Lil’ Guardsman review

by on January 23, 2024
Release Date

January 23, 2024


I love that we live in a time where serious and emotional video game concepts exist, like running a wartime hospital or manning a border station in a dystopian nightmare. The concept of a game like Papers, Please is wonderful in theory, but in practice might be too stressful to enjoy after a day of life kicking the crap out of you. Sure not all games need to be smiles and rainbows all the time, but sometimes the smiles and rainbows are what you need. Well thankfully Lil’ Guardsman has all the border officer antics you could ever want, but in a colourful fantasy package with a whole lot of laughs.

Lil is just your average snarky twelve year old living in The Sprawl with her dad, when one morning her life changes forever. Her dad wants to go and bet on the upcoming Goblinball match, and decides it’s time for his daughter to learn about working at the guardpost. Lil tries to put up a fight, but ultimately is thrown into the working world and tasked with keeping the riff raff out of town.

A screenshot of Lil' Guardsman

Working as a border guard in a fantasy kingdom is just as hard as you’d imagine, especially considering all the different rules that the higher ups in the kingdom keep changing. Each day at the start of your shift you’ll need to check The Royal Writ to see what you need to keep an eye on throughout the day, be it a ban on goblins entering the city or an upcoming wedding with staff who need to be rushed ahead of the queue.

As with all the games that see you guarding a border, Lil’ Guardsman sees plenty of unsavoury types trying to make it past your checkpoint and cause mischief. To spot various smugglers and thieves you have a whole host of tools at your disposal, and three action points you can use to check out someone at your window before making a decision to allow them in, turn them away or throw them in the dungeon.

The most simple action you can perform is talking to the potential entrant, but if you need more help than that you can phone one of your three advisors or use one of your handy gadgets. There are five of these pieces of kit in total, and they’re just wonderful. Truth Spray as you might expect forces whoever you spritz to tell the truth, your X-ray machine shows you any hidden items someone is aiming to smuggle in, and your handy decoder ring can decipher any foreign languages or magical runes that you come across. All your tools are really playful, and can lead to some downright funny situations.

A screenshot of Lil' Guardsman

After one shift at the station, Lil gets called to meet with one of the scientist’s of the kingdom who has made a huge discovery. It’s an hourglass that can rewind time, and for…reasons Lil is selected to test this powerful device. Mechanically it’s a massively helpful item, which allows you to go back and change how you deal with someone trying to enter The Sprawl.

For every single person who arrives at your window, you’re given a score of up to four stars based on how well you deal with them. With a bit of trial, error and logical thinking you can usually dive deeper into the story of someone who’s trying to enter the city, and using your gadgets effectively will reveal everything you need to make the right decision and score highly. For example, discovering a sinister old man has blood gold hidden in his suitcase might get you three stars, but for the fourth you’ll need to decode the symbol on it to find out where it’s from. Sometimes there are even multiple ways to get full marks, so feel free to make your own judgment calls and see how the story plays out because of your actions – you can always rewind if you don’t like the outcome.

Now if manning the guardpost and dealing with colourful characters was all Lil’ Guardsman had to offer it’d be a good game, but the variety of other tasks you’re given make it a great one. Early highlights include choosing a hero to save the princess in a Blind Date style gameshow, hiring the right caterers and decorators for a wedding, and getting into the family trade of illegal gambling. Every one of the twelve days of Lil’ Guardsman has something different for you to do, and because of all the different decisions you can make there’s a lot of scope for replayability too.

A screenshot of Lil' Guardsman

More than anything else though, it’s the fact that Lil’ Guardsman is actually funny that impressed me the most. Genuinely good comedy games are hard to come by, and there were multiple times playing through this Papers, Please inspired game where I laughed out loud. The charm and comedy of Lil’ Guardsman is just really impressive, and it’s helped by the gorgeous Saturday morning cartoon visuals. More than anything I’d love for Lil’ Guardsman to be turned into an adult animation series, because it’s just set up so perfectly for that.

Lil’ Guardsman is a game that really impressed me, but it does have one fairly major issue. Outside of the time you spend at the guard station you’ll be expected to walk around town and do all sorts of little errands. While this is fine in theory, Lil moves so bloody slowly that getting from one side of the screen to the other is a real chore. This is only made worse on a particular day which is just one big trading sequence, and I couldn’t wait to be over.

Lil’ Guardsman is funny, charming and really entertaining, with Papers, Please style border control gameplay and a colourful fantasy setting. Figuring out how best to use your gadgets to score well is always engaging (if a little trial and error based) and the variety of tasks you’re set is really impressive. If you’re looking for something light-hearted and particularly unique to play that isn’t all doom and gloom, you could do much worse than Lil’ Guardsman.


A truly funny video game
Lots of different gadgets and tools to experiment with
Really varied levels
Looks gorgeous


Lil moves way too slow
Has one particularly bad level

Editor Rating
Our Score


In Short

Lil' Guardsman is a truly wonderful comedy game, with Papers, Please style border guarding gameplay in a charming fantasy setting.