A short but absolutely sweet game about exploring, playing and ragdolling
Open-world games have a difficult and often impossible line to balance: On one hand, there's creating large, expansive sandboxes to make it look like the game will be a colossal experience, while on the other, ensuring that there are enough activities and content to keep said sandbox from feeling like one big hiking trip. Lil Gator Game forgoes that first point to make instead a delightful adventure that can be finished in a few play sessions that's up to its ears in charm, comedy and charming comedy. When my only 'major' criticism is that the script can sometimes be a little too silly, this game is a delight and then some.
Lil Gator Game's premise is creating a grand adventure and play session for Lil Gator's (the playable character) Big Sis, who's visiting from college but is stuck doing academic work. While creating this game for her to play, Lil Gator themselves goes on a grand adventure to recruit others to assist in the project. There won't be personnel or base management, as recruiting friends involves finding them and completing a quest, be it locating something, smashing cardboard monsters or conducting a time trial. Excluding the major quests that lead to the game's finale and use these recruited friends, these smaller tasks take only a few minutes and often will point you toward other characters to talk to, or cardboard entities to bop for more loot (the in-game currency).
Rewards are regular in the game, as some quests award new equipment that is often just aesthetic in terms of their use but can have additional effects, like a headband that lets you run faster or a trampoline shield that's unruly to handle but lets you get great air. Lil Gator isn't the swiftest reptile on foot (though their waddling is adorable), but when combining movement options like gliding, shield surfing and hovering, getting around feels satisfying, doubly so when chaining these movement techniques together. They're seldom-needed save for cases of needing to get somewhere high or doing a time trial, but goofing around still feels fun and can lead to new discoveries.
This isn't the most challenging game out there, as most of the challenge comes from getting around or finding the right angle/height to hit cardboard enemies or pots. Aside from the presentation and satisfying (if simple) movement, the main appeal comes from its writing and charm. Being a story about a younger sibling trying to help their older one have fun from 'adult stuff', the kids (and occasional adults) you'll meet around the island all have simple and kid-like problems to solve: One wants to help revive a sapling, while another wants to fit in with 'cool kids' by using the most rad pose possible. One kid wants a tea party with their busy parent, while another wants to make amends with their friends. It's all so endearingly wholesome and frequently funny, to boot. Some gags and jokes caught me off-guard and made me laugh out loud. The script did dip into randomly silly dialogue that felt like it was trying too hard to elicit a laugh, but it always stayed within its welcome and avoided detracting from the other, better jokes. Other than the finale turning me into an absolute wreck of an emotional mess, I had a big ol' smile while playing Lil Gator Game from start to end.
Excluding some anti-aliasing and lightning bugs here and there, Lil Gator Game is not the most technical game in terms of its visuals, but they're a dream to look at. Even with its bright colors, the art style keeps the world grounded and realistic with its autumnal weather when hoofing it around in the lowlands or higher up in the hills, with vibrant orange, yellow and green leaves both fallen and on trees. Added to this is the dynamic soundtrack with a folksy arrangement that only adds to the childlike glee about this 'little big' adventure, making exploring for loot and quests have the added benefit of giving you regularly changing music to mellow out with.
I finished Lil Gator Game in about 4.8 hours, and with some apparent secrets and 100% to strive for, the replay value is only the best if you're interested in the speedrunning tools. With a price tag of $25.99 (CAD), I was also hoping for a bit more in terms of content, namely with minigames or mobility options - There is a piece of equipment that lets you ragdoll on command so that alone had sold me once I found it. Lil Gator Game is mainly about exploring, its story and experiencing the delightful comedy it has to offer. You won't be hard-pressed for challenging inputs or much decision-making outside of your equipment for style points, so if you're the type who wants more agency in their gameplay outside of which direction to go next, you may not enjoy yourself fully. Past that caveat? I absolutely recommend Lil Gator Game as a short but wonderfully sweet joy.
(Note: My account doesn't have the ability to add images anymore, which is why this review is text only.)