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Fight for freedom and Bisexual mayhem in En Garde! video game

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Fireplace Games
Fireplace Games

Few aesthetics are as timeless — and ahistorical — as pirates in popular culture, and the archetype of the swashbuckling hero lives right next door. Following in the footsteps of media like Our Flag Means Death and potentially Pirates of the Caribbean (since many cite the latter as a Queer awakening), indie video game En Garde! also throws in a touch of unexpected historical accuracy by making its protagonist Bisexual.

At its core, En Garde! is a short and sweet spectacle fighter that puts stylish tricks from fight-scene choreography in the hands of players. Kicking tables, throwing buckets, and swinging from flagpoles is not only possible but basically required.

If you're familiar with spectacle fighters, these elements could take some getting used to. In series like Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham, combat is about maintaining momentum, usually in the form of long combos with counterattacks and dodges mixed in. They reward the player for staying in the thick of it.

But this game doesn't want you to fight fair. When you're surrounded, it's usually better to go the way of Captain Jack Sparrow and disengage, leading your foes into a position where you can face them one by one, or disrupt them in some other way. Because unlike the aforementioned games, the goons won't politely wait until you're done butchering one of their compatriots with a finisher. They'll rush to intervene with unblockable attacks, unless you somehow stop them.

As a novice to the genre myself, I still felt a bit silly running around each arena just to find another pile of barrels or stash of chili powder, but I attribute that partly to being spoiled for choice. The sheer breadth of options for approaching each fight could feel overwhelming, and with the game's story mode only lasting about three hours, it's practically begging for multiple playthroughs.

Completionists might appreciate the "challenges" present for each chapter, which prompt the player to defeat enemies in specific ways, like setting their pants on fire or hitting them with a cannon's recoil. A dedicated "arena mode" unlocks after the second chapter as well, and there are a range of difficulty options.

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As for the game's story, it takes after the classic Zorro. The heroine, Adalia de Volador, is a fencing freedom fighter determined to foil the plans of the comically oppressive Count-Duke, who has outlawed everything from stacking barrels to "watching the watchmen."

Along these comical lines, the game's tone and art direction align perfectly. Far from the dour shades habitually applied to any period before the 1900s, the color palette of En Garde! is vibrant and bold, and its brand of violence is, in many ways, more tame than a Saturday morning cartoon's.

There is no blood, no brutal skewering or dismemberment, or even outright death. The foes you defeat will keep talking long after they're down, bemoaning their loss or just wondering what's for lunch.

All that goofiness could have gotten old if overplayed, but the game's writing is self-aware enough to avoid overstaying its welcome. And that's great, because the little writing that's there has some progressive stuff going on.

Most notably, the character of Adalia was inspired by the real 17th-century opera singer Julie d'Aubigny, who was infamous for dressing in men's clothing, participating in sword duels, romancing both men and women, and other acts of Bisexual-flavored mayhem.

On top of that, Adalia's love interest is a woman of color, and while most of the game's run-of-the-mill goons are mustachioed men, a few in their roster are depicted as women — a small thing, for sure, but still uncommon.

Players who expect more content from a game with En Garde!'s $20 price tag might want to wishlist it and wait for a sale, but if they're likely to sink a few more hours into perfecting each chapter or maxing out the arena challenges, it might be worth picking up at full price. It's a lighthearted romp with excellent production quality and an inclusive cast.

En Garde! is available on Steam. To follow and support its developers, Fireplace Games, visit https://fireplace-games.com