Lil Gator Game is the Zelda-like I didn’t know I needed

At the first blush, Lil Gator game looks like a zoomed in and smoothed out version of A short walk. While the game certainly seems to be heavily influenced by the indie darling – from the cute animal characters to the larger park setting – it was also clearly influenced by another series of games: The Legend of Zelda.

The developers of MegaWobble have caught on Lil Gator game packed with Zelda references. The game literally begins with a conversation between two characters about a “legend of hero” game, and one of the first items you’ll get is a glider-turned-glider T-shirt with a design similar to Link’s paraglider in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But Lil Gator game isn’t just a transparent ploy to appeal to old Zelda fans through references; it’s the Zelda-esque I didn’t know I needed. It combines the exploration elements of Breath of the Wild with a sense of charm and seriousness that reminds me of The Wake up windr, telling an overarching story that is a joyful ode to those of us who grew up playing Zelda games and wanted to be Link.

Lil Gator game follows the story of a little alligator – I named mine Ham – and their older sister. When you start out, you can see the two of them as kids as they decide to make their own version of a ‘legend of hero’ game that they can play outside with two players. Fast-forward a few years, and the older sister has grown up and gone to college. Much to Ham’s delight, she returns home for fall break, but he soon finds herself glued to her computer working on a group project. Ham then takes it upon himself to create a game so cool their sister can’t resist playing it again, just like the two did as kids.

Image: MegaWobble/Playtonic Friends

The general premise of the game is simple. As a little alligator, you run around looking for friends and fulfill their requests as part of your made-up game. There are additional features that I’ll let players discover on their own, but the bulk of the in-game action consists of climbing, sliding, and collecting scraps of cardboard from enemy cut-out props to craft new items and outfits. As you explore the forested island park, venture up and around waterfalls, make your way through playsets, and enjoy the fall hues of the yellow, orange, and red trees.

While the gameplay seems to have more influence Breath of the Wildwhat struck me, and what I really love about the game, is how it balances the childlike veneer of the protagonist’s perspective with a gripping emotional core reminiscent of Wind Waker.

The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker follows a young Link as he embarks on a journey to rescue his kidnapped sister from Ganon. It’s the first Zelda game that made me cry; the clip of Link waving hello to his grandma against the big blue sky permanently cut into my childhood brain. that game, like many Zelda games, has a bleak story at its center, but it also has a cartoonish, cel-shaded look and decidedly whimsical dialogue and world design. Link fights monsters, but also encounters eccentric characters, such as a man who dons an all-white fringe jacket and dances day and night and a group of school kids who bully Link but then challenge him to play hide and seek.

Image: MegaWobble/Playtonic Friends via Polygon

Lil Gator game contains a similar sense of levity that I miss in modern Zelda games. The game exudes childlike playfulness; some characters burst into rainbow confetti to get out, and the scribbled text is not properly capitalized or punctuated. You can turn a corner on a hill and see a monkey wearing a tuxedo and colorful bangles up to their armpits, or complete an entire quest line to turn on the water for the local splash pad.

But just like in Wind Waker, the childlike nature of the game goes along with the deeper emotional story. While you explore Lil Gator gameworld, you’ll find the island steeped in the memories of past adventures; you will occasionally see gray versions of you and your sister related to that past. Interacting with these silhouettes will reveal all of your character’s and their sister’s past memories – from the two sharing a quiet moment between sheer cliffs to the couple happily jumping down a hill.

An image of a little alligator texting their sister in Lil Gator Game.  There's a crazy selfie on the phone.  The lyrics read: “sister!  i thought this weird round thing was weird anyway / but my friend revealed he's an alchemist!

I just live for Ham’s selfies.
Image: MegaWobble/Playtonic Friends via Polygon

The commitment of Lil Gator game are considerably smaller than those in Wind Waker; you don’t save your sister from Ganon, but from the stress of a group project. Either way, the emotional drive feels just as important. Whenever you complete a quest, the alligator sends a crazy selfie to their sister to show them how cool everything is. They often text their sister twice or thrice in their excitement, but get rather muted responses. The alligator’s genuine love for their sister almost feels sad, but also touching, as it neatly depicts what a one-sided relationship can look like when people are at different stages in their lives.

It’s a beautiful gem of a game that touches on my nostalgia for Zelda, yet managed to tell a unique story through the relationship of the gator and their sister. It’s a story about the little alligator’s deeper desire to reconnect with someone in the present, and how games make that possible. So if you are rather looking for a charming pick-me-up The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom comes out, don’t ignore it Lil Gator game.

Lil Gator Game is the Zelda-like I didn’t know I needed

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