Later Alligator is a point ‘n’ click, adventure, comedy game developed by Pillow Fight and SmallBu Animation. This short and sweet game is available to play on PC and Switch, and many are hoping for a mobile release as it’s playstyle really lends itself to one. Released in 2019, Later Alligator has remained somewhat a hidden gem of the indie scene, but it’s definitely not one you want to miss. If you’ve never played, I’d recommend closing this page and finding a spoiler-free review, and if you’ve already played the game, make sure you got the true-true ending before you read any further, because we’re going straight into it.
Later Alligator opens with a gorgeous animation intro, where your character-perspective is an alligator that appears to be from out of town, they have a suit and briefcase, and head straight for John-Johnny’s Restaurant and Hotel. There’s very little introduction into who you are and there are a few things about your character that add an air of mystery to the game. For example, there’s your briefcase, (a.k.a., the game menu), which has a knife inside. This should have been a pretty obvious tell for the true ending of the game, but because it was a video game, I didn’t really question the appearance of a knife.
The game tells the story of Pat, a paranoid alligator who’s convinced himself that his family have planned to have him murdered for spilling some family-secret-beans. You find him fidgeting nervously in John Johnny’s Restaurant and Hotel, where he sends you out into the world of Alligator New York City to get information from his family about “The Event”. From the very start of the game, it’s made very clear to the player that “The Event” is just a surprise birthday party for Pat, but this doesn’t take away from the story, in fact, it actually adds to it. It’s quite rare to have a case of dramatic irony in a video game, so it was very refreshing to play where you knew more than the protagonist, but less than the side characters.
As you make your way around Alligator New York city, you come across all kinds of wonderfully wacky characters that are all part of Pat’s family tree. Some of them challenge you to a minigame for more information, however, rather in-line with the game’s tone, the information you receive is rarely anything more than you already knew, if anything at all. The mini games are hugely fun, probably because of how varied they are, you can go from a grabber machine at the arcade, to divvying out who gets what in some family inheritance- there’s something for everyone! The animation is relatively simple, but each little fidget creates so much characterisation, and the dialogue has a witty loveable tone to it. As well as this, the funky music is brilliant, each track couldn’t suit it’s part of the game more if it tried. Each character is incredibly unique and fun to interact with, the animation style, writing style, and audio really do all come together incredibly well to make such a fun experience for the player.
As your character moves through the game, you’re introduced to a few extra mechanics here and there, including the search for puzzle pieces which are hidden all over the city. When you meet Lovely Maria, Pat’s mum, she has a family tree minigame. You receive a photo of each family member every time you meet a new one, which you can then put on the tree to try and complete it. Although it’s interesting to see it all mapped out in front of you, I did find this minigame relatively tedious. The controls were slow, and you had to drag the frame from side to side as you couldn’t see all your photo pieces and family tree sections at once. The family member’s will all tell you their relation to Pat when you first meet, but it wasn’t something that stuck and so I did dread having to go back to Maria and figure out where everyone was meant to be. More than once, I considered googling a photo of the finished tree just to speed up the process.
There is a mysterious ‘unknown’ number that texts you intermittently throughout the game, they offer tips and advice for the game, and help push the player into looking for the puzzle pieces. I felt this whole mysterious caller thing wasn’t really necessary, and that just a strange character down an alley, or a city tour guide, to tell you about the lesser-known stuff about the city would have made more sense and have been more in-line with the game. Having said that, it did add another layer of mystery to the game. Of course, this mysterious undertone is vital to the game’s true, and true-er ending. You see, the initial ending is as expected, it’s Pat’s birthday party. Despite being predictable from the first 5 minutes of gameplay, it’s still a very sweet reveal, and all of the character’s you managed to find will be at the party. You’re even invited into the family photo! Then, another ending happens once you’ve collected almost all the family tree photos and puzzle pieces. This is where things get really interesting. You character heads out to the balcony at the birthday party, and their trusty detective notebook pops up with one last task: finish the job. You head over to Pat and push him over the edge. No, seriously! You murder the poor guy! But it’s okay! Because once you get all of the puzzle pieces and family photos, something even more crazy happens! You push Pat over, but in a last second of regret, you grab hold of him and hoist him back over- phew! This ending is truly the best example of the studio’s creativity, because a further scene follows where Pat invites you over and it’s revealed that a week ago, when Pat took a bite of his sandwich, some of the sauce spilled out and covered up some words on a hitman ad, and so Pat thought your character was in trouble! So, he called immediately and offered to help you, accidentally hiring his own hitman. The animation here, alongside the comically light-hearted music, and continued silence of your character just make a wonderfully hilarious end to the whole thing. I nearly put the game down after the first ending, but I was curious to see what the puzzle pieces meant, and I’m so glad I went back through. These endings are probably quite easily missed by people, which does make me wonder if it should encourage you to go back through.
I’ve become very used to short narrative games being rather heavy-going, and emotional, but Later Alligator offers a great alternative to story-heavy games. It’s a hilariously light-hearted game, with so many quirky characters that you’ll instantly fall in love with. We can forgive the occasional tricky minigame, or tedious task, because Later Alligator really refreshed and raised the bar for short narrative gaming.