For years I have wanted to take up fencing. The idea of doing a sport that gives me a reason to own and use a sword has always been the perfect sales pitch for me. Sadly, in my research to take up foil (or saber, or épée — I haven’t decided), I found that fencing is quite an expensive sport to dive into. Thank god there are video games like En Garde! The self-described swashbuckling title is an indie delight on PC that blends humor, style, and satisfying swordplay.
Even before getting to the sword fighting, players will take note of the Pixar-esque art style of En Garde! The warm sun-drenched environments decorated with specks of color and vibrant costumes that drip with personality are a feast for the eyes. At the center of all this visual wonder is the game’s protagonist Adalia de Volador.
Adalia is a dashing swordswoman known for her fighting prowess that pulls inspiration from the legendary fictional swordsman Zorro. The historical figure Julie d’Aubigny, the renowned French opera singer, renowned duelist, and renowned bisexual icon also serves as partial inspiration for the protagonist. Adalia is immediately swoon-worthy thanks to her charm, humor, and talent with a sword.
Which, finally, brings us to the meat of En Garde! The sword fighting. The dueling in En Garde! isn’t the one-on-one dueling of traditional fencing, instead offering the exaggerated sword fights of fiction that pit our daring hero against an ever-growing crowd of foes. And while you’ll do quite a bit of sword swinging in En Garde!, that isn’t actually the main way you play the game.
En Garde! focuses its combat on crowd control and environmental awareness. While you can easily take down the game’s weakest enemies with a couple of well-placed slashes of the sword, most will take a little more work. As one would expect in a game about swords, Adalia has the ability to parry and dodge to get the upper hand. But battles can become overwhelming once large groups of enemies start showing up. This is where Adalia’s surroundings come in.
Every combat arena of En Garde! is something of a playground for Adalia and the player. They are full of conveniently placed crates, barrels, chairs, jugs, and other items for Adalia to take advantage of. You can kick crates and other stationary items into enemies, disorienting them and leaving them open for attacks. Or you can pick up jugs and throw them on the heads of your foes in a moment of slapstick humor.
Once En Garde! teaches you the basics of swordplay, movement, and environmental opportunities, and the game becomes a much more strategic affair than it first appears. Going in sword first will lead to your demise more often than not, as Adalia is pretty fragile and will lose after only a handful of strikes. Instead, players must always be aware of enemy locations in the arena, as well as what tools are closest to keep the crowd controlled while slowly picking off enemies.
Kick a barrel into one group, then stun them to gain an opportunity to push another enemy into a weapon rack that falls on them, defeating them in one swift movement. Blind guards with jugs over their heads and then unleash a flurry of blows before they have a chance to recover. You can even take the tried-and-true Baldur’s Gate 3 approach of simply pushing enemies off buildings or into water.
This complex combat mixes with En Garde!’s ever-present humor and gorgeous art design to make an entirely original and wonderful swashbuckling adventure.