I'm a little unwell at the moment, so apologies if today's article is a bit rambly! Today I feature Lil' Guardsman, a fantasy/comedic take on the popular Papers Please game from 2013. Don't sleep on this one!
Bite Sized Reviews: Aground Zero
Previous Bite Sized Reviews: Roots of Yggdrasil
Bite Sized Reviews: Lil’ Guardsman
If you took Papers Please, brought it into a funky fantasy world and added some hilarious writing, you get Lil’ Guardsman. I went in expecting a fun brew, and it exceeded all my expectations.
Now that I think about it, I wonder why there haven’t been many iterations of Paper’s Please. That 2013 indie gem struck gold, and I can’t think of many games like it. Contraband Police is a great version of it in an immersive open world and Not Tonight! was a slapstick, dystopian version of post-Brexit Britain…. Joy. I try to stay away from all that British bollocks, so I bounced off that game quickly.
Lil’ Guardsman takes all the best bits of Paper’s Please and wraps them together in a joyful bundle. Launching last month, Hilltop Studios have struck comic gold with this one. After spending some hours exploring what the game has to offer, I was impressed by the game’s quality. You wouldn’t believe it was their first game, but I like surprises like this. Like most of my reviews, this is an impressions review of the game’s opening act. It is not a particularly long game, but with so much going on, I haven’t found the free time to complete it yet.
Taking place in a wonderful fantasy city called Sprawl, you play the role of twelve-year-old Lil, whose father Hamish is a bit of a goofball. One of those guys who half-asses their way through the job as a guardsman, using whatever money they earn to bet on various sporting events. One of those events is Goblinball, which sounds both hilarious and amazing. The usual life stories! From the onset, this game drew me in with its excellent atmosphere. Every character is fully voice acted, oozing character and personality. Lil’s oddball dad might suck up money like a vacuum, but you can tell he’s a good egg. He just has a major gambling problem.
So, like in Paper’s Please, Lil has to watch over the guardpost while her dad slunks away to do his deadbeat dad shenanigans, holding the ultimate power of entry in her small bean hands. Lil’ Guardsman has a strange mix of fantasy and futuristic technology in its world. There are all sorts of fantasy races, but we have lie detectors, telephones, and even time travel (the latter is an important rewind mechanic!) Every day, Lil receives important intel about the arriving visitors. Some require phoning one of the important uppers for clearance, while others warn about the nonhuman types. Never hurts to be careful! And of course, performing this stuff according to the noble’s wishes means earning money! So, no pressure at all for small Lil!
Not that being given the power over entry and misery isn’t enjoyable in itself. For each character, you have three attempts to gather intel on them, either through dialogue, mystical items such as truth spray, or phoning a friend. Sometimes the daily instructions are vague, so you’ll need to use your noggin to get the highest marks.
It’s always worth talking to each character in detail because it showcases the best features of Lil’ Guardsman: characters and writing. I have rarely laughed so much as playing this game, and it is an absolute delight to play for that reason alone. Learning about a giant ogre cursing out her useless, cheating husband made me piss myself laughing halfway through drinking coffee. Thankfully, I missed my laptop screen! The game does not take itself too seriously, but the dialogue is so well crafted that the comedy is incredibly well done. Hell, at one point, I stopped caring about passing all the guardpost tests just so I had an excuse to listen to more of the voice acting.
The time rewind mechanic allows you to replay days if you’re unhappy about a certain result that doesn’t work out, and that brings me to the only sticking point of Lil Guardsman so far. There’s currently no way to directly save playthroughs, so for example, halfway through a day, you may need to shut the game down for lunch. Unfortunately, there is no way to suspend the game, and I got caught out a couple of times by this. Coming back after a long session only to restart a day from scratch can get tiring, especially with the tons of dialogue.
Damn, that last paragraph rambled on, didn’t it? Let’s wrap things up. Lil’ Guardsman so far is one of my favourite games I’ve played recently. The characters and worldbuilding are stunning, and it offers the right mix of gameplay and dialogue to craft a game that’s so satisfying to play. It’s been too long since we’ve had a game like Paper’s Please, and Lil’ Guardsman is more than worth your money. I tested it on the Steam Deck and it runs perfectly, but given the low system requirements, it is of no surprise. The save system is my only criticism, but it’s no dealbreaker. I was unable to complete the game in time for this impressions review, but you can bet I’ll finish it now!
Fantastic writing and voice acting makes this world feel alive
A large cast of well written and believable characters
Papers Please gameplay wrapped in a fantasy world that doesn’t take itself too seriously
Insanely funny with room for replayability
Plays great on modest hardware and the Steam Deck
Cannot really save game progress during the day, would like to see a more open saving system. This is the only critique I have, and the current system isn’t bad by any means!