It’s weird to think of a game as a Breath of the Wild like when there’s no real combat, stakes aren’t terribly high, and the wide open spaces aren’t necessary large. Not to mention when playing this game also feels like heading into an entirely new A Short Hike story. Yet when it comes to Lil Gator Game, it is impossible to talk about it without also citing the developer’s affection for both A Short Hike and BOTW, as gameplay cues from both keep popping up.
Lil Gator and their sister share a love of… a certain game series with a young person in a floppy hat with a sword and shield. The affection is so great that years ago, the sister “created” the game in the real world when her younger sibling was desperate to play the next entry. Years later, said sister is back from college visiting, and the Lil Gator is with her at the same park from their original escapade. They even recruited a group of their friends to recreate the game on a larger scale. However, real life obligations and time caused a divide between the siblings, and it is up to Lil Gator to go through the game in the hopes of reminding her of its magic and enticing her to play again. Does it eventually feel like something a good heart-to-heart would fix? (Yes, and some characters even note this.) Still, it takes the long way around to come to a satisfying resolution.
Ahead of launch, MegaWobble cited A Short Hike, Night in the Woods, and The Legend of Zelda as inspirations, and this is very clear in many ways. For example, the narrative calls to mind the charm and coziness of both A Short Hike and Night in the Woods. Characters are charming and personable, even if you only spend a few minutes with them. It feels like coming home to a small town filled with childhood friends. Exploration is encouraged, with extra “monsters” to defeat for more recyclable materials hiding in extra niches. Not to mention, you’re on two islands that wouldn’t look out of place in A Short Hike’s forest.
With the gameplay, both The Legend of Zelda and A Short Hike’s tendencies come through in Lil Gator Game. A stamina system is in play, though here you’re collecting bracelets instead of feathers to scale slopes. You get a glider, though it’s really an old t-shirt. There’s a shield, but odds are you’re using it as a sled. All monsters are made of cardboard, but you’ll still be using a “sword” to “slay” them. Also, there are lots of pots filled with, yes, more recyclable materials for crafting.
There’s also a bit of “snap to” for some elements, which makes potential platforming moments a little easier. For example, if Lil Gator climbs a tree, then they will automatically “perch” on the very top. If you jump onto a wire, you’ll automatically land on it and be able to walk across without worrying about balancing. Before you start getting more bracelets to build up stamina, there’s usually a good jump left in you at the end, so you can perhaps reach the tops of hills or cliffs that might otherwise seem intimidating. I also didn’t have any trouble with the “ranged” attacks on “flying” enemies or when trying to get some from a distance.
I’d almost say that the result makes Lil Gator Game feel like if A Short Hike was both longer and more motivation to take off on tangents. At times I felt more incentive to continue to explore the world, try and find additional side quests, and earn unlockables. These are purely cosmetic, so all of those extra excursions are optional. But also, much like A Short Hike, a part of the joy comes from avoiding the straightforward path to meet all of these additional characters.
Given how often I’ve said “A Short Hike” in this Lil Gator Game review, someone might wonder that could work against it. Could it crossover over from homage and lovingly inspired by to plagiarism? Fortunately, no! I felt that even if there is any thematic overlap, it isn’t too egregious. I reveled in the game and enjoyed it for what it is, even if after a half-hour I did find myself going to double check to see if adamgryu was involved somehow. There is a similar wooded island structure, character designs, and general atmosphere. When so much of a thing’s identity is tied to others, there is always the fear of it having an identity crisis. But this is a situation in which if someone enjoys one, they will like the other. Lil’ Gator Game sets itself apart the more you play it.
Lil Gator Game is an adventure that ambles along, taking elements from games its developer loved and implementing them along the way. In a way, that might also keep some players from connecting with it. But even so, it is generally a charming and cozy way to spend some afternoons.
Lil Gator Game is available for the Nintendo Switch and PC.