STAFF REVIEW of Lil’ Guardsman (Xbox One)

Monday, February 12, 2024.
by Peggy Doyle

Lil’ Guardsman Box art Have you ever wanted to be in control of who could enter a space? Have you wanted to be the security who decides who can enter the kingdom? If you have, Lil’ Guardsman allows you to live that dream. Developed by Hilltop Studios and published by Versus Evil and tinyBuild, you play as Lil, a sassy 12-year-old girl who gets put to work replacing her father in a guard shack. Yes, this is sketchy, as you don’t really know why your father needs to replace himself (at first), and it is even more strange that no one seems concerned that there seems to be child labour happening here.

While working the guard shack you get to determine whether or not to let someone (human and non-human visitors) into The Sprawl, your city. The Sprawl seems to be a mix of medieval kingdoms, fantasy elements and science-fiction technology. A fantastic way to bring a multitude of characters into the game and make them all feel natural. You determine this by a variety of methods at your disposal. You can interrogate, use a truth spray, search with a metal detector, call one of the three assigned Royal Advisors for assistance, or even use a whip on the person in question to determine if they are worthy of being allowed to pass. I really enjoyed trying to determine what made the characters tick and trying to rely on what I discovered versus what my gut told me.

I let in a vampire and nothing happened, but there was a young girl who ended up being a serial killer. You can’t judge a book by its cover and be sure to double-check those sweet old ladies. Ultimately you can let them in, turn them away, or even send them directly to jail depending on your discovery. It’s up to you to decide which method, or methods, you use as you only get three attempts before making your decision, and each item only has a limited number of uses as well. The number of uses is defined by how many crystals you assign to each item at the beginning of your shift. You can buy more crystals with the gold coins you earn while working. Each of these items gets selected at the beginning of each shift and they can be upgraded over time. This is why it’s important to get the highest ranking on your day as possible.

The cast of characters approaching the guard shack is clearly inspired by other media and includes goblins, vampires, other monsters, a Disney-like singing princess, a stoned wizard akin to Gandalf and more. Each time you decide to allow or refuse entry you will get a ranking of one to four stars. You will earn three stars for getting the correct outcome (entry/denial/prison) while earning four stars requires you to use the correct tools and methods to get to that outcome. Anything less than four means you’ve missed something. Luckily, you can replay any or all of the missions using the time travel device (a magical egg timer) you will acquire early in the story.

When you discover items of contraband on people you can choose to confiscate it. Not surprisingly, the stoned wizard was carrying pot on him, for example. You can return it or keep it to sell and earn cash for yourself. If you do, you can often sell or trade it with other characters in the game. Lil’ Guardsman isn’t as simple as it appears on the surface. There are multiple stories. What you decide at the guard shack can also affect the rest of the story. For example, if you let the superstar athlete in, they help your local team win. This means the town will have better morale.

After each shift, you are shown a map where you can visit various locations and have multiple interactions with characters that make the story more complete. I loved this aspect as multiple storylines were going on at any one time and some of the interactions were so absurd that I had to laugh out loud. Some of the things you can do that aren’t specifically guard duty related are placing (illegal) bets on Goblinball games, discovering who may be a mole in the Goblin Liberation Army, and even taking part in a game show. There are approximately 100 characters you can speak with and numerous branches that your gameplay can take you.

Now, getting four stars will give you the best payout for the day, while too many low scores can get you fired. While you may think that you want to follow the Royal Writ provided to you at the start of each shift to get the four stars each day, sometimes not following the Writ will give you more interesting stories. There are ways to get the ‘correct’ answer without getting the ‘right’ (four-star) solution. Mechanically the gameplay is simple point-and-click styling. Sometimes these games don’t port over well to consoles, meaning a struggle to line your pointer up but I found no issues playing on the Series X.

Graphically, Lil’ Guardsman is bright and delightful. I love any game that gives me those Saturday morning cartoon vibes and they were in abundance here. Characters were all voiced well, and I loved the nods to other characters and how they were portrayed and voiced as well. The talent brought to Lil’ Guardsman from the Canadian comics and actors was exceptional. The singing “Disney” princess was especially delightful. The writing for the game is so well done, witty, clever, and charming. The humour is inspired by Monty Python and Matt Groening’s shows like The Simpsons.

I’ve seen that there are over 7500 lines of dialogue in this game, and because of the amount of branching in the story there is a substantial amount of replayability. One thing I would like to see that is missing, is the ability to skip dialogue. Parts can become repetitive, especially when rewinding time and replaying sections to get higher scores.

The retail price for Lil’ Guardsman is under $20 USD and for the amount of gameplay you can extract from it, it’s well worth it at that price. Lil’ Guardsman was charming and filled with witty dialogue and engaging gameplay. Although at times it was repetitive, not once did I feel like I wanted to walk away, in fact, I kept wanting to see where my next decision would lead me and who would be the next visitor at the guard shack. The voice acting was brilliant, and the writing was so smart. I encourage you to take some time to visit The Sprawl for yourself.

**Lil’ Guardsman was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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