What do you get when you mix Professor Layton with Adventure Time? The comparison doesn’t even begin to do it justice, but that’s vaguely what to expect from the brilliant Later Alligator, brought to you by the brains and pens that made Baman Piderman (as well as a couple of episodes of the aforementioned Adventure Time).
Later Alligator is a big, long goof of a game that’ll make you smile like a crocodile. Every minute of this game is crafted with love, attention to detail, and a sense of humour that could even cause you to wee yourself a little bit. And somehow, despite being a noir story about helping out a paranoid alligator by playing a bunch of minigames, it’s surprisingly relatable. Who among us has not jumped to conclusions about whether or not our weird Mafia family are plotting to kill us?
The story is thus: it’s Pat’s birthday, but he’s relatively sure that his Mafia family is plotting to kill him. He hires you, a stranger who is also an alligator, to spend a few hours in Alligator New York City, meeting his extensive family and performing small feats for them as favours in order to learn more about the “surprise” they’re planning for Pat.
These small feats are individual minigames, and all of them are incredibly silly. Flours of Annoy is a Towers of Hanoi-like game about stacking pancakes for an excitable four-year-old; Knife to Meet You is one of those games where you stab the table (but try to avoid your fingers) that gets increasingly ludicrous; Watch A Totally Normal Baby is… exactly what it sounds like, for sure, definitely. It’s hard to tell if the titles or the minigames came first, because each one is a groan-worthy delight of punnery and winks to the camera. Later Alligator is not shy about going full ‘dad-joke’, and it commits with aplomb.
The titles, descriptions, and dialogue are what set this game apart from the rest: every single sentence is dripping with wit and imagination, from the bit where you have to find Pat’s hotel door code by visiting his website, alligator.fun, to helping a gay anime-loving alligator to exorcise the anime ghosts from his phone (“Ghost In The Cell”). There are even some pretty great references and parodies hidden here and there, which we won’t spoil. In fact, it was hard to choose screenshots for this review, because so many of the lines we wanted to showcase are best discovered by the player. Trust us!
Of course, we would be idiots for not mentioning the animation. It’s no surprise that SmallBu is an Emmy Award-winning studio; even with just the two of them on the team, they have a unique style that’s full of personality and charm. Each character wiggles and flaps their alligator arms around like an excited toddler telling you about a Really Big Dog they saw, and it’s utterly charming.
It can be frustrating to play certain minigames that seem designed to be hard to play – like the Towers of Hanoi pancake-stacking game moving around at one point – and the sensitive cursor is tricky to control, too. Some games are better played in handheld, since you can use the touchscreen for better accuracy. You’ll get the chance to replay any minigames you fail, but it’ll cost you time – and you only have limited time before the plot rushes things along, and a retry may cost you the ability to meet every ‘gator and play all of the games.
Now, Later Alligator is a short game – maybe around 2-6 hours or so – and people expecting something a little bit more substantial time-wise may find themselves disappointed. But Later Alligator benefits from multiple playthroughs, with three separate endings and a few side-missions that you may have missed the first time around, like collectable puzzle pieces hidden around the world that recall Professor Layton’s hint coins.
More than that, though, it’s a true joy to find a game that doesn’t stretch out its stellar moments with long sections of padding. Every minute you spend in Later Alligator is time well-spent, with background details to look at, terrible puns to appreciate, and a noodly jazz soundtrack that’s full of bops. It’s worth the price, we say, because it has the highest laughs per second (LPS) of any game we’ve played. That’s damn good value!