Everyone has something they loved spending time with in the past — a restaurant, a daily-playing video game, a group of friends — only to one day inadvertently enjoy doing it for the last time. It’s a poignant and often heartbreaking truth about how places evolve, tastes change, and priorities shift as we all grow up. For the unnamed protagonist in the Little Gator game, that activity is live-action role-playing with his older sister. With his sister home from college, Gator hatches a master plan to distract her from her coursework for another game. The resulting adventure is a short, sweet, Zelda-inspired romance that engages our own bittersweet nostalgia for the activities, places, and people with whom we once spent our days but no longer do for one reason or another.
Much like the play sessions the protagonist seeks to enjoy with his sister, Lil Gator game draws heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda franchise. Although Gator’s plan boils down to recruiting friends to decorate and role-play at the playground, it turns out like a grand adventure. Cardboard cut-outs of fantasy mainstays like slimes, bats, and carnivorous plants populate every corner of the island, giving you the chance to take down “enemies” and collect loot. Though they take on the appearance of these fantasy-adventure villains, they are lifeless and are essentially sword fodder and window decoration. Still, picking them out is satisfying and rewarding as they delightfully crumble and degenerate into the primary currency for most cosmetic items.
The primary focus of the Lil Gator game is exploration, as the gator scavenges islands for friends to help renovate the playing field. Gator can climb (with an upgradeable stamina bar), swim, jump, and paraglide on any surface in search of his fellow anthropomorphic island residents. Exploration is often intuitive, descending to climb to the highest area to find the closest friends, then navigating back to them. However, with many locations in the picturesque main island appearing similar and not having access to the minimap, it’s easy to get bogged down.
Once you find other animals, there is often a short quest to complete before they will join your cause. I’m not generally the biggest Fetch-Quest fan, but these are nice and fast enough that I didn’t mind them. Quests range from sledding down hills on your shield to helping other animals play their games; A thematically relevant questline required me to interrupt a mother’s work call so she could attend a tea party with her daughter. Each mission you complete adds friends to your playing field, paving the way for the next upgrade. Some of Lil Gator Game’s main quests require you to recruit high-value animals like a theater troupe or “the cool kids” to join your game, and there are several parts to it. Although most of the quests are uneven and repetitive, I loved checking them off my to-do list and adding NPCs to my playground; I still went back after the credits rolled to recruit the remaining friends.
As you navigate the islands, you also uncover memories from Gator’s younger days playing with his sister. These are nothing more than drops of quick monologue in the form of stumbling over gator territories, but they went a long way to make me feel more invested in the modern-day story. I don’t want to spoil the narrative, but it culminates in several lovely meditations on the importance of being present, even as your life changes and your priorities shift. As we grow up, the world places expectations on us, and meeting those expectations often comes at the cost of things we once enjoyed. Nothing lasts forever, and the Lil Gator game reminds us that while it’s good to be responsible, we should always maintain a childlike sense of wonder, imagination, and fun.
Lil Gator Game is as sweet as it is short, with the main story lasting just under five hours, but that’s all it should be. I loved exploring every nook and corner of the world for new friends, loot and memories during that time. By the time the story was over, the game had delivered a poignant and poignant message about balancing the important parts of our lives. Lil Gator game is the best Zelda-like I’ve played, but it’s probably the one that will stick with me the longest.