Sifu is the newest hit game that found its fame on the stage of YouTube and Twitch, with major streamers showing it off for a few hours leading to its skyrocketing success. Developed by Slowclap, the developers behind Absolver, Sifu is the second game from a relatively small indie studio of 30 staff members. Revitalising the old kung fu movies, where fists, feet, and brooms did the talking and amazing leaps brought you between each scene, Sifu is certainly hitting the stage in a big way.
Starting off with the common trope of being the bad guy, Sifu races straight into the action as we punch our way through a small dojo living space. Set up as a small tutorial, we end off the intro stage by killing our old Sifu. Shifting the camera away from the man we just played as we are shown a small child, giving us the choice to select our gender. We are then killed for our choice, but thankfully we have a mystical item that can bring us back to life in exchange for 1 year off our lifespan.
From there, our character sets off on a journey of revenge to take down those who killed our Sifu, and subsequently us. Moving between five stages of combat, we meet the five “masters” who attacked our dojo, who all use varying styles of fighting. Investigating the stages themselves also allows us to collect items that deepen the lore of the world and its characters, or even grant us access to shortcuts and other areas with more lore.
My first full run of Sifu took me 5 hours and 48 minutes, with a repeat hasty run for the second ending taking another 3 or so hours. As such, Sifu isn’t an overly long game, though with its two endings it does offer some replayability from a story standpoint, alongside being able to upgrade yourself in different ways for each run and unlocking new attacks to use. That completion time was also adding in my deaths, finding collectables, and the game crashing losing me progress.
The game sadly lacks leader boards, aside from what you may find on Speedrun.com, so the only enticement of getting a new high score for each level is personal unless you are talking with other players to compete against. After a certain point the scores become pointless too, as the highest upgrades only cost between 4,000 and 9,000 points.
Moving onto the gameplay of Sifu, there isn’t a whole lot to compare it to aside from the combat sections of the Batman Arkham games, but a bit more “realistic” in the flowing of movement and locking into moves. You can’t spam dodges most of the time, and parrying is offset by your movement and attack inputs. You have to be smart about how you control your character.
You have a light attack, a heavy attack, combos that combine both, plus directional moves that require you to move back and forward or even sprint to pull off. You can hold down the block button, but attacks will increase your structure gauge, and when it gets full you are staggered for a second or two and open to attacks. The structure gauge is the same for enemies, so feel free to go ham on them.
When an enemy’s structure is broken you can press Y+B (Xbox controller) to pull off a finisher move that knocks out, or mostly just kills, a foe. Some elite foes get a second life and these knockouts actually force them into such a state, however, if you just defeat them with more punches they cannot “revive”. The finishers are brutal, from smashing someone’s face into the floor with your foot, leaving a large splatter of blood, to driving a machete into a foe’s stomach. There is also my favourite one, where you cut all the tendons of a foe then finish them with a neck slice.
The combat is visceral, every move counts, and you can feel the love put into the small complexities of each zone’s combat. Throwing in the new moves you can unlock, the variety of enemy styles, the difficulty of getting around weapon users, and managing your health and focus, Sifu is packed full of combat goodness.
Bringing up focus, you can build a sort of special gauge with each block, parry, dodge, and strike. This gauge starts with 1 bar but can be upgraded to 3, allowing you to pull off unblockable attacks that come with their own fancy cutscenes. These moves are imperative for newcomers to the game, as many will allow you to stun or break up large encounters into more manageable fights. Dropping someone to the floor, or pushing them a good 20 feet away, focus skills add even more to your arsenal.
Every time you die, you get a point added onto your death counter and your age. Subsequent deaths increase the death counter which means you’ll be ageing faster and faster from 1 to 2 to 3 years at a time and even more. The death counter goes down when you defeat elite foes, so you can manage it a bit, or spend experience at an upgrade shrine to reset it.
The music of Sifu feels muted for most of the levels, though the tracks that do stand out leave a lasting impression on you. The club music is fitting and energetic, while some of the boss tracks build up the skill of the enemy before you and follow you to the grave with each massive blow. I do kind of wish the game had more songs to fit inside of it, as some areas do feel lacking in the ambient sound department, but I didn’t find too many grievances with the OST.
Sadly, Sifu had a lot of glitches and bugs when I was playing through it. My game crashed 4 times, it had consistent lag in the first two levels, items would fall through the world, and enemies can get pushed inside of walls.
A reoccurring event also bugged me, though I am unsure if it is intentional, but your current run save can get overwritten if you die in a level you’ve done before and instead loads up the save you had in the level previously. This can absolutely break a run when you’re going for parry impact but your save on the level overrides your run with one that was focus centric. When parry impact is the most expensive skill at 4,000 to 9,000 score, it can make it almost impossible to get back in the later levels.
While bringing up the difficulty of the game, I will mention that it will vary between gamers. As Sifu is majorly set up in its fighting game systems, newcomers to the genre will find themselves out of place and have a much harder time. The game also sometimes does a poor job at putting importance on certain mechanics. While parrying can increase a foe’s structure gauge more than anything else, dodging attacks is far easier to pull off and allows you to follow up with a strike.
Talking from a curve standpoint, the first level of Sifu is much easier than that of the second level. The club is much longer, throws bigger encounters at you, adds in more unparryable and unblockable move sets, while upping the danger of the boss significantly. Once you get used to the game it becomes bearable but I do foresee the second level being a major disappointment to gamers who were expecting more of the first level.
With the limited lives, ending a run at age 75, players who are not used to such a mechanic may also feel pressured playing through Sifu. On the other hand, older gamers who were used to arcade-style and old platformers will feel nostalgic at the counter going down. The age mechanic adds a neat roguelike element that ups the ante for getting through levels with zero deaths, similar to how Fire Emblem has units die permanently in combat in classic modes.
Going into repeat runs of levels, or the entire game, brings in a full sense of your mastery over the game systems and its encounters. Going from a 23 age to 20 in the first level, or 27 to 20 age in the second level, the progression and improvement is so easy to see with the numbers in your face. When you get to the point you can steamroll a level you come to appreciate the mechanics behind this punchy game.
Overall, Sifu is an amazing game that I am glad got the spotlight from the few streamers that saw it and gave it the advertising it sorely needed. I only remember one advert for the game months ago, and it fell onto my radar after people with wide audiences brought it to my view. It does falter with some annoying mechanics not being explained to their fullest extent, a handful of glitches that screw over runs. The feeling of wanting to improve a run is prevalent, from increasing your score to reducing your age.
I’ll give Sifu an 8/10, the graphical style is appealing alongside the soundtrack matching it perfectly. All aspects of its gameplay draw you in and continue to evolve as you delve deeper into the levels and your own upgrades. It is held back a bit from its glitches and crashes though a recent patch has made them less frequent. Sadly since it has no save system for you to alter it does mean that a new run can get erased if the game decides to overwrite it with a previous one.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Microsoft Windows
Publishers: Sloclap, Microïds
Grab your copy here https://store.epicgames.com/en-US/p/sifu
Reviewed on PC