I expected to like Lil Gator Game, but I didn't expect it to make me cry multiple times and to become one of my son's favorite games.
- Title: Lil Gator Game
- Release Date: December 14, 2022
- Price: $19.99
- Suggested Audience Age: Rated E for Everyone by the ESRB
- Availability: Switch, Steam
- Recommended for fans of: Zelda games, A Short Hike, and Imagination
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Wholesome games are an important part of a well-grounded gaming diet.
With so many games centered around bloodshed and bore and saving the world or chasing after high scores, sometimes its nice to play a game that just lets you chill out for a while. Usually, though, “a while” is all most wholesome games will get out of me. Between ADHD and anxiety, a big part of what I like about video games in general is the feeling of propolsion, of getting things done, and a lot of wholesome games are too laid back for my liking.
Then, there’s Lil Gator Game. This popped onto my radar as a wholesome game I’d probably dink around with for a session or two, but after a weird first impression it got me totally hooked.
Are you, or have you ever been sad?
Lil Gator Game puts you into the short pants of a little gator who grew up on a peaceful island playing pretend with his big sister. As she got older, she found less and less time to play with you, and the story kicks off when she’s home from school on a break and your character is eager to play with her.
To entice her to play, you and your friends set up cardboard monsters all over the island and conspire to plan quests and adventures to make a well rounded fantasy adventure. Sadly, your plans don’t really work out right away, and then suddenly all of your friends go off to take care of other, more grown up responsibilities too, leaving the little gator and his imagination all alone.
It was at this point that I cried and stopped playing the game, because shut up and leave me alone, that’s why!
It probably took a week for me to give Lil Gator Game another shot. The heavy themes of the opening juxtaposed against the super bright art style and cheery character designs and music just hit me hard, and kept me away. Fortunately, right after where I left it the plot takes a turn towards the optimistic, and you set off with a new plan to bring together all the kids on the island and your sister in one big game!
This is where the game really opens up and becomes a simplified version of exploring in Breath of the Wild. There are no Shrines to find, but the whole island is dense with cardboard monsters to slash into confetti (the natural currency of creative children) and all sorts of creatures to recruit to your cause. Some of them have already set up challenges for you to complete, like timed obstacle courses, while others may need you to help them solve a problem before they can play.
The writing is absolutely charming, and in most games it’d be a highlight. However, movement in Lil Gator Game feels so good that it steals the show. After a few tutorial missions, your gator run, swim, climb, and glide just like the the Hero of the Wild. Theres even a dedicated button to plop down on your shield and slide down a hill!
Perfect for Kids
For such an expansive move set, I’m really impressed that Lil Gator Game manages to keep its core gameplay loop so simple. In fact, this has quickly become a favorite game of my kiddo, who is three years old. He’s certainly got a lot more video game exposure than most kids his age, but when he actually gets hands on most games end up a bit tough for him to play. Even kid focused games can be frustrating for him if he runs into an obstacle that doesn’t click for him, like a fence his character clearly should be able to leap but can’t or even a slightly tough combat encounter.
Lil Gator Game manages to be a fully and rewarding gameplay experience for him, without any of those issues. Sure, theres a stamina bar, but when he tries to climb up a mountain and the gator gets tired partway up, that makes sense. Outside of that, he can go and do whatever he wants in Lil Gator Game. Sure, he can’t read, so he has no idea what he’d need to do to actually recruit people to play, but he loves running around, climbing rocks, exploring caves, and battling cardboard monsters.
And, perhaps more importantly, I love playing this game with him. Giving him a big playground that doesn’t push back against him is way more enjoyable as his copilot than dropping him into a game that is either too difficult or too unintuitive, which leads to frustration for both of us. Plus, the music in Lil Gator Game is way nicer to have on than any kid-centric game he’s tried.
I absolutely adore Lil Gator Game. There are a lot of little things about it that felt weird to me, like the lack of a map or a list of NPCs you had met but hadn't finished helping yet, but I realized that all of the things I felt it was missing were things that a tiny child playing pretend probably wouldn't care about. This game captures the feeling of being a kid and playing outside absolutely beautifully, in a way that is both heartwarming and depressing.
In the end, I teared up four separate times during this relatively short game. Now, I'm a pretty emotional guy, but even for me that's quite a lot. This is a game about imagination and play and growing up and responsibilities, and it hit me as a young brother, as an older brother, and as a parent.
I love Lil Gator Game for being a fantastically fun video game to play, but I'll remember it for being a video game that reminded me why play is important.