy to experience a game made by people who loved the same kind of games that I do for the same reasons.
Out of every indie game this size that I’ve ever played, Lil Gator Game has felt the most solid and polished. Every attack worked the way I expected, every weapon swing felt solid, and even the weird ragdoll physics performed perfectly. I never encountered anything that felt like a bug, I never stopped what I was doing to wonder why something happened, and even the weird rules about skipping across the water were easily figured out as I played (it works in the most fun way possible). When there was something I didn’t quite understand, there was an NPC with a challenge or explanation of mechanics to help me along. I genuinely don’t think I’ve had a smoother or more pleasant gaming experience. If you’re looking for something fun to play for a few to several hours (depending on your focus and drive, I suppose), I can’t recommend Lil Gator Game enough. You can play it on Steam or on your Nintendo Switch (which is where I played it), so I suggest grabbing it on a mobile system and having it fill up your idle, handheld hours for a while.