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Sifu Review

Sifu Review

Is there anything cooler than a martial artist stoically fending off wave after wave of goons without even breaking a sweat? No. No there is not. Which is why I was excited to play developer Sloclap’s latest adventure Sifu, a roguelike beat ‘em up with a twist, inspired by classic Kung Fu movies. Using masters of the ancient art as consultants to make sure the game is as authentic as possible, it’s clear from the very first fight that a lot of attention to detail has been put into the challenging combat. Intentionally designed to be difficult (which means I died, a lot), Sifu aims to emphasise a “mastery through practice” approach and features a unique mechanic in which the main character ages every time he’s defeated, although as you’ll find out, this is not an infinite process and you can — and will — find out our hero cannot age indefinitely. Intriguing, but is this fighter more Kung Fu Hustle than Enter the Dragon? Let’s find out.


Weapons can be a game-changer when in a pinch

The premise of the story is a simple one: You play as a young (although not for long…) Kung Fu student who seeks revenge on the five people responsible for the slaughter of their entire family. After a brief introduction sequence in which you play as Yang, the leader of said group — which also serves as a brief tutorial — Sifu really kicks off with one of the greatest opening credit scenes I’ve ever witnessed. As the credits appear on screen, you gain control of the nameless main character in a sort of dream sequence taking place in an endless red void, with the game's five main bosses appearing in sequence, letting our hero dispatch them with ease. Although you’d best believe they put up more of a fight when it’s time to face them for real. It’s a great start to the adventure, with a pulse-pounding theme accompanying the visually striking scene, but putting down these five bosses will not be so simple in the real-world.

After such a strong opening, it’s a shame there isn’t that much else to say about the narrative. Our vengeful hero is alone on their journey with just their Kung Fu prowess and a magical, death-halting amulet to assist along the way. And with little in the way of story exposition, apart from an investigation board found in the safehouse that gives small insights into each area and the bosses you’ll face, that's about as much context as you’re given. Some occasional dialogue choices also pop-up before some fights, and although they serve little purpose, they do add some variety to repeat runs through the five locations. Alternatively you can skip these and just let your fists do the talking.


Just dropping in to say...die

The real heart of Sifu is in its combat though, and wow is it a joy to behold both mechanically and aesthetically. You'll use a wide variety of weapons and objects in the environment to aid you, but you'll mostly be replying on your Kung Fu abilities. The combos — whilst simple to execute and don’t reach the baffling complexity of something like the Tekken series — are fluid and precise, all the while looking and sounding lethal (which is, unsurprisingly, exactly what they are). Timing and patience is essential if you’re to exact your revenge, and going into a fight wildly mashing light & heavy attacks is a quick way to the game over screen. The block and dodge buttons will be just as — if not even more — essential than the attack buttons, as timing a block perfectly will parry an attack and stun enemies, leaving them open to a throw move. Performing any of these defensive manoeuvres will lead to your structure bar increasing which, when filled, leaves you vulnerable to devastating attacks, oftentimes leading to your demise. So if you see your meter in the red, it’s best to hang back and let it reset.

You’ll very quickly realise however, that death is not the end of your quest. The player character's magical amulet grants them immunity from losing their life; although with all things that sound too good to be true, there's a catch. Each time you are defeated, your death counter increases by one and you “age up” in years by the current number on this counter. For example you start the game at age 20; every time you die the death counter will rise by one, therefore the main character will resurrect at age 21. Die again without resetting this counter — which can be done by defeating the enemies that killed you — and you’ll age up two years, to 23 years old. There are five tokens on the amulet, and for each decade you pass into (30s, 40s, etc.), a token will break, meaning once you pass 70 years old, the next time you die it’s all over. Sifu doesn’t allow you to de-age, or reacquire lost tokens, so be careful; even one extra year added on could potentially ruin a run in a later level.

My initial run through the first level ended in disaster as the stage's boss, The Botanist, made a joke of me, where I aged from around 42 to 75, before he put me to eternal rest in embarrassingly quick fashion. He wasn’t so lucky the second time around, and I claimed victory at the tender age of 67. Which meant I then had to start the second area at that age and needless to say, I did not last long.

At this point I had chipped away at unlocking some skills, which is done by spending experience points earned in battle. Although fairly inexpensive to acquire, they only last for as long as your current run does. Meaning if you run out of amulet tokens, these skills are lost. However, you can dump extra points into these which, when enough points have been accumulated, unlocks that skill permanently throughout the rest of the game.


Hell's Kitchen really had to step it up for the new season

So with a few permanent upgrades under my (black) belt, I decimated my foes on the first level, and got to the boss in a much shorter period of time thanks to unlocking shortcuts on my previous runs by way of finding collectibles. This time I had learnt all of The Botanist’s moves, when to best block, and when I should just dodge and run. As someone who has neither the time nor patience to play difficult games that require you to learn attack patterns, I was incredibly pleased when I struck the killing blow at age 29 (I have fully accepted I will never get the trophy for completing the game under age 25, goodbye platinum trophy).

But what about the moments between combat scenarios? Scattered throughout the levels are shrines, each one allowing you to upgrade one skill, with choices being based on your current age, points scored in the current level, and total number of experience points. I constantly found myself drawn to a skill which increases the amount of health recovered when performing takedown moves, as I needed all the help I could get! As mentioned in the previous paragraph, shortcuts can be found by either defeating special enemies, or finding a method of unlocking them within the game. These are then displayed on your investigation board, which shows what are basically both collectibles and hints for that specific map. Helpful hints such as “This door is locked, its keys can be found in another area” means I didn’t have to waste time scouring the fairly linear levels I’d previously completed for a key I somehow missed. These items also transfer between each playthrough, so once you’ve found a collectible, it’s yours for good.

Sifu looks and sounds the part too with simple, fairly low-poly graphics that still manage to dazzle, mainly due to the top notch lighting. In particular the nightclub level, with pulsating neon's and dingy backrooms all making me feel like I was back in my 20s at some awful dive bar my friend promised was “worth the £8 entry” (It wasn’t). Composer Howie Lee should be applauded for the game's soundtrack, which is beautiful, slow, and gentle during rare moments of peace, before quickly switching to up tempo beats that match perfectly with the sound of snapping bones.

There were points when writing this review when I was happy to heap praise upon how fantastic the fighting is: the slick combos, animations, and oh-so satisfying crunches when taking an enemy down. Other times I had to stop myself from flying into an expletive filled rage because some goon sucker punched me and halted my run through a level. I wasn’t angry at the game though, I was annoyed at myself. I’d ran through these guys countless times before, so I got cocky and tried to rush through with my newly unlocked abilities. Sifu is definitely a game I can recommend to those who have the patience to go through the same levels, fighting enemies over and over in an attempt to learn how to approach each situation as you slowly grow stronger. It’s not an easy game by any means, which is why I was so surprised to find I could not stop playing. Constantly I found myself saying “just one more run through” to see if I could beat a level under the age of 30. It’s a challenging game, but Sifu is certainly an experience not to be missed.

9.00/10 9

Sifu (Reviewed on PlayStation 5)

Excellent. Look out for this one.

A brilliant take on the roguelike genre, Sifu is a game that is hard to beat, but even harder to put down. Timing, patience, and skill will see you to fulfilling your goal and exacting that sweet revenge.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Mike Crewe

Mike Crewe

Staff Writer

Bought a PS5 and won't stop talking about it

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retrogamergirl - 07:15pm, 7th February 2022

Sifu looks great! Though it sounds like it will be another game that's going to have me swearing a lot, I seem to play a lot of those...

MickSaveMOYF - 12:47pm, 8th February 2022 Author

Definitely one I lost my temper to a few times!

Wedgeh - 04:39pm, 8th February 2022

Kick, punch, it's all in the mind!