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En Garde! Review – Dashing and Dapper

En Garde! is a charming, chaotic capsule of dynamic swashbuckling combat and humorous wit.
En Garde! Review Key Art

En Garde! is a game that knows exactly what to achieve and just does it with a flourish. Focused, punchy, and stylish, the swashbuckling action game charms you with its endearing characters, and challenges you with its dynamic combat before quickly zipping out, leaving you in the wake of a whirlwind.

The game revolves around Adalia de Volador, a confident and debonair Spanish heroine of the people. She’s driven to dismantle the exploitative regime taking advantage of her city in the best way she knows how – by beating and humiliating the legion of city guards with her expert swordsmanship and scrappy tactics.

>En Garde Review screenshot
Image: Fireplace Games

Simple but satisfying, the swordplay in En Garde! puts less focus on actual combat technique, and more of an emphasis on situational awareness and exploiting your environment. It’s far less complex than the similarly combat-oriented Sifu, and even less so than the minimalist fencing game Nidhogg, but En Garde! still feels just as action-packed, and just as tense.

Adalia has a single attack button for her rapier, which produces a string of strikes that whittle down the defences of her opponents, and eventually deal critical blows. A parry manoeuvre, when timed correctly, deflects attacks, unbalancing enemies and leaving them open for counter-attacks. Adalia can also dodge, and has a suite of three special abilities that can be occasionally used. Together, you’re encouraged to juggle these systems in thoughtful and determined ways, which makes for engaging duels.

But you’ll often be severely outnumbered in En Garde!, with enemies foregoing the unspoken action movie courtesy of attacking one at a time, meaning that being aware of your situation and finding techniques to disrupt the impending pile-on is a key part of making it out of a battle unscathed.

>En Garde! Review screenshot
Image: Fireplace Games

All manner of objects can be picked up and thrown to incapacitate powerful enemies for a meaningful amount of time – a bucket on the head is my favourite – leaving you to slice through the more easily manageable grunts first. Adalia’s powerful kicks are also an essential part of your toolkit, allowing you to punt environmental objects like chairs, boxes, and explosive barrels into groups of enemies to divide, harm, or surprise them, causing them to lower their defences.

Kicks can also send unguarded enemies careening into weapons racks, teetering vases, and off cliffs, making short work of even the most competent enemies, provided you’re forward-thinking enough. And it never gets old, either – deftly slide over a table, wait for enemies following you to scramble over it, and then kick the table out from underneath them. Magical.

All of these elements coming together result in virtually every single fight becoming a raucous, high-stakes affair, made all the more entertaining by En Garde’s humorous approach to the action, much more in the line of The Princess Bride than Zorro. The improvised, environmental combat sets the stage perfectly for the comedic tone, with the comical barks of surprised guards, and the cartoonish sound effects of enemies tumbling into things really adding to the chaos.

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That’s not to mention the very dashing wit of Adalia herself, whose brashness and charm lead the game well – she only crumbles when she encounters her rival and crush, a dynamic that is very endearing in its own way. Some straightforward but pleasing environmental traversal puzzles round out the rhythm of En Garde!, never letting you get too settled, and never letting any one beat drag out for too long. 

A warm, painterly aesthetic wraps up the game’s neat little package very nicely. And after four meaty chapters, En Garde! departs on a high note, leaving you satisfied, almost refreshed – though an optional arena mode is there to state any leftover combat cravings.

En Garde! is a perfect little capsule of engaging action, a well-refined aesthetic, and appealing characters. Like an expert duelist, it doesn’t waste a single strike.

Four Stars: ★★★★

En Garde!
Platforms: PC
Developer: Fireplace Games
Publisher: Fireplace Games
Release Date: 17 August 2023

The PC version of En Garde! was provided and played for the purposes of this review.

Edmond was the founding managing editor of GamesHub. He was also previously at GameSpot for 13 years, where he was the Australian Editor and an award-winning video producer. You can follow him @EdmondTran