Sifu Review: "Excruciatingly Addictive And Immensely Satisfying"

Sifu Review: "Excruciatingly Addictive And Immensely Satisfying"
Image: Sloclap

Written by 

Aaron Bayne


9th Feb 2022 14:54

Sifu isn't going to be for everyone. Games that require precise timings to win fights and progress often don't click until you find a rhythm and there's no beating around the bush here: Sifu takes some getting used to. That moment of realisation may come a few minutes into the quiet, rundown streets of The Squats, five hours in when you finally beat the notorious second boss, or it may never come at all, no matter how hard you try. This is an unforgiving experience but for those that do click with it, an excruciatingly addictive yet immensely satisfying experience awaits.

  • Already picked up the game? Check out our Sifu tips so you can hit the ground running. 

Humble Beginnings

Sifu Review: Fighting a room full of enemies.
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The premise of Sifu is simple. After witnessing the death of your father by the hands of five assassins, you are on the hunt for revenge following eight gruesome years of training. With five levels, each culminating in a boss, you must fight through rooms of enemies via a series of combos, counters, and dodges in a third-person beat-em-up fashion. 

That simplicity carries over as you clear most of the first level, dealing out a dose of heavy and light blows to the typical onslaught of grunt, heavy, and nimble enemy types. But then you die for the first time, introducing Sifu's first link in its expanding chain of variable systems. Upon each death you age, and the more you die, the quicker you age, until you're in your 70s and it's game over. The ageing system is one of Sifu's greatest weapons, as it doesn't allow you to simply make it through each of the levels by the skin of your teeth. You have to do well in one level to allow yourself the breathing room to stumble in the next.

The difficulty will start early on however, because it'll take some practice and level repetition till you're good enough to get past the second level at a young enough age. There's no difficulty slider in Sifu and you won't receive any hints or tips after dying. This is a game that will infuriate you, but when you manage to get past that boss you've been stuck on… the relief is like nothing else.

That barrier for entry is entirely based on you submerging yourself in the mechanics of its combat. You will need to farm XP and replay levels so you can permanently unlock new skills, but as you do you become better equipped to take out rooms full of goons, and maybe even the occasional boss. 

  • Head on over to our guide on Sifu upgrades so you can get a handle on this system. 

Simple Yet Complicated

Sifu Review: Fighting the second boss, Sean.
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This is where Sifu shines. What starts out as basic counters and varying hits, will turn into a vast supply of new movesets, which you can set up and adjust depending on who you face. You'll go back to each level, constantly trying to refine your approach, avoid death, and bookmark your youngest age, meaning you have more opportunities to defeat the next level. 

The fun of each encounter never ceases either. You'll revel in tense one-on-ones as much as you will against fast-paced hordes of enemies. The key is that while some enemies can be taken out in a few hits and others require a bit more tact, any enemies can take you out with just a couple of well placed blows. It means that you are hyper aware of every incoming attack, and are constantly weighing up the risk/reward of dealing damage or playing it safe. And this extends to the levels themselves.

As you complete each level you will unlock new routes which can fast-track you towards bosses. While this means you have less risk of ageing up, you will also miss out on valuable upgrades via Shrines, which can turn the tide of any given fight. Fighting through the levels even produces the opportunity to reduce your death counter, meaning you will age less upon death, effectively giving you more lives.

The methodical approach is really down to you, as you improve your performance on each run. The desire to seek revenge and destroy the last enemy that ended your run can be high, but do you let that override the simplicity of bypassing them to go straight to the boss?. Engaging in dilemmas like this will steadily allow players to become one with mechanics that initially seemed secondary, and familiar with enemy attack patterns that quickly become emblazoned in the mind. 

  • Make sure you are picking up the best Sifu skills, with the help of our guide. 

A Video Game-y Game

Sifu Review: A neon sign reflects off a puddle.
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Narratively, the game isn't going to challenge you as much as its combat does. The premise is that you essentially score each of your targets off a list, Kill Bill style. Yet, it really only acts as a precursor to what is an incredibly video game-y title. There is something refreshing about a game that relishes in its nature by focusing on mechanics and the repetition of your actions. Of course, the roguelike genre has increased in popularity tenfold in recent years, but Sifu doesn't even really fall into this category. Sure, you stand a chance of losing everything you earned with new runs, but in reality you are memorising and perfecting your performance, which in many ways is far more akin to old-school arcade games. Even approaching certain boss fights when you know you won't make it, you are still studying and formulating counters that you will eventually come back and refine on your next run.  

Your enjoyment of this approach however, is entirely dependent on how you feel about its difficulty. While it's not nearly Souls level - and trust me on that, because those games are not for me - Sifu will drive you up the wall, as you make yet another fatal error. But perseverance is the name of the game, and for those that can get behind the learning curve, you'll realise it isn't about how difficult the bosses are, it's about pushing yourself to the limit to become the best you can be. Mechanically and psychologically that might seem like a lot for what is technically an indie game, but Sifu is a well-realised and polished package that utterly defies its roots.  

Stylistically, the game doesn't rely on top of the line graphics, but the impressionable art-style only makes its world all the more dynamic, colourful, and immersive. It helps that you'll be focusing so intensely on its smooth-flowing and natural-feeling combat, but on top of running so well, Sifu sure is a looker. You will be enchanted by puddles reflecting neon outside a club, or oddly calmed by the ominous morning mist that coats a wellbeing monastery. While just five levels may seem a letdown to those used to expansive and dynamic maps, each locale in Sifu is beautifully crafted and you'll rarely grow tired of their sights. PlayStation 5 players also have the benefit of some of the best haptic feedback since Returnal, with blocks, thuds, and dynamic rumbings all attributing to the immersion. 

Strive To Be Better, And You Will Be

Sifu Review: Enemies await your attack.
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It's impossible to say that you must buy Sifu, because when you'll experience that moment of clarity where everything clicks will be different for everyone. Maybe it could do with a difficulty slider or some in-game tips, but by lowering the difficulty you also risk ruining the entire structure and genius of this game. For the players that manage to mesh with its mechanics, Sifu is a surprisingly great time, quickly reaffirming that Sloclap is a studio to watch out for. Once you let Sifu take hold of you, its combat will genuinely seep its way into your mind, so much so that you'll be thinking about it as you eat your dinner or go to bed. 

It's as much a combat puzzler as it is a button-mashing beat-em-up, and has proven itself to be one of the best brawlers in recent memory. However, Sifu goes one step beyond that, offering an addictive, highly replayable, and all-consuming game that will undoubtedly stand among the best of 2022. Even after you've beaten this game, you'll feel the urge to go back, knowing you can do better. 



Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.