Little Things: Tail 'Gator

Tail ‘Gator is one of those early Game Boy titles that stood all by itself. It has no tie-ins, no sequels, and no subsequent cameos for its reptile hero. It doesn’t even have the odd connections of Trip World (which is a spiritual successor to Mr. Gimmick) or Chalvo 55 (which stars the robot from the canceled Virtual Boy game Bound High). Nope, Tail ‘Gator is just a side-scrolling action game that Natsume released back in 1991.

Yet Tail ‘Gator is great fun. Its protagonist is an alligator named Charly, and he counters the menace of a dragon overlord by jumping around and whacking things with his tail—or launching a fiery tail-shaped corona across the screen, if he’s grabbed enough power-ups. The game runs through different realms that follow such standard templates as sky and water levels, and most of the stages are nicely designed despite their find-the-key simplicity and Charly’s sluggish movement. In fact, Tail ‘Gator is one of the best action games the Game Boy saw in its first few years on the market, and it has an appropriately small and devoted fan contigent.

Natsume also crammed Tail ‘Gator with a lot of entertaining details, all the more impressive considering the Game Boy’s small screen and the primitive graphics of many of its titles. My favorite little touch can be seen when Charly leaps into a waterfall.

Instead of just floating around, he spins through the water with a look of goggle-eyed perplexity on his face. The player can control just where he leaves the waterfall, but I prefer to let Charly drift through it in some embryonic trance. He even looks like a little tadpole.

Not that alligators are ever tadpoles. They hatch from eggs as baby alligators and are often devoured by their own species.

My second favorite detail comes when Charly takes too much damage and drifts up off the screen, gazing ruefully above him. A lot of games show dead heroes and heroines ascending to heaven, but they nearly always have robes, halos, and wings. Charly has none of these, and it makes perfect eschatological sense when you think about it. He won’t get angelic vestments until he actually reaches heaven.

Tail ‘Gator has a small legacy. It’s considered rare among Game Boy collectors, so you’d pay at least $80 for bare cartridge, its label showing an angrier and more realistic Charly wrecking a wall while a frog just stares in the background. That comes to about $20 per square inch of plastic and microchips, so I don’t recommend it.

A Virtual Console release would be nice for those who want to play the game without emulated thievery, but Natsume reported that Nintendo’s pretty much done with bringing Game Boy games to the 3DS. Tough luck, Charly. You can go play in the waterfall until you feel better.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Consider me part of the "small, devoted fan contigent" you mentioned in this post. Strangely, though, I've only become a fan of it in recent years--after reading good things about it on some other site or blog. I played it shortly after and immediately became smitten with it. Like you suggest here, it's far from a perfect game, but even then it looks great in comparison to other GB efforts, it has a *great* soundtrack, and it's quite fun to play. Too bad copies tend to go for a pretty penny these days...

  3. Gah! Sorry for deleting my initial comment and then posting an exact copy of it a few seconds later. At the risk of making you think I'm completely insane (not that there's anything wrong with that), I deleted it because I noticed "contingent" was spelled wrong in the initial comment and wanted to fix it. Which of course I failed to do before I republished the comment XD

  4. Reverand Plissy Hogswaith7:40 AM

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