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A little alligator girl stands next to a crane machine in Later Alligator

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Later Alligator review: A relentlessly charming, and hilarious, murder mystery

A “whodunit” waiting to happen

SmallBü/Pillow Fight

Later Alligator, out now on Steam, continues the humor-filled legacy of point-and-click mystery games with its own twist. While it has everything you’d expect, like straightforward gameplay accented by clever writing, it gives its plucky cast of over thirty characters something special: their own unique minigames.

As a pinstripe-suit-wearing detective in a version of New York City inhabited by sentient, bipedal alligators, I must help solve a mystery surrounding a young gator named Pat. Instead of taking part in a “whodunit” murder plot, I help the still-living youth unravel a possible murder plot against him.

My investigation starts off with very few clues. All I have to go on is Pat’s belief that some tragedy will befall him at a special “event” that he and his entire family have been invited to, which also happens to be on the night of his birthday. The teen has a complicated relationship with his family, and suspects that his propensity for mishaps at family functions will finally mean his end at this gathering.

I have only one day to comb the city, interview his relatives, and find out as much as I can before “the event” takes place. Throughout my journey, I meet back up with Pat at the hotel suite he booked himself, an annual birthday tradition of his, to give him updates. I only have a limited amount of time to meet people in the city, and these meetups act as checkpoints in the story.

Pat the alligator from Later Alligator talks about his website.
Yes, this is a real website. Yes, you should visit it now.
SmallBü/Pillow Fight via Polygon

My investigation takes me all over the different parts of the aptly-named Alligator New York City, from a beautiful park to an area literally called the Unsavory Part of Town. In each section, various citizens are strewn about, going about their day. Surprisingly, almost everyone in the city is one of Pat’s relatives. As I encounter members of Pat’s family, I whip out my notepad to ask them all the same three questions: Who are they, what’s their relationship to Pat, and what do they know about “the event?”

These interactions are where Later Alligator really shines, and I found myself bursting into laughter several times while playing. The splendidly silly animations are oozing with character and playful body language. The dialogue is sharp, and thick with all sorts of puns and dad jokes. As each character tells me about themselves, their gesticulating gives way to one of the game’s other core features: a bespoke minigame tailored to each character’s moment in the narrative.

Each of the over thirty family members I run into concede to give up a juicy piece of information if I can complete their unique minigame. The games themselves are as diverse and as silly as the characters who administer them.

One of the first characters I meet is Sweet Geraldine, a little gator girl who has set up shop in front of a crane game in an arcade. Since she’s too short to operate the machine, she enlists my aid to run a “heist” on it. Even though she’s a kid, her lines read like an overeager version of a stereotypical ’50s gangster, just like everyone else in the city. Yet it’s adorable and age appropriate, like a young girl trying to imitate what she’s seen on TV.

An alligator girl talks about a toy she’s holding in Later Alligator SmallBü/Pillow Fight via Polygon

The crane game and its mechanics aren’t particularly special, in fact most of the minigames in Later Alligator aren’t, at least mechanically. But they are all a complete treasure.

Why? Because how each game matches its character and creates the opportunity for standout moments in which that alligator shines.

For example, Sweet Geraldine’s responses to the items I fetch for her are all fun digs at geek pop culture. Later in the game, I assist a helpless cousin by fixing his haunted cellphone. As I search through his apps, his pictures folder is filled with drawings of popular anime characters as alligators. At another point, I play a bizarro version of Flappy Bird where I have to collect meat and other protein-heavy bits of food for a weakling bird who’s friends with yet another alligator cousin. Then there’s a faux date I go on with another member of Pat’s family that unfolds in a way that’s far too spectacular — and funny — to spoil.

Later Alligator is filled with these moments. Every time I meet a new member of Pat’s family, I sit up with delight knowing that I’ll be in for a treat. The dozens of gators I encounter are so cleverly written that their bizarre personalities come alive in every line of dialogue. When it comes time to start their minigame, I eagerly await to see what wonderful pun the game’s creators have come up with for its title. Then there are the games themselves. While they are all short, they are still packed with plenty of opportunities to inject humor, and rarely do they disappoint. To list them all would be to ruin your own fun at discovering each silly twist and surprise.

A pun title for a game in Later Alligator SmallBü/Pillow Fight via Polygon

Gaining more insight into a possible murder plot is an interesting enough thread to keep me pulling on until I get to the end. But every moment of Later Alligator is layered with charming quirks and lovingly groan-worthy jokes, all leading up to the very last moment of the game. While Later Alligator is a fairly short story, it uses up every second to cram more humor in than most feature-length comedy films.

I have never been more invested in saving a video game character’s life, and I certainly didn’t expect to laugh as much as I did while doing so.

Later Alligator is out now on Steam for Mac and Windows. The game was reviewed using a final “retail” download code provided by SmallBü. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.