Sifu Review

Three things I like about this game, and two I don't

Sifu on PS5

By Paul Hunter

Over the past ten days Sifu has punched, kicked and slapped me silly but I'm loving the hell out of every minute of it. Sifu is the intense new Kung-Fu beat 'em up game from Sloclap, the acclaimed team behind 2017's Absolver. Releasing on PS5, PS4 and PC, this immersive brawler has a stiff difficulty but for those up to challenge you'll find a rewarding experience that'll take you from a martial arts beginner all the way to an unstoppable Kung-Fu master. Let's head on into the kwoon to begin our training, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: The Super-crisp Gameplay

Sifu absolutely excels at its mission to bring the devastating techniques of Pak-Mei Kung-Fu to life. The combat system is a mix of classic Kung-Fu movie aesthetics mixed with the brutal close-quarters combat from films like John Wick and Kill Bill. To survive you'll need to master every aspect of the game's combat, from its precision parries, jumps, ducks and evades to the pinpoint strikes, grapples and kicks—and that's no easy task.

Much like games such as Sekiro, Punch-Out!! or Battletoads, Sifu demands a lot from you and forces you to improve your skills through good old fashion trial and error. While you might be able to survive up to the first boss by mostly mashing buttons, it's during this battle that you'll learn the hard way that you absolutely need to master parrying, leaping and dodging to survive. And while it's a tough lesson, getting a handle on the game's full range of combat mechanic is exceptionally rewarding.

With perseverance, bosses that originally smashed your face in will become manageable and even dare I say easy once you finally understand their movesets and how best to counter them. With all five bosses I went through the same cycle of initially sucking ass, slowly learning their ins and outs, and eventually smoking them good. Each time felt like an incredible accomplishment worthy of all the blood, sweat and tears that came before it.

Along with gradually increasing your skill as you play, you'll also gain XP used to unlock a couple dozen abilities that can further shift battles in your favour. These abilities are generally usual, such as letting you perform a running sweep or unleashing a flurry of thrusting jabs, and open up more ways to break enemies' stances or counter their attacks. Abilities also add a unique roguelike vibe to the game since you can buy them individually during each run, but if you spend a huge chunk of XP you can permanently unlock them. If you get stuck on a boss, and trust me most players will, you can still feel a sense of progression through skill unlocks that give you a wee bit more combat options the next time around.

Liked: The Aging System

Sifu's unique aging system is another huge highlight of the game. It works by having your character begin at age 20 and upping your age each time you die and revive. The more you die in a row the faster you age, so it's absolutely critically to refocus after each death. Once you pass age 70 it's game over and you'll need to try again.

Not only does your character's appearance shift from a clean cut 20-year-old all the way to a gray-bearded senior, but every 10 years your max health decreases while your attack power increases. This adds a great deal of tension in combat since you won't be able to absorb as many enemy attacks and you'll need to nail those perfect parries more than ever. And when you do stumble your opponent it's time to strike hard and fast with your old-timer damage buff.

What's also neat is how the aging system incentivizes you to go after the perfect run. When you beat a stage you'll move onto the next one starting at the same age, so if you beat the first boss (The Botanist) at age 32 that's the age you'll begin the second mission at every time. But if you later go back and totally crush stage one at age 21, then for all future runs you'll start mission two at that younger age. The aging snowball effect means it's crucial to replay levels and perfect them to give you a much higher chance at surviving the later, more challenging missions.

Liked: The Immaculate Level Design

Sifu is an utterly gorgeous game that nails the Kung-Fu movie aesthetic. The game's five areas all have a cool, distinct vibe to them, whether that's the neon dance club floors in stage two or immaculate business suites of stage four (that end up getting smashed to pieces!). The awesome music adds to the flavour as well and does a superb job of ratcheting up the tempo during heated confrontations.

It's also fun to see these eye-popping environments hide plenty of collectibles that expand on the characters and story. But what's even better is you'll sometimes find keys or keycards that unlock shortcuts through stages. These keys are total lifesavers since it means you can complete levels faster—and skips some mini-bosses along the way—to hopefully arrive at bosses at a younger age. Even though I generally use the shortcuts, from time to time I still do the full run through levels because they all just look so damn good.

Didn't Like: The Frustration

For a game all about teaching you to become a Kung-Fu master you'd expect a decent amount of challenge, but hot damn does Sifu go a bit overboard. It's brutally hard, unrelenting and utterly unforgiving, especially the tough-as-nails boss fights. Fortunately, I was able to weather through it despite there being more than a few times I wanted to pull my hair out. By the end, the pain was worth the gain as it felt amazing to finally make it to Yang the leader and roll the credits. Still, I can definitely see the stiff challenge putting this game out of reach for some gamers, and that's a shame given how incredible it is.

Didn't Like: Some Ability Upgrades

While there are a bunch of extremely useful abilities you can unlock, like regaining your balance after an enemy pushback or the punishing Focus moves, some of the abilities I didn't find all that useful in practice and they felt like a waste of XP. It would have been nice to unlock some more advanced combos to really deal out some vicious damage, or perhaps a few grapples to stop enemy rushes. But instead Sifu is all about more subdued unlocks with a few if any real game-changing new abilities. So while new abilities can certainly make some bosses slightly easier, make no mistake that a lion's share of your progress comes from straight perseverance and deepening your skills.

The Verdict

Sifu is a sheer delight to play with its immaculate gameplay and breathtaking graphics. Be prepared to get your butt kicked though, but if that appeals to you as much as it does for me, then this game should be at the top of your must-play list. That youngest I've been able to clear the game is age 46, and while I feel proud of my achievement, it means I still have a ways to go to become a true Kung-Fu master. And what makes this game so brilliant is how motivating and rewarding it is to replay missions and do better. Sloclap nailed it, beat 'em up fans shouldn't miss out.

Final Score: 9/10 - Amazing

Sifu details

Platform: PS5, PS5, PC
Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Sloclap
Genre: Beat 'em up
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.