Lil Guardsman offers an intriguing and easily completable puzzle, wrapped in a cartoony art style with superb script writing. Let yourself become the gatekeeper of the city and decide the fate of all the visitors flocking to the Sprawl, and the city itself.
Halt! Who goes there? Trying to enter the gates of the Sprawl, are we? Well, first you’ve got to get past Lil. Imagine if Cartoon Network made a Papers, Please, with just a sprinkle of Terry Pratchett’s whimsy in there, and you’ve got Lil’ Guardsman.
Lovingly crafted by Hilltop Games, Lil’ Guardsman draws a lot of inspiration from Papers, Please, and Night In The Woods, which shines through thanks to its excellent writing, witty characters, and gameplay of checking people’s documents and bags as they approach your booth at the city gates.
I tried Papers, Please, and while I like the premise, it’s far too overwhelming. Hence why I was looking forward to this, as it’s a much more accessible game of the same theme… but a lot less Soviet.
You’re tasked with covering your father’s job as the gatekeeper of your hometown, the Sprawl, where a constant stream of visitors attempts to get entry. You’re also a 12-year-old girl named Lil – get it? She’s the little guardsman called Lil? I digress. As you’re sat in the guard’s booth, different people come up and ask for entry to the city.
It’s up to you to decide whether they mean well or are hiding something. Will you accept bribes, and open the gates to ne’er-do-wells? Or will you let only the nicest and most well-meaning folks in and help to change people’s perspectives on goblins? Whatever you do, pay attention to the Royal Writ on the wall, where new rules appear and hints about who you need to look out for.
Don’t worry, you may have been thrust into the workforce at a young age, but you have tools at your disposal and you can phone a friend – not a real-life friend, but one of the three city heads that also pass on specific rules as to who can and cannot enter the Sprawl. Your tools include an X-ray, metal detector, truth spray (a personal favorite), and some weaponry. Oh, and a newfangled doodad that can rewind time.
It’s not all sitting in a booth and denying access to suspicious persons, though – Lil gets up to some other shenanigans. At one point, you find yourself in a sort of medieval dating show set-up, where you as a 12-year-old citizen, must decide which mighty hero is set out on a quest, by asking intriguing questions about their past and hypothetical scenarios. At one point, there’s a giant, red demon that speaks in Latin at you and is totally not trying to curse you or anything, but don’t worry about that either.
Do bear in mind that if you’re offered a choice, it does affect the city. Like naming the Goblinball stadium. I chose a silly answer and now live to somewhat regret it. Also, you can choose to defy the rules about letting certain people in, if you can front the cost of a fine. I personally could not, so I’m very sorry, but I couldn’t disobey and let the goblins in. I have learned my lesson for next time.
As you settle into your new work-life balance, you can enjoy conversations between characters that are laced with funny quips and plenty of sass, especially our main character Lil, who seems wise beyond her years at times.
I genuinely had a great time playing this. It’s fun, it’s funny, and the art style is delightful to look at – and better yet, there are no hang-ups on the Switch or any performance issues at all. In total, the game takes around ten hours total for you to get everything done and go back in time to rectify any mistakes. Psh, what? No, I totally didn’t mess it up and have to restart days…
The only thing I couldn’t quite get the hang of is maxing out the rating and getting four stars for each person you do or do not let through the gates. Three stars get you your full pay, but there’s an elusive fourth star which seems a little fickle to get. Sometimes it seems to happen randomly, other times I try to get four stars and am merely awarded three. Perhaps a replay is in order.
Clearly, a lot of passion went into making Lil’ Guardsman and it truly paid off. The performance is great, the art style is delightful, there’s a full cast providing excellent voice acting for every character, and the writing comes out on top. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in a fun, fairly simple, point-and-click adventure.