Since its initial reveal during a PlayStation State of Play show last year, I’ve found myself heavily intrigued by Sifu, a Kung Fu action brawler with a unique death mechanic that ages you every time you perish and then rise again. Such a mechanic is interesting and helps Sifu stand out, as does his deeply rewarding combat and sense of style.
The story is one of revenge, with a plot reminiscent of John Wick. Instead of a cute, murdered puppy, Sifu sees the young protagonist’s father and the students of his martial arts school slaughtered by a collective of powerful underworld characters, led by Yang, a former student of the school.
After seeing his father bloodied and found by Yang and his subordinates, the child is also shot by one of Yang’s minions. Despite having their throats slit, they escape without even a scratch, having been saved by an ancient talisman that grants rebirth at the cost of rapid aging. Eight years after the attack at the age of 20 with much more strength and Kung Fu mastery under your belt, it’s finally time to hunt down each of the five underworld members and avenge your father.
Sifu’s opening is particularly deep and sets the game in motion with grace and elegance, providing a valid reason to seek revenge. The opening doubles as a tutorial where you play as Yang, who teaches you the game’s basic combat concepts, before putting you in the shoes of its protagonist.
The quality storytelling present since the lag manages to stick around as you fight your way through the five distinct locations eliminating members of Yang’s party and eventually Yang himself. You come to learn more about each person in the party as you work your way through their dedicated levels, with more information provided in collectibles scattered throughout each location.
Visually, Sifu’s art direction is also excellent but somehow simplistic. I would say that in a way it’s low-poly, with a sense of smoothness between the characters and the world at large, and yet at the same time it’s packed with detail, especially in its environments. It’s not a graphics powerhouse and it doesn’t have to be, as its bold visual appeal is quite stylish.
Sifu’s soundtrack is also impressive, with several tracks that will further draw you into the mayhem of Kung Fu. My favorite track would have to be the one that plays at the nightclub level when you start beating those chilling out in the club lounges. The song kicks off and amplifies the moment, making you feel like you’re part of an epic action movie. The tracks are a welcome mix of traditional Chinese and electronic music, with composer Howie Lee well and truly performing the mix.
Once you get into the weeds of Sifu’s gameplay, it will become clear pretty quickly just how challenging this action brawler can be. If I had to describe the fight in one word, that word would be “busy”. There’s a lot going on while indulging in punches in Sifu, and while you can take down a lot of lesser enemies by mashing buttons together, successfully taking down enemy bosses requires a high level of skill and skill. Familiarization with game mechanics.
There are heavy attacks and light attacks, as well as parries, dodges, and blocks that aid in the counterattack. While this is amply explained in the excellent combat montage that unfolds at the end of the game’s opening scene, it’s figuring out how to combat enemies’ high and low attacks that will pose the biggest learning curve. for most players. Taking the time to analyze enemy attacks to know when to dodge, parry, or block is crucial if you want to get deep into Sifu.
Both the protagonist and each enemy you face have two separate bars that seem to highlight their health and structure. Predictably, draining the health bar will kill the individual, while completely filling the structure bar will leave you vulnerable to enemy attacks. The main way to avoid problems with both is to avoid taking too many hits. Parrying is a great way to both reduce damage to your own structure, while greatly increasing your oppositions.
Melee weapons such as bats, bottles, and brooms can be used to take out enemies at a much faster rate, quickly filling up the structure meter allowing for quick and efficient kills. Destroying your enemies will also help you gain XP and increase your level score, allowing you to improve things like your weapon proficiency and your ability to regain structure and focus, which can be used to cast special attacks. This can be done at shrines placed on each level. XP can also be spent on new skills present in the skill tree, such as different focus abilities and combo attacks. There’s a lot going on in Sifu, and it can be rather difficult and frustrating when learning the mechanics of the game.
Speaking of mechanics, we haven’t even discussed Sifu’s aging mechanics. You begin your journey at age 20 and must go through all five levels in a single life. For example, if you complete the first level at age 33, you will start the second level at that age. If you were to go back and complete the first level at age 20, the age at the start of the next level will drop to 20. Having to manage your age between levels becomes more important as you get closer to Yang in the final level. , because he is a difficult person, to say the least.
Each decade you get older, your damage output will increase, but your health will decrease accordingly. One of the coins that adorns the old pendant will also disappear, and once you reach the age of 70, there will be no coins left, meaning your next death will spell the end of your run.
Each time you die in Sifu, you age by the number of years on your death meter, meaning if you’ve died 5 times and your death meter is 5, you’ll age a lot in one death. A large death meter can be fatal to your run, but it can be shaved off by killing special enemies, which when defeated will reduce the count by 1. There is also an expensive upgrade present at the shrine which can be purchased to wipe your death counter to zero.
If you think you need a few more years to clear a level you’re struggling on, it might mean going back to a level you’ve conquered before and completing a more efficient run. I for one have become addicted to shaving my age as young as possible, and while it’s not always necessary, it can make the later levels a little less stressful.
Luckily, subsequent runs can be made easier if you managed to get your hands on things like keys or keycards in previous runs. These items can be acquired by defeating a particular enemy and often allow you to skip a decent chunk of a level, allowing you to keep both your age and death meter low. The clever design of having shortcuts for future runs also minimizes the frustration that might otherwise arise from having to cycle through previous levels again and again.
Many things are well done in Sifu, but I still found some visual bugs. The punching bags found in the club were flailing around and clinging to the roof in what was a funny glitch, while I also managed to kick an enemy and drag them under the ground , which forced me to start a race again. While this one was a bit more frustrating, the race was only a minute old and I couldn’t duplicate the mistake. I’ve also encountered frame stutters that occur when performing a structure attack on an enemy. It only happened a handful of times, but it stood out in what is otherwise a solid experience.
Sifu can be frustrating, but hiding behind those initial frustrations is a mechanically deep and satisfying experience that exudes style. Its combat is challenging but rewarding, its visuals and soundtrack work in tandem to heighten the heightened sense of atmosphere, and its simple revenge plot narrative is engaging without being overbearing. Sifu’s difficulty isn’t for everyone, and I wouldn’t be surprised if most leave early, but for those who want an addictive and fulfilling journey, Sifu is a must-play game.