Lil' Guardsman

Lil' Guardsman

Hilltop channels Papers, Please in a rather fun Cartoon Network-inspired homage.

Subscribe to our newsletter here!

* Required field

If you haven't already played Lucas Pope's excellent, and by now fairly accessible game about maintaining a border crossing in a eastern communist country by questioning and investigating immigrants, Papers, Please, then you should definitely give it a go immediately. The game grows on you, and is designed to keep you learning as playthrough after playthrough fails as you can't process enough immigrants to put food on the table for you and your family, but at the same time, it's a structure so intriguing that it should act as a structure for other games. It's simply too subtle to be the framework of a single game.

Thankfully, Hilltop Studios has no intention of letting Pope's great idea go to waste, and if you found Papers, Please either a bit depressing or perhaps stressful, Lil' Guardsman puts a Cartoon Network-esque narrative and visual touch on the form, and combines it with plenty of self-parodying humour to make this a great lite version of Pope's more serious, real-world game.

Lil' Guardsman

You're Lil, living in a sort of fantasy version of New York called "The Sprawl", which feels like a melting pot of people, races, religions, beliefs and attitudes. Your father is one of the border guards who decides every day which travellers should be allowed into The Sprawl, but as the game begins he's been making plans at the local pub, so even though you're only 12 years old, you're the substitute for the day and are relatively seamlessly introduced to the tools you have to identify, investigate and ultimately decide which wacky fantasy characters enter The Sprawl and who is denied entry.

This is an ad:

What follows is both simple and even relatively static, but thanks to an abundance of charm, Lil' Guardsman manages to overcome any criticisms of a slightly too slow and simplistic premise and emerges as an impressive debut from Hilltop.

It all starts with the aesthetics, because while Lil' Guardsman doesn't have a lot of actual animation, and can at times look like cut-out papier-mache characters that only move in certain situations, it oozes Cartoon Network-esque visual ingenuity and colour. It exists in a pretty perfect extension of Adventure Time, Samurai Jack, Steven Universe, Johnny Bravo and other classics with an exaggerated, cartoony line and strong colours. It's alluring to look at throughout, and although the number of unique locations are few, there's life and detail to be found in most places.

Lil' Guardsman

You'd think that questioning characters about what they're doing in The Sprawl and then deciding whether or not that explanation makes sense, all from the same little shack, would get boring, but Lil' Guardsman is not too long, and manages to keep you interested by presenting such an eclectic mix of characters, each of which feels like a separate quest line. Early on in the game, you even confiscate "blood gold" from the evil old man who is apparently utilising a conflict zone to extract valuable minerals and smuggle them into The Sprawl. This is done by utilising the unique tools you're equipped with, such as a magical X-ray scanner and a so-called "truth perfume" (yes, you read that right). The point is that even though this exchange only lasts three to four minutes, it's a memorable affair.

This is an ad:

There are over 100 unique characters to go through as you upgrade those same tools, collect gold coins and learn more about a mysterious power that lets you travel back in time and reconsider those you've let in and kept out in the past.

It's not like there's a particularly memorable overall narrative here, and it would have helped Lil' Guardsman to feel as mesmerising on a broader scale as it does when you're just... well, being in it. That said, this is an awful lot of charm for the amount of money it costs, so whether you're on Switch, PC, PlayStation or Xbox, give Lil' Guardsman or Papers, Please a try. Play Papers, Please. Please.

08 Gamereactor UK
8 / 10
Charming. Pretty graphic. All characters have their own voice acting. Simple but solid concept.
Lacks a bit of variety. Could use a more cohesive narrative.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

Related texts

Loading next content