Later Alligator review
Humor can be hit-or-miss, and for every classic comedy adventure like Day of the Tentacle or the Leisure Suit Larry series, there are a hundred misfires that would take far too long to list. Even the best comedy games might not work for everyone, but I’d be surprised if Later Alligator doesn’t at least make you smile—how could anyone resist the colorful, wacky cast of reptiles populating Alligator New York City? This game charmed me from its very first moments and didn’t let up until the credits rolled. Every new screen is full of laugh-out-loud funny writing, memorable characters, and excellent 2D animation. Though the minigame-heavy gameplay might turn off some adventure game fans, Later Alligator is one of the most delightful titles I’ve enjoyed in a while.
You play as a private investigator called to help a nervous gator named Pat discover the truth behind the big secret event his family is hosting that night. Pat, sitting in a hotel lobby and anxiously tugging at his collar, believes that the event is his family’s attempt to “rub him out” for “squealing” on them. Your job is to talk to all the family members (and it’s a big family) to find out exactly what they have planned for the mysterious event—but you only have a single day.
Navigating the city and talking to the gators all takes simulated in-game time, yet I never felt that I was trying to frantically beat the clock. You’re given a watch that enables you to keep track of the hour, but the consequences for running out of time aren’t too harsh—you’ll just get an ending missing the characters you weren’t able to talk to. It’s possible to ignore the timer entirely and just play at your own pace, with the knowledge that a second playthrough is strongly encouraged anyway.
The story isn’t terribly complex, and you shouldn’t expect deep investigative gameplay, but the setup is just enough of an excuse for you to get out into the town and start talking to the large cast of eccentric alligators. The writing is witty and hilarious, so much so that I found myself taking screenshots of my favorite moments to send to friends, whether it was one of the many fourth-wall-breaking gags, the elaborate parody of dating sim visual novels, the alligator puns . . . even the names of some of the minigames are funny. Humor is woven into every aspect, right down to the game’s way of explaining how to navigate the screens being revealed through a marquee sign that reads: “THIS WEEK CLICK AND DRAG UP AND DOWN!”
You play by simply pointing, clicking, and dragging your character around the city, with minigames using the mouse and (occasionally) keyboard. Along the bottom of the screen is a briefcase with the things you’ve collected, your watch to make sure you can get back to Pat in time, and a tram symbol used to travel between the game’s four (or perhaps more?) locations. Every conversation with a family member involves you choosing questions from your notepad—though “choosing” may not be the right word, as you’re given the same three questions in every conversation: “WHOM?,” “PAT?,” and “the ‘EVENT?’” But though the questions may not change, the responses you get are always amusing and different from each person you ask. The gators are hesitant to tell you about the “event,” but maybe, just maybe they’ll blab a little bit if you do something for them. This is where the minigames come in, in the form of favors, challenges, and requests from the various family members.
The thirty minigames vary from a crane game to win an action figure, to a tile-sliding puzzle to restore old family photos, to a matching memorization activity where you have to find the two drawers containing identical shoes while avoiding the horrors of a haunted armoire—with each spooky drawer you open adding to the character’s anxiety meter. Most of these minigames don’t have a timer or require lightning-fast reflexes, with only a few somewhat action-based challenges like pinball and a goofy Flappy Bird clone. These tasks are almost all funny and enjoyable to play, save for a few that rely a bit too much on luck. This wouldn’t be a problem if you could try them again as many times as you want without penalty, but each time you need to replay a minigame, you lose fifteen minutes in the race to help Pat.
The time mechanic isn’t a huge drawback, however, because even if you win all of the minigames on the first try, you will still have to play the game a second time to meet all the family members and get the extended ending. The “regular” ending is perfectly satisfying and feels complete in its own right, but trust me when I say that it really is worth going for the extended version.
Later Alligator is clearly intended to be replayed, as you’re able to seamlessly start again without going through all of the beginning dialogue and tutorial material (there’s even an achievement for starting a second playthrough). As there are more family members than time in a single playthrough, the second time offers an opportunity to meet the rest of the cast, collect anything you haven’t found yet, and take another look at the terrific animation. You’ll have to play a few minigames again the second time around, as they’re tied to story events, but otherwise you won’t have to repeat much. Each playthrough took me about two hours, and while I wish it had been longer, I wasn’t disappointed with the length. Even though I know there won’t be anything new now that I’ve met all the family members and collected all the puzzle pieces, I can see myself going back just to enjoy the jokes and characters again.
Completing a minigame gets you a badge with that family member’s face on it, which you can then take to Pat’s mom Lovely Maria to add to the family tree. It’s nice to see the tree fill out as you collect badges, and the collecting never feels tedious when the characters are so vibrant and full of life. Among the reptiles you meet are Joanie, the cool leather jacket-clad pinball whiz; Tin Lizzy, the up-and-coming social media influencer that isn’t really doing any influencing yet; and Bobby Blue Eyes, a tough gator with a secret soft side. It’s a shame that there’s no voice acting, but the dialogue and terrific animation make each character stand out anyway.
Exploring Alligator New York City is a joy, with each screen—from a dusty antique shop to the dark alley in the “unsavory part of town” to an Alligator Memorial Park—featuring fun details and things to interact with. Clicking on certain objects will trigger a brief amusing animation: an eye carved into a cabinet might blink if you click it, or a sign might light up. Sometimes your cursor will change to a magnifying glass as you hover over a spot on the screen, which means that a puzzle piece is hidden there. As with the family portrait badges you collect, finding all of the pieces leads to a few fun surprises later on.
If I haven’t mentioned it enough times already, Later Alligator has an excellent animated cartoon art style courtesy of Smallbü Animation, the Emmy-winning husband-and-wife creators of Baman Piderman who have also worked on projects like Adventure Time. The greyscale backgrounds contribute to the feeling of an old detective movie (albeit much sillier) and help the colors of the alligators themselves stand out. Each family member you meet has a distinctive design with gestures to match: Pat nervously tugs at his collar, the suspicious “Black Widow” theatrically mimes distress over her late husband’s death, and the members of the barbershop quartet dance as they serenade. Everywhere you go, alligators walk the streets and family members go about their business when you’re not talking to them—the world feels impressively alive thanks to the care put into the animation.
The soundscape is enjoyable as well, with effective and occasionally humorous effects supplementing a jaunty, sometimes jazzy score unique to each location. The only real drawback in the audio department is the lack of voice acting. The expressive character animation certainly helps infuse each of the gators with personality, but I would have loved to hear actors performing these roles. They’re hilarious written out, but this is one game that could have really benefitted from the addition of spoken lines.
Later Alligator is not a traditional adventure; there are no puzzles outside of the minigames, and the race against the clock and the degree of dexterity required for some tasks means that you’ll be in for a slightly different game experience. So if you’re looking for a laid-back game that you can take at your own pace, this might not be for you. But for players of all ages interested in a short but sweet and consistently funny adventure with a nice variety of gameplay activities that will take more than one playthrough to complete, Later Alligator is a great choice that’s hard not to love.
Later Alligator may turn off some adventure fans with its minigame-heavy gameplay, but those willing to try something different will find a beautifully animated, wonderfully replayable and often hilarious experience.