Sifu is a new stylish, kung fu action game from SloClap. This one reminds me of my Double Dragon days, but instead of a side-scroller this is in full 3D and has all the bells and whistles of a next-generation game. It’s also pretty tough and had deep fighting mechanics.
Sifu is fairly straightforward in terms of backstory for the game. Bad guys have killed your family during your childhood and left you for dead. We then cut to about 10 years later where we’re 20 years old and we embark on a journey of revenge by killing a series of bosses. It sounds straightforward, but it’s anything but that… and it’s very likely your going to be going through the levels over and over. Sifu uses repetition as a tool to teach, so you are going to be getting to know the levels very well.
The story itself is well presented, although it’s not very deep. It’s fairly shallow, but I did like the presentation and the style, and there’s also room for expansion later on. Sifu itself isn’t a large game, there are 5 bosses with areas leading up to each boss. In theory, you could run through the whole game in a few hours, there’s just the tricky matter of fighting your way through levels of enemies with your fists and feet, wielding bats and pipes.
Sifu is a kung fu fighting game at the very core, and it’s got some of the best hand-to-hand combat I’ve seen in a game. There are basic attacks like punches, kicks, and sweeps, but there are also combos and much deeper attacks and defenses. When you first load in there’s a decent tutorial and you can always train with some AI in the starting area before you head out into battle.
The age mechanic is interesting in Sifu. When you die, and most likely this will happen a lot, you age by at least one year. You have a magic pendant, which brings you back to life right after you die, but at a cost of years being added to your age. The more you die, the more years get added to your death counter, which means dying repeatedly over and over again in the same place is a quick way to age. Once you get too old, you’ll die, and you’ll have to try again. The objective of the game is to get through all levels and 5 bosses, without dying of old age. As you make your way through levels you can lower your death counter by killing certain enemies, but the overall objective remains the same, stay alive.
The only way to get through the game is practice and repetition. You have to get good. You can unlock various shortcuts in the game, although the shortcut in the second level is fairly comical as it isn’t much of a shortcut at all. The game wants you to take on enemies head first, learn the attacks, defense, and evasive moves to work your way through. Once you reach the end of a level you have a new death counter and then you can move on. The first time I got through the club level I was around the mid-50s, meaning I wasn’t going to last long going forward. Therefore you have to go back to the previous level and do your best to get through and come out the other side as young as possible. At first, this seems impossible, but keep plugging away and the game starts to click as you find your flow.
For all the frustration that can come with fighting, and dying over and over, Sifu is an exciting game with some of the most fluid mechanics I’ve encountered in a fighting game for years. On the surface, this is a 3D brawler, but the intricacies of the mechanics are more akin to a fighting game like Street Fighter. Sifu compels you to come back time after time to take down that enemy who stood in your way, at first they were hard as nails, but eventually, you’ll be disposing of them in seconds. The key to this is the upgrades that can be unlocked. As you make your way through the levels various power-ups can be opened up through collecting XP. Unlock these upgrades five times and you get them permanently. Plus they really make a difference. For example, environment mastery is one that you want to pick up early. You can pick up weapons, bats, and pipes, which really help you out in battle. But when you unlock the environmental mastery, many more options open up around you. There are stools you can kick into opponents, making it much easier to take down that big lump in front of you with their fists raised.
While Sifu is set in full 3D, and the environments look gorgeous, the game reminds me of simpler times like running through Double Dragon. The difficulty of these classic titles is there for sure and also learning the attack patterns of the enemies in your way. The main objective of each level is to beat everyone in your path to get to the boss fights. These are good set pieces, don’t get me wrong, but there’s also great satisfaction in taking down 8 guys in a room with nothing but your feet and fists.
Attack combinations are useful, and you’ll unlock more of these over time. There are also various evasive tactics, where you can lean out of the way with precision. This means your brain gets hard-wired into the patterns of attacks coming your way, and it comes down to reflexes and reaction, plus being able to put it all together in a near-flawless run of timing and skill. This is probably where many will put the game down as it’s not going to be for everyone. But I would persevere with it because the rewards are great.
Sifu has another mechanic called Structure, which is quite similar to Sekiro, where you have to break your opponent’s stance. This is a kind of stamina meter, and it gets replenished by successfully evading attacks. If you keep mashing the block button, then eventually you will be broken and lose Structure, but successfully dodge and leave your opponents swinging air shots and you’ll always have more energy to fight. It’s a good system, although the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining this to you. There are a few quick tutorials in the first level, but these do go by fairly quickly, and it’s a kind of blink and you’ll miss it scenario.
When it all comes together and flows, Sifu’s combat is a thing of beauty. The first level acts as a great training ground for what comes later, and then things really ramp up in the second level in the club. There are moments of pure frustration where you go through levels near perfectly, then all of a sudden a few tough enemies will add decades to your age and the run is all over. But once it clicks, and you end up taking down that room full of enemies, not only effectively, but in a stylish manner too, you know you are there with Sifu.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t match the combat. The game opens up in a brilliant way, the bad guys kill your family and it’s a very effective opening, it really makes you sit up and pay attention. However, from there it’s a fairly standard revenge story. There are plenty of callbacks to Kung Fu movies, which I appreciated, but the story isn’t the main event in Sifu, that’s reserved for the combat.
Sifu is a great game that is going to punish, frustrate and delight in equal measures. I’d say if you are a fan of the fighting game genre or a fan of Kung Fu movies, then this is the game for you. If you don’t have much patience, or you want to casually play Sifu, then it may not be the game you are looking for, as making meaningful progress in the game takes time, practice, and mastery. For me, this is one of the best games I have played in 2022 so far, and I’m looking forward to going back in and finding all the secrets.
Platforms: PlayStation 4 and 5, PC (reviewed on PS5)
Release Date: 8th February 2022