En Garde! Review – Beautifully Balanced Riposte

The parry is one of the most celebrated mechanics in games. Few things are as satisfying as completely reversing an encroaching foe’s momentum. We’ve seen intensely precise parries, telegraphed beatdowns, and even the subtle, severe slash of the samurai. Even with all this variety, however, there’s one kind of parry we haven’t seen. One question that simply has not been answered: What happens when you bring a bucket to a swordfight?

From developer Fireplace Games, En Garde! is a swashbuckling adventure focused on fencing. Armed with a rapier, a strong awareness of her surroundings, and witty quips aplenty, protagonist Adalia leads a crusade against the evil Count-Duke. It’s good, old-fashioned fun which immediately grabbed my attention. The developer’s fireplace namesake is fitting, as En Garde! is the coziest killing spree I’ve been on in a while.

Now would be a great time to say the thing.

With a combative call to action as its very name, I’d be remiss not to start with the combat. En Garde! feels like it takes the best bits and pieces from a number of genres for its sword fights. There’s the simple inputs of hack-n-slash, the delicate yet deft dance of Soulslikes, and even a rhythmic switch between parries and dodges akin to Sekiro. This is to say nothing of the stagger bar, which adds a fun, light layer of strategy to every encounter.

Reading indicators fast enough to respond appropriately never stops being a rush, and landing a fierce flurry of pokes and slashes feels great to pull off. It’s tight, responsive, and increasingly intense without ever feeling like too much. Three special moves are also unlocked over the course of the story, but these cost enough slow-building meter that they’re mostly inconsequential, best used as finishers or setup to them.

Insert literally any sound effect for max humour.

Where En Garde!’s uniqueness really comes into play, however, is in its use of the environment. The rapier is not Adalia’s only weapon—not by a longshot. Littered around every level are a mix of buckets, tables, bombs, and ever-deadly cooking pots, to name a few. With a mix of flings and kicks (more games need a dedicated kick button), Adalia quite literally throws everything she has at her foes. The setups are generally inventive and fun, varying from level to level. You might kick a table into a group of foes to stun them in one room, then drop a large flagon to have them slip on wine and tumble down some stairs in the next.

That said, the environment is quite the double-edged sword. While there’s enough variety to keep things funny and tactical in equal measure, En Garde!’s dependence on its stray items can sometimes make Adalia feel more scrappy than savvy. Certain enemies have specific environmental counters. This can make some encounters predictable at best, and downright ridiculous at worst. Instead of experimenting with the destructive toys before me, I was occasionally left beelining to particular items, trying to get an angle on the biggest problem before taking on any of the rest. Intuitive last-minute grabs became slow slogs to find the right counter. This didn’t happen often enough to actively annoy me, but it was frequent enough to be noticeable.

I’m sure it’s up here somewhere.

En Garde! generally shines, then, as it provides the player with an ever-expanding repertoire of fencing finesse. That sentence was almost as savvy as the protagonist, one Adalia de Volador. Adalia is, put simply, a gem. She’s a charming, plucky young swashbuckler and her voice actor captures it perfectly. She scoffs at her sibling, taunts her foes, and grows sheepish near her crush, Zaida, who is another standout character. Even regular enemies have moments to shine. During the kicking tutorial, which has Adalia punt three willing guards into the bay, each of them gives a clever one-liner as to why they’re allowing her to embarrass them. While the cast is filled with archetypes, the voice talent wholeheartedly leans into them, giving En Garde! a fun, campy energy. The dialogue has moments of near-egregiousness—the closing line is exactly what you’d expect it to be—but it all comes together well enough to be a fun ride.

Droll dialogue and snappy combat aren’t the only highlight here, however. En Garde! boasts simple level design which subtly harkens back to the PlayStation 2 era. Colourful paths and secret side areas abound, but nowhere is this influence more apparent than in the platforming. Simple as it may be, En Garde!’s platforming really maximises the space it’s given, adding layers to each level. Even just going from courtyard to rooftop and back again in another wing of a mansion is enough to build a strong sense of place. This atmospheric aptitude also extends to the boss fights. They’re climactic, frenetic, and make use of their environment while truly feeling right at home in it. One boss fight takes place on a bridge before a waterfall, and every mechanic used perfectly suits the locale. Even with such a deft parry, En Garde! does well to drag the player in.

She said the thing!

With all stabbed and done, En Garde! is an easy recommendation. It has something for skilled thrill seekers, cozy adventurers, and even B-movie buffs. The short four hours it lasts are used to full effect. With tight combat, hilarious environmental interactions, and a charm that is absolutely the sum of its parts, this sojourn into swordplay is one that well earns its ride into the sunset.

Sarim played En Garde! on PC with a code provided by the publisher. En Garde! is available on PC via Steam.

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