Lil’ Guardsman – Review
Follow Genre: Point-and-click adventure, puzzle game
Developer: Hilltop Studios
Publisher: Versus Evil
Platform: Switch, PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Tested on: Switch

Lil’ Guardsman – Review

Site Score
Good: A genuinely funny story
Bad: Load times are on the long side
User Score
(1 votes)
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VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

It’s rare for a game trailer to pique our interest in the same way that the one for Lil’ Guardsman did. The cartoon art style was adorable and the jokes seemed right up our alley. When we got a chance to take an in-depth look at the game itself, we were carefully enthusiastic about whether or not Hilltop Studios could meet our expectations. Having spent extended time in the company of Lil and the citizens of the Sprawl, we’re now ready to decide whether or not Lil’ Guardsman should be allowed into our permanent library, or if it should be cast in the deepest dungeons to be forgotten. (Spoiler: it’s the former.)


12-year-old Lil is the daughter of Hamish, one of the gatekeepers of the city-state the Sprawl. Hamish isn’t exactly motivated to do his job, and he’d rather spend his days gambling on Goblinball games and drink away his winnings at the Twisted Sisters tavern. Being the loving father he is, he coerces Lil into covering his shift on the day of a particularly high-stakes Goblinball game. Lil turns out to be quite efficient at gatekeeping. This draws the attention of a trio of shady high-ranking officials, who intend to use the girl to push their own agendas. They’re not very subtle about this, and the snarky and cynical Lil sees right through their plans. However, Lil needs to make sure she and Hamish aren’t fired, so she needs to strike the right balance between keeping her bosses pleased and doing what’s right for the Sprawl. You’d assume that this is already enough for a 12-year-old to deal with, but the Sprawl is a bustling city filled with tons of stories, and Lil has a part to play in these.

From a political plot about a kidnapped princess, who is betrothed to two rival nations, to the time-travel research of the Sprawl’s most prominent scientist, which allows Lil to manipulate time herself, Lil’ Guardsman’s story is a hilarious rollercoaster. The writing pokes fun at fantasy tropes and there is a constant stream of clever jokes and references to pop culture from Ghostbusters to The Lord of the Rings and everything in between. While Lil’ Guardsman isn’t necessarily a family-friendly affair -it’s rated T for Teen- the humor never veers into gross-out or vulgar territory. Lil’s choices also really feel like they matter, and there are plenty of reasons to replay the game to see how things play out should you take things in a different direction.


We absolutely love Lil’ Guardsman’s art direction. The hand-drawn character designs look like they could have stepped directly out of a cartoon show. The one issue we have with Lil’ Guardsman’s visuals is the overall lack of movement. Most characters appear as static sprites that keep the same pose throughout the game. Some characters’ expressions change to match their emotions but this isn’t something that happens consistently throughout the game. Given the vivid art style, the overall feeling of stasis sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s the only real complaint we have about what is otherwise an utterly gorgeous game.


Credit where it is due: Lil’ Guardsman’s voice cast delivers one of the most delightful performances we’ve had the pleasure of hearing in years. The game is fully voiced and every single actor audibly has fun with their character, from the stoic commander Stryker to the campy court jester Malcolm. The original soundtrack is varied and fits the atmosphere, and even if the individual tunes aren’t particularly memorable, and the sound effects are good, the strength of Lil’ Guardsman’s audio really lies in the voices.


If you’ve played the critically acclaimed Papers, Please, then Lil’ Guardsman’s core gameplay will undoubtedly look very familiar. As Lil, you’re manning a guard shed, and you’ll have to decide whether to allow visitors into the Sprawl, turn them away, or even send them to jail. You have several tools at your disposal, ranging from a metal detector to a bullwhip and a nifty device that lets you turn back time should you have made a wrong decision. These items all have limited uses, and most of them need to be powered by crystals, meaning you’ll have to know when to use them. Additionally, the guard shed has a telephone line, which lets you call one of the three city officials: guard commander Stryker, noblewoman Ashe, or court jester Malcolm. They’ll happily provide you with their advice on how to deal with a visitor, but they often contradict one another and their opinions usually only serve to further their own agendas.

Lil has a limited number of action points she can spend on each visitor, and at the end of a shift, she gets a performance review. If her performance ever drops beneath two stars, she’s fired. The higher the score, the more money she earns, which is spent on upgrading her tools and buying more crystals. There is also a daily writ, which sets custom objectives for every day, and which lets Lil earn bonus money occasionally. All of this ties into a hidden bonus objective for most visitors. Some of them have secrets that Lil can uncover, while others require specific actions to be undertaken to please the bosses. Doing so fleshes out each character while increasing Lil’s overall shift score, but often requires having access to the right tools and enough action points. There is very little margin for error here. Making the wrong choice can result in Lil’s untimely death, however. During our playthroughs, she was chopped to death by a raging berserker and burnt alive by a psychotic Disney princess expy. Like we said: Lil’ Guardsman isn’t a family-friendly affair.

The choices Lil makes during her gatekeeping shifts directly influence the flow of the story as well as the secondary half of the gameplay. Lil’ Guardsman isn’t just a Papers, Please-like, but it’s also a fully-fledged humorous point-and-click adventure, in a similar vein to classic LucasArts games like the Monkey Island series or Lost in Play. Characters that Lil lets in pop up across the Sprawl and they all have their part to play. Initially, the point-and-click half of Lil’ Guardsman isn’t as fleshed out as the gatekeeping half, although there are some fun surprises, like Lil being tricked into participating in a game show. Early on, this half of the game pushes the narrative forward and serves as a way to generate extra income, by selling items you confiscate from visitors or by placing illegal bets on Goblinball matches.

Gradually, things become more involved as the story opens up. Before you know it you’re drafting unsuspecting visitors into the Sprawl’s army in order to fight a war Lil inadvertently caused. There is one real issue we had with Lil’ Guardsman and that is that the load times were surprisingly long for a game with a relatively simple appearance. Given that the loading screen is pitch black, we assumed that the game had crashed when we first ran into this. In the grand scheme of things, this is a minor issue, of course, and you shouldn’t let this prevent you from picking up Lil’ Guardsman. At €19.99, the game doesn’t exactly break the bank either and we’d say that it is worth every penny.


It’s still early in 2024, but Lil’ Guardsman is already a contender for our favorite game of the year. There are a handful of minor niggles that stop it from achieving perfection. For example, we would have loved it had the gorgeous visuals been more animated and the load times are a bit too long for how simple the game is. However, the witty writing, high replay value, and fantastic voice acting more than make up for these minor shortcomings.

VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:R_U [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Lil' Guardsman - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 1 rating

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