Lil’ Guardsman – Papers, Please meets Whimsy and Humour!

Lil Guardsman - Key Art

“We can’t all guard the life we love—or there soon would be no life left to love but being a guard.” – Gabriel King


Lil’ Guardsman is a delightful, fantasy comedy adventure in which players take on the role of a lively 12-year-old who must cover her dad’s shifts at the guard shed! Players must use their powers of observation to deduce who to let in and who to turn away!

Developer: Hilltop Studios
Released: 23rd January 2024
Price: £15.99 – £17.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Switch, Xbox One/Series X|S, PS4/5
Available on: Steam, GOG, eShop, Microsoft, PlayStation
Engine: Unity

Lil Guardsman Screenshot - Interrogation


Lil’ Guardsman is a bit like a whimsical version of Papers, Please but instead of allowing or denying entry to Arstotzka, it’s The Sprawl! At the start of each day, Lil receives the royal writ which will give specific instructions for that day. As each new visitor arrives at the city gate, they state their business and the player must decide which tactics to employ in order to work out if they should be allowed in.

There are three action points available to use for each new arrival, these can be used on interrogation, calls, or tools. Further conversation with the visitor (interrogation) is an option, alternatively, there are three different people available to call, and each will give different advice or opinion on a visitor. The player also has five different tools at their disposal – a decoder ring, a metal detector, truth spray, an x-ray, and a bullwhip. Using a tool requires a crystal which can be bought – knock-off crystals are also available at a lower price but have a chance to fail. Following this, the Wicket 3000 must be used to make a decision about the visitor.

Once admitted or refused entry, each encounter will be given a rating, higher ratings mean more pay at the end of the day, at which point the longer-term consequences of each decision will also be revealed. A time travel device called a Chronometer 3000, makes it possible to redo certain encounters and rectify some mistakes. A two-star rating or lower for the day will result in Lil being fired! Additional mechanics are added as the game progresses, such as the option to send visitors straight to jail. The tools can also be upgraded at the same shop that sells crystals. Confiscated or gifted items can also be sold for a profit.

Each evening, the player gets the chance to explore, albeit in a mostly linear, scripted way. There are places to visit, such as the tavern, shop, or arena, before ending the day and going to bed. There are also mini-games and activities to partake in, for example, a dating-game style event in which Lil must choose an NPC to go on a quest.

The gameplay is fun and satisfying. There are plenty of clues in the writing and visuals to help the player with their investigation and decision-making, but not so much as to make things too easy or detract from the sense of achievement when getting a 4-star rating.

Lil Guardsman Screenshot - Investigation Ranking


Lil’ Guardsman has an engaging fantasy narrative that is delivered mostly through the gameplay itself, though partly through integrated exposition. The Sprawl, having lost its king, is temporarily being ruled by Princess Desdemona who is in the process of receiving potential suitors before going missing. The three phone-able advisors also fancy themselves as heads of the Sprawl and crime, politics, a royal wedding and two kingdoms vying to gain an alliance all play out to culminate in the action-packed latter sections of the game.

There are a number of fun pop-culture references and the writing is light-hearted and full of humour. The comedy doesn’t always land and can feel a tad forced but for the most part, the storytelling and characters are quite amusing and elevate their fantastical setting. The player’s decisions throughout each day will have an impact on how the narrative plays out which aids greatly in terms of engagement and immersion.

Lil Guardsman Screenshot - Shop


Lil’ Guardsman uses a vibrant cartoon art style with a bright, warm colour palette, subtle but impactful lighting and bold linework. The visuals perfectly match the humourous fantasy narrative and (mostly) light-hearted gameplay. There is a huge range of characters, from elves to goblins, to Petrard dignitaries to Marvagh Warriors! They are all unique, interesting and wonderfully voice-acted!

The music has a nice amount of variety, it mixes centuries-old instruments such as harpsichords and lutes with a comparatively modern 80’s sound to great effect. This suits the game’s overall aesthetic and ties into its clearly medieval fantasy setting with more up-to-date accessories and items such as a jukebox, digital radio alarm clock or handheld game console.

Lil Guardsman Screenshot - Mini Game


Lil’ Guardsman is a lot of fun to play and will take around 7-10 hours to complete. It boasts satisfying, investigative gameplay with nods to other mechanics and genres, a colourful, cartoon art style, eclectic and interesting characters, an engrossing but light-hearted narrative, and humourous, well-written dialogue. Additionally, the enthusiastic and believable voice acting is a real highlight and really helps to bring the experience to life. The game has a lot to offer, at a reasonable price, and will appeal to a wide audience. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in The Sprawl and highly recommend this title!

Feel like doing some more investigating? Take a look at these game reviews:
This Bed We Made – A Satisfying Snoop through a 1950s Hotel!Return of the Obra Dinn – 2-for-1 OpinionsOrwell Parts 1 and 2 – A Comparative Review

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