Sifu took me 15 hours to beat and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. With such replay value and an appealing price point, it’s easy to recommend to everyone, especially if you’re into modern roguelikes or From Software games. And that’s without mentioning how it pushes past some of its inspirations with its cinematographic flair and haptic combat. Sifu is as much a tightly told vendetta story as it is a masterful brawler. It’s an easy game of the year contender, and it’s only bloody February…
Sifu demands a lot from you, and that’s a sword that cuts both ways. Its combat is impeccable, with incredibly smooth and impactful animation, deep fighting mechanics, and challenging enemies that really make you fight tooth and nail for every victory. At the same time, the repetition that comes from replaying levels so you can essentially set a high score and give yourself a chance at completing the rest of the short campaign with what’s effectively one persistent pool of lives can lead to some really frustrating moments with no clear path through outside of just trying and trying until you get better at it, which can be frustrating. On the other side of that vicious learning curve, though, is one of the most impressive beat-em-ups I’ve ever played, with excellent level design, fantastic music, and – once it was all over – a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that few other video games can provide.
In Sifu, you see, every time you die, you age. Rising from the ashes sees you reincarnated on the spot, but while you start off as a plucky, fresh-faced 20-year-old, you could be shown the door to eternity as a punch-drunk geriatric of 75 after too many missteps before you know it. With each death, a death counter jumps up a notch, meaning your next demise might cost you two years, or three or four or more, depending on how many times you've slumped to the asphalt. With age, you become stronger, but less vitalic. And while there are a few ways to slow the hands of time (besides, you know, being shit hot at martial arts), the most obvious happens in real time – where you juggle your tactics on the fly, where you commit to offence and defence as each melee dictates, and where you consider every single decision in battle with half an eye on how it might impact you in the future. Let your guard down too often, and that future comes at you fast.
Sifu will likely ignite the difficulty debate once again, and it's certainly a shame that more people won't get to experience the game because of the barrier for entry. There's design and mechanical justification for having such a steep learning curve, though, and it's part of what makes Sifu so compelling. Your journey from student to master is thrilling, mainly because it's governed by your own improving skill level rather than traditional character progression. There are memorable moments that stand out throughout, such as the boss fights and an enjoyable recreation of the iconic hallway scene from Oldboy, but it's Sifu's combat that shines through most brightly. For as unique and interesting as its aging mechanic is, it wouldn't work without the combat carrying the load and ensuring that each replay is just as engaging as the last. Is one life enough to know kung fu? Maybe not. But I would happily spend mine playing Sifu to find out.
I frankly don’t consider myself too much of a difficulty-chaser in games, but Sifu might have changed that. I had flutters of intense accomplishment when I beat a boss, just a few tries after thinking it would be impossible. I would lament that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to the finale, and then pump my fist in the air proudly as I managed to do so. It’s a razor-thin wire to walk in making this feel rewarding.
SIFU is a vibrant and powerful tribute to martial arts. Sloclap undoubtedly masters its subject and the genre in which the title is registered. In only two games, the Parisian studios show their know-how in the field, and become recognized artisans of video game fighting. This Beat'em All hits hard and with conviction, and perpetuates the noble art of fist-fighting in a demanding and inspired quest for revenge. Sloclap's title, with its high difficulty, is intended for tenacious, even relentless players, and could discourage many, but learning martial arts requires self-sacrifice and self-control... just like SIFU.
Sifu is a one-of-a-kind rogue-like that marries an engaging setup with sublime combat mechanics. It scratches that integral itch that fuels subsequent runs, and it tries its best to avoid the feeling that time has been wasted. Progression exists in many different forms, but Sloclap's standout title pulls off one of the more impressive versions of it. Sifu shows players they are actually getting better at the game.
SIFU is the must-play action game of the year. Its roguelike systems shouldn’t hold back anyone from jumping in and following this thrilling narrative of revenge. The entire experience is like watching a Bruce Lee movie play out with you controlling the choreography. It’s as rewarding as it is brutally challenging, but I was having a blast kicking ass whether I was 25 or 55 in-game years old.
Sifu‘s punishing loop and intense combat are nothing short of brilliant. It’s one of those rare titles that doesn’t just want players to do their best; it demands it instead. Falling short of that requirement means the entire experience is going to be that much harder until you start doing better. For a majority of people, that’s not going to translate to a fun gameplay experience, but it perfectly serves the game’s themes. Through time, practice, and repetition though, challenging fights become easy.