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Lil' Guardsman Review - A Lil' Adventure With A Big Heart!




Lil' Guardsman Review

Steam/PC, PS, XBOX, Switch

1/23/24

Hilltop Studios/Versus Evil, tinyBuild

Reviewed by okNia


Hello, Indie Warriors! My name is okNia and today we will be looking at Lil’ Guardsman: a heartwarming and hilarious narrative puzzle game from Toronto based developer Hilltop Studios. In Lil’ Guardsman You play as a sassy 12-year-old named Lil who is filling in for her dad as a gate guard. This means she must determine who is worthy of entering the Sprawl’s gates. In the meantime, Lil’s dad is off gambling away his less than sufficient wages on Goblinball games.


What began as filling in for a day's work while her father gambled, has suddenly become a new career for Lil’. The Sprawl’s Crown Princess Desdemona is deemed of age and the race for her hand begins. Suitors from neighboring lands begin to show up at the gates which puts a great deal of pressure on our lead character. Will she allow the pompous Prince from Petrard to buy his way into marriage? Or will Lil give the murderous and beautiful Praetor from Marvagh a shot at Desdemona’s heart? Each of the royal advisers, the martial leader of the Sprawl, the politicking councilwoman, and even the morally gray jester, have their own opinions on who the Princess should marry, but ultimately that decision is made by our small and mighty gate guard.


A screenshot from Lil' Guardsman
Lil' Guardsman has a strong sense of humor

Played over 12 levels, the majority of the adventure is spent in the guard shed where humans and non-humans alike come to you requesting entry into the Sprawl. Each day begins by reading the royal writ so that you not only have a better understanding of who to expect for the day, but also how the higher ups would prefer for you to proceed. You’ll need to follow these instructions to obtain at least a two-star rating for each of your decisions.

You’ll use various tools and resources throughout the game to help determine whether a visitor should be admitted, denied entry, or even jailed. With three actions available, you can choose to interrogate, call royal advisors for guidance, or use your tools to further investigate. As far as tools go, you are given a decoder ring, x-ray, metal detector, truth spray, and a bullwhip. Each of these items can be powered up using crystals but do note that they have a limited number of uses per day. After your first day on the job, you also acquire a time traveling device from the local scientist which allows you to rewind time at the guard shed and improve upon your rating. The better your average rating for the day, the more you’re paid for your shift.


At the end of your shift, you can explore the map and visit different unlockable locations. These areas include Garby’s Shoppe where you can purchase tool upgrades and crystals, the Goblinball stadium to gamble the day’s earnings, or even the Goblin Liberation Army’s headquarters to further the non-human rights cause. When you’re done exploring, why not head back to the dive bar which is almost like a second home. It’s nice to relax before you have to wake up and go through all the motions again.


Even though each day generally plays out the same, things are constantly shaken up throughout the game. For example, early on the princess disappears and Lil’ is unknowingly summoned to a game show to pick which of the advisers’ champions should be tasked with rescuing the princess. After a string of day shifts, Lil’ is assigned night shifts as a punishment and she must pass judgment on creatures of the night. Not only that, she will need to survive the consequences of those judgments. Armed with only a short textbook highlighting common monsters and fantastical beings, she must decide whether an elderly woman is a good witch or a bad witch.


And later, when war breaks out due to scorned courtiers, Lil’ has to decide who should be drafted into the Sprawl’s army. Potential recruits include a heartbroken farmer, mermaid warrior, and novice hot air balloonist. Choose wisely as the quality of the draftees affects the outcome of each battle.


A screenshot from Lil' Guardsman
You'll encounter a memorable cast of characters

Not every visitor who comes to the gate greatly impacts the storyline, but they are all memorable. Even passing characters have a tremendous amount of depth to them. There are a slew of amazing characters, with some of my favorites being a singing murderer, a stoner wizard, and an old goblin painter.


Lil’ is a lovable character herself that takes her job seriously, utilizing sassy remarks all along the way. The developers cite Monty Python, The Simpsons, and Futurama as inspirations for the comedic writing and it definitely shows in the character dialogue. The writing in this game is phenomenal. No comment is made without purpose, whether it be to aid the plot or to make the player laugh. The powerful writing is only enhanced further by an extremely talented cast of actors. While voice acting throughout an entire game can sometimes turn out for the worse, there was never a time I wanted to reach for the mute button. I often felt like I was watching a TV show and I couldn’t turn away out of fear of missing the next exciting moment.


For those of you who despise games that lack a proper tutorial, fear not! Lil’ Guardsman does a good job explaining its mechanics at the beginning of the game, but also continues to do so throughout as new concepts are introduced. Part of what made these tutorials so successful was how self aware the dialogue is. Lil’ perfectly embodies a gamer who has sat through many tutorials. One hilarious interaction will have you shooing away your father when he tries to re-explain a concept learned earlier on in the game. It’s little touches like these that all come together to make this such a special indie release.


Outside of the excellent writing and voice acting, the art in Lil’ Guardsman is gorgeous. Some portions reminded me of the show Gravity Falls. The main hand drawn cartoon style is very well-executed and I appreciated the slight “breathing” animation of characters that brings life into otherwise still scenes. Seeing as this game is set in a fantastical, Dungeons and Dragons-type world, there are also assets that evoke more of a medieval art style which fit in perfectly.


A screenshot from Lil' Guardsman
Do you have what it takes for the guard's post?

As far as in-game settings are concerned, there are various options available to gamers. Under Streamer settings, you have the option to turn off Lil’s voice or even the NPC’s voices. This is a lovely feature if you don’t want to feel like you’re cutting off the actors, or if you generally like to read game dialogue yourself. Personally, I highly recommend keeping the voices on, but options are always welcome. You can also move character portraits to a specific side of the screen which is again handy for a streamer like myself. The save file will also tell you your percentage of progress you’ve made, so you can gauge how much you have left in a playthrough. It took me about 8 hours to get through the game with all voices on. The game can definitely be completed a lot faster, but I personally wanted to take my time and explore all that the Sprawl had to offer.


While leading up to the release of Lil’ Guardsman I was already taken in by the art style and story, it ultimately seemed like a simple puzzle game underneath it all. A pretty one, but perhaps not much beyond that. This is a game that turned out to be so much more. The voice acting was S tier, the writing had me legitimately laughing out loud, gasping at plot twists, and tearing up at heartwarming moments. I wasn’t prepared for the depth of this game and upon finishing it I was already hyped to go back for more endings.

Lil’ Guardsman is a shockingly good indie release without any major glaring issues. I can be a bit of a stickler when it comes to typos in games, and I only noticed two while playing. There also seems to be a minor math bug when you time travel during the wedding planning day, but other than that I didn’t encounter anything that halted my progress or stood in the way of completion.


With all of that said, I would like to grant Lil’ Guardsman the Golden Genie Lamp of Approval. Visually, emotionally, and mechanically this one is a winner in my book. While this game may skew towards more of a cozy gamer audience, the writing and storytelling transcends the boundaries of the genre.


Pros

  • Great storytelling

  • Awesome voice acting

  • Surprising depth

  • Beautiful visuals and sound


Cons

  • Small typos

  • Math bug


Golden Genie Lamp of Approval
Golden Genie Lamp

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