When developer Sloclap released their first game Absolver back in2017 it wasn’t quite to my liking. The game’s smooth combat system was what I wanted but I wished that the game was more of a single player experience. Fast forward to last year when the team revealed their second game Sifu and this time it appeared like the team heard my wish. Sifu is a single-player, stylish, kung-fu beat ‘em up that’s a lot of fun but the difficulty this time around may be too much for some.
The story in Sifu is a classic revenge tale. At the start of the game you witness the murder of your master and from that moment your character swears revenge on those who did it. What follows is a very cool opening credits training montage that immediately got me in the mood to beat some people up. There is a twist in this game though and that is that your character is armed with a family pendant that brings you back to life when you die. Anything that powerful is bound to have a drawback and this is no exception as each time you die your character ages by one year. You have to carry out your revenge before you grow too old to do so.
Sifu features five levels to play through each of which features unique environments to make them memorable. The opening credits teach you some of the controls but this game really leaves a lot of it up to you to figure out as you go. Much like real kung-fu, it will take a lot of dedication and time to come to grips with all the intricacies of the combat in this game. The game is a lot harder than I thought it would be before I got my hands on it and I think the difficulty may turn some away. For those who stay on the path and put in the work you’ll find one of the best feeling combat systems around.
When you get into fights, you’ll need to properly time your punches, kicks, dodges, and parries in order to come out on top. Fighting just one enemy is usually pretty doable but when you enter an area with multiple, you’ll have to approach things differently. Making use of the environment is very important as you can roll over things like counters to put distance between yourself and an attacker or fling them into things. Objects like bottles are scattered about and can be picked up and thrown at enemies. Focusing on bringing down certain types of enemies also might be in your best interest as ones armed with weapons or bigger brutes may be best to take down first. Knocking a metal bar out of one of their hands and taking it for yourself to beat up the others is always a smart play.
The thing about the combat system that I didn’t like so much is just how hard it can be to judge what type of attack the enemy is going to do. The game teaches you how to dodge high and low attacks but in practice it can be very hard to tell which the enemy is about to do. This is especially true in boss fights and many times I felt like I was just unable to reliably tell resulting in cheap hits and death. I can already tell this will be something that will likely affect a lot of players and I personally think there should’ve been a better indicator to help you dodge more reliably. Maybe that would make the game too easy I’m not sure but how it is now feels a bit too punishing.
When you do end up dying, your age increases by one and each death after adds to the age counter meaning you can end up dying and aging by seven years in one fell swoop. You start the game at age 20 and if you reach age 70 and die then it’s game over. You can reduce the amount of years you age upon dying by defeating enemies so don’t worry too much about that increasing counter. Finishing levels also locks you to the age you finished it at so you can put yourself in a bad situation in later levels if you aged too much early on. If you have to you can go back and replay earlier levels to finish them at a better age and some items do make getting through repeat stages faster as they unlock shortcuts. You can also improve your character by spending XP you earn from fights. This will allow you to unlock new combos and moves to give you more options during fights. You also earn a score in each level and these points can be spent at shrines during that level to increase things like your health and structure.
Visually, Sifu is a treat for the eyes even if it isn’t the most technically impressive game around. The visuals always felt cinematic to me and it really does pull off the idea that your playing an old kung-fu movie. There is great level design throughout from an apartment building to a club to a museum and each one makes great use of colors such as green being used for the Botanist that you fight at the end of level one. The music in the game is also fantastic with it ramping up and cooling down at what felt like always the appropriate moment. The voice acting was a bit of a bummer though as it felt like the actors were just saying their lines and not putting much effort into it. I played the PlayStation 5 version for this review and it performs great on that console. It always felt like it was running at 60FPS and load times were basically zero. The game also uses the DualSense controller haptic feedback in some cool ways such as rain drops being felt or to help you feel each blow. Sound will play through the speaker as well but there is no adaptive trigger support. Trophy hunters will find 43 trophies here but it will be task to earn that Platinum. A lot of them easy but the hardest will be to beat the game while being 25 years old or less.
Sifu set out to be the kung-fu game of your dreams and for the most part I think it succeeds in being that. When you get into that perfect flow the combat and animation is just superb and this is complimented by some great art direction and a fantastic score. It’s really the difficulty and some unclear tells that hurt the game a bit and may be too much for some to overcome.
*Sifu is available now on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC. PlayStation 5 version reviewed. Review copy provided by the publisher for this review.
- Combat system is smooth and some of the best action gameplay around
- Unique Aging mechanic
- Stunning art direction
- Soundtrack is superb and always seems to fit the moment
- Can be very difficult to dodge properly making the game feel a little too much like trial and error
- Voice acting felt low effort