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Lil’ Guardsman – Review

We’re not all twelve-year-old girls with full-time jobs and responsibility for an entire city’s well-being, but we can at least pretend, thanks to Lil Guardsman. Step into the shoes of little Lil as she covers just one shift for her dad at the gatehouse. Two days of shenanigans later, Lil finds herself in a more permanent position with three royal advisors on her back and a magic hourglass in her inventory.

Lil speaking on the phone in the guardhouse, a cyclops is awaiting entry

Lil’s job consists of interrogating and investigating citizens as they attempt to pass into the city. She can decide whether to admit or deny with a later option to send folks straight to jail. You make these decisions based on what each person tells you, or quite often, what they don’t tell you.

For each visitor, you get three actions. You can use these to speak to them and Lil will ask her own questions but you have the option of how to respond – either believe, doubt or tease. You also have the three advisors at the end of the phone for “advice” – they usually have their own interests at heart, but their words can give you additional context.

There’s also a cupboard of tools to give you an advantage, each use requires a power crystal but being able to squirt someone with Truth Spray, scan them with an x-ray or give them a quick lick of a bull-whip can reveal so much information. There’s also that magic hourglass, the Chronometer 3000, that lets you replay encounters. Handily, this means you can extract whatever information you can and then skip back and use that to tailor your approach.

a cupboard inventory screen with various tools hanging up

The truth spray is so helpful it’s hard not to want to use that every time, and the X-ray can uncover most hidden items. However, sometimes you can get what you need by just interrogating three times. The tools are balanced out a bit as you can only assign one power crystal to each when you start out, which works out as one use per shift. You can pay coins to unlock more crystal slots but I never seemed to have enough gold or crystals on my first playthrough. You can earn more money by getting higher ratings on your shift or by selling items, but I always held onto my inventory in case it came in handy later.

Upon first glance, the setup seems similar to Papers Please; a guard booth, a queue of people looking to gain entry and a list of rules of who to admit or deny. However, the setting is much less oppressive and encourages you to make your own judgements. Getting a full interaction with an individual can often be more important than letting them in or not. It’s a more chill vibe that encourages experimentation but it did mean I occasionally lost sight of my goals. 

Lil speaking to townsfolk at a diner/bar inspired by Americana

You’ll need all your tools, intuition and any advice you can get to get the best outcome from each possible entrant. You’ll need an average of two out of four stars to pass the day, getting a three-star average will get you more pay and tends to mean you uncovered some useful information or confiscated a potentially helpful item. However, the ultimate goal is to get a full four stars which requires extracting as much information as possible, either about the visitor or the wider plot as well as picking up any important items. If you get four stars you’ll likely have the information and resources needed to make the best decisions outside of the guard-shed.

Yup, there’s more to this game than your interactions at the guard station. You’ll have time between shifts to visit areas of the city, hang out at the tavern, get involved in a revolution and do other little quests either to advance the plot or to gain items and crystals. It’s a bustling and diverse location and I really enjoyed bumping into people I’d already admitted or seeing them come back at the gate.

Lil interview a sinister looking man in the guardhouse

The gameplay stays fresh with each visitor being their own little puzzle and the advisors will need your input on a variety of things throughout the game, including a surprising gameshow and various war preparations. The humour itself reminds me of old adventure games like Monkey Island and even includes some nice references. Wondering the city may not require you to solve any complex lateral thinking puzzles but it definitely tweaked my nostalgia for the Discworld point-and-click games too.

There’s so much cosy charm in the characters and writing, backed up by some excellent voice work and placed in a world with a distinctive yet familiar art style. Some elements evoke modern cartoons like Steven Universe or Gravity Falls but there are also some nostalgic Don Bluth and adventure game influences.

Lil speaking on the phone to an knight. a warrior woman is waiting outside the guardhouse

Overall it’s a lovely adventure and you can see how your decisions influence the story, even if some of those decisions result from being bad at that game. A bunch of the tools feel less helpful or at least less obvious than others and the upgrades and power crystals don’t add a lot to the game other than stopping you from using truth spray on everybody. There’s also a slight niggle with not being able to replay specific chapters without overwriting your save, although this is most probably due to the way earlier choices impact the later game.

Lil Guardsman has all the charm and nostalgia I expected but is packed with more heart and humour than I was prepared for. Deducing each characters’ secrets, figuring out the larger plot and working out the best way to get the most out of each interaction all kept me very engaged, but the characters and jokes are strong enough that Lil Guardsman could have worked as a cartoon series.

8/10 star rating

Platforms: Switch, PC, PS5, XSX

From: Versus Evil






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