During the Christmas break, I had a morning routine of helping my mum and then settling down for another five minutes of Lil Gator Game on my Switch. Maybe ten minutes. Or fifteen. And then a few more during the day in between writing sessions. And then sometimes a quick blast at night when going through the new If Books Could Kill podcast. I was hooked. Those mysterious days between the Christmas break and the start of a new year always feel more freeing and relaxed, like a long, unexpected weekend during childhood.
Released through Playtonic’s publishing arm, Lil Gator Game has you in control of a little alligator who’s filled with energy and ready to jump around and play with everything in sight. However, he’s mostly interested in playing with his older sister, bugging her to finish her work so she can join him, just like they did when they were kids. In fact, shadows of their former selves are seen playing across the island, and you can replay dialogue from his memories.
While you wait for her to join you, you’ll end up stumbling across other animals, completing small tasks for them on their behalf and befriending them in the process. Over the course of the game, you’ll end up increasing your climbing stamina, you'll gain new hats for the lil guy to wear, and obtain different items to carry.
What’s so remarkable about the game is how easily it draws you in, not just with its charm, but by letting you interact with the different objects and places you come across. A reasonably tall hill may appear beyond your abilities at first, but you’ll quickly have the skill to glide across the gap and reach the top in no time. And when you begin trying to catch a particular bug for the study group you stumble across, you’ll end up distracted by the different pots you’ll want to break in order to collect the confetti currency that populates this little world.
The ‘enemies’ are scrappy drawings of imaginary monsters on wooden boards, and the mini speedrun challenges you can start on the island involve sliding down different hills. There’s no sense of pressure, yet you’ll want to do everything at least once because the game rewards your curiosity.
There are many reviews out there comparing the game to A Short Hike, and I view both as essential modern indies. However, Lil Gator Game is about friendships, helping each other out and simply wanting to spend time with your favourite company. During the winter break, my niece and I wanted to arrange a(nother) Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl session with each of our brothers, but it never happened, reflecting the messy logistics of cherishing moments even when you're unable to relive them. Yet by pure coincidence, it was Lil Gator Game that also had this theme too. It’s okay to leave memories so they can become more polished and valuable with time. In the end, it’s the only thing we’ll have left of each other.