The wait had been exceptionally long for Lil Guardsman for two crucial reasons. First, the developers, Hilltop Studios, frequently released updates on its progress, prompting a need to play it, and second, having played the demo, I knew this would be great.

However, the game wasn’t delayed, and it wasn’t a long wait; it’s just that anticipation of playing something that looks so good and entertaining. Think Papers, Please, and you’re on the right track for expectations. Only, instead of the bleak tones – literally and figuratively – this has the vibrancy of Lost In Play.

Quite a clever little pun, if you like, you play Lil in Lil Guardsman – a twelve-year-old girl, daughter to a top-ranking guardsman who just so happens to be a bit of a rubbish dad. Not intentionally, mind, but her journey begins when her old man asks her to cover his shift while he spunks the money up the wall on gambling and ale.

Lil Guardsman Review - Got the time?
Got the time? Source: Steam

Putting a kid in charge of security for the fate of the Sprawl seems extreme, but after a crash course in protocol, Lil is pretty much able to handle things herself, and arguably, is much more adept than her father and the rest of the guards.

As with any other game of its ilk, your job in Lil Guardsman determines whether a visitor should be granted access to the Sprawl. You have three steps/turns per visitor, and how to approach them is up to you. Do you start a conversation with them, and repeat each time hoping they’ll reveal a home truth, or do you use one of the many tools at your disposal to get to the nitty gritty of their motivations?

Those tools aren’t the initial old school medieval ones you might have been hoping. My kingdom for a blowtorch and that bloke Trevor from out of town… No, the tools here are pretty magical, such as truth spray, a decoder ring or perhaps a bullwhip to whip them into shape, revealing anything untoward in fear of another lashing. There’s a catch, however.

Lil Guardsman Review - MacGoblin It
MacGoblin it. Source: Steam

Each tool in Lil Guardsman can be used for a limited time as crystals power them. Some will allow the tool to work the first time, and there are also inferior crystals that may or may not work. On top of that, like anything, you need to pick the right tool for the job and pay attention to what the visitor is saying. Unsure? Quiz them further or seek assistance.

It’s hardly phone a friend, but Lil has access to three (corrupt) castle confidants who can sometimes verify whether a person is dubious or not. More importantly, at the start of each shift, there is a royal writ (accessible at any time and does not use up any turns) that will give fast-track access to envoys or individuals that serve a purpose to the Sprawl. You just need to pay attention.

There isn’t any time limit in Lil Guardsman, though choices matter and will affect your rating in each of the twelve levels. There are three stars to obtain, with an often elusive fourth star if you ask all the right questions and use your tools effectively. Besides a safeguard save system, Lil learns that she can turn back time with the assistance of a device, though limited, meaning you can experiment with your answers. The guise is that this time travelling option is for the greater good of the Sprawl.

Lil Guardsman Review - Bar fly
Bar fly. Source: Steam

Lil Guardsman’s visuals are superb, and the voice acting complements this well. Characters are beautifully illustrated, animated and unique enough for each encounter to feel brand new. The comedy in this game is a delight, with well-written dialogue and set pieces that can eventually come back and bite you on the arse further down the line. I have to say that an early encounter with a Disney-like maiden covered in blood was absolutely hilarious. Spoiler: you can get game overs in this game: choices matter!

I make no hesitation in recommending Lil Guardsman for anyone interested in an upbeat Papers, Please setting where everything is much more ‘feel good’, yet still offers a very immersive experience where your actions make a difference to the story. I played this on my PC and my Steam Deck, and it worked flawlessly. It’s also available on PlayStation, Xbox and the Nintendo Switch.