Review: En Garde! is a speedy sword-fighting and swashbuckling sensation

En garde! Prêts? Allez! There have actually been several games based around the pulp hero Zorro, first created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley. The first Zorro game was released in 1985 for the Apple II and other platforms, featuring much of the same gameplay from other Datasoft platformers of the era. There was also a 1995 Zorro game featuring live action cutscenes, and a badly received tie-in game for the 1998 film The Mask of Zorro starring Antonio Bandereas. A game called Zorro: The Chronicles was also released to Steam in 2022, but it didn’t receive a lot of attention. To this day, we haven’t had a proper Zorro-esque sword-fighting game with the same smarm and swagger as the legendary hero. That is, until En Garde!

En Garde! Puts you in the shoes of Adalia de Volador, a daring rogue and hero of the people, set somewhere in Spain in the Renaissance. Adalia is tasked with restoring justice and righting wrongs, taking out the assorted forces of the evil Count-Duke and basically being as much of a charismatic hero as possible. En Garde! is broken up into several chapters where there is a story, but it very much takes a backseat compared to the gameplay. Nevertheless despite the characters and story being relatively unimportant, they’re still a great deal of fun. Adalia has excellent voice acting which really brings her personality to life, as do the other characters such as her brother Alejandro and his “friend” the masked El Vigilante, or the dastardly Count-Duke who risks burning down the town because he doesn’t like people making fun of his appearance.

En Garde! Rooftops
The unnamed city has a nice selection of locales to visit.

The sword-fighting is absolutely the backbone here, with linear levels divided up between various different fights and battle arenas. The sword-fighting system shares some similarities to that of Assassin’s Creed, except being a lot more responsive. While a gamepad is recommended, the controls also work fine with mouse and keyboard. Each enemy has both a guard metre and their health, which can only be drained once their guard is broken. With one button you attack, and the other you parry. If you parry more than once, you can do a riposte to break their guard and damage them. You can also unlock a trio of special moves, which can be unleashed once your panache bar is high enough (built up by doing various moves and defeating enemies).

Alongside her sword, Adalia’s greatest weapon is her leg. You can kick a wide variety of objects in the environment, from barrels and crates to just kicking people off ledges or into the sea. It’s always satisfying to use the kick while sending several barrels careering into a crowd of guards, leaving them all stunned, or walking up behind a guard and kicking him off a balcony. There are also other objects in the world which act as distractions or aids; throwing metal jugs at heads will stun enemies, or tossing a bucket will leave them blinded, desperately trying to pull it off. Similarly lanterns can be tossed at stores of gunpowder or cannons to fire them, hurting enemies while also potentially opening the path forward.

En Garde! guards
Some of the guard banter can be very funny.

En Garde! also supports a great variety of accessibility options. Alongside the usual difficulty choice there is the option to turn on auto-parry, which helps if you’re not able to get the timing down, alongside an invincibility mode, which is great to see in a game like this to allow it to be enjoyed by the widest possible audience. There’s also some camera options like having it auto-focus or follow the next enemy you’re targeting, but these can be disabled if preferred.

Aside from the sword-fighting you’ll be running and jumping around the nicely designed environments, with the southern Spanish architecture reminiscent of the Alhambra in Grenada, or parts of Cordoba and Seville. There are occasionally things to read and a few secret areas to discover, but this is predominantly a linear game without a collect-a-thon. Aside from the main story, you can also play Arena Mode, where you face off against an increasingly difficult assortment of foes, with a variety of different settings and modifiers to mix up the gameplay.

En Garde! Count-Duke
The nefarious Count-Duke.

Alongside the nicely colourful and comic-book art style, there’s a good Spanish guitar infused soundtrack which kicks in while clobbering guards. When you’re jumping around, kicking barrels into soldiers and twirling your sword with aplomb, it really manages to capture the swashbuckling, Pirates of the Caribbean-esque vibe they’re going for. Likewise the game is surprisingly funny, not simply the cutscenes but also much of the incidental guard banter, including the recurring joke that everyone Adalia “kills” isn’t really dead, with them just acting dead until she goes away.

En Garde! set out to do one thing right, and it did. The sword-fighting is satisfying, and while it can get a bit one-note as you get later into the game, all of the humorous dialogue and nice music helps to keep you engaged and wanting to see more. Combined with a kick which rivals Dark Messiah of Might and Magic or Bulletstorm for its sheer intensity, this is absolutely a game which invokes the spirit of Zorro in the best way, and is worth a look by all wannabe dashing rogues.

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