Sifu – A game that will give you grey hairs virtually and in real life.
When people think of difficult games, there are a couple that come to mind. The Dark Souls games, which literally gave birth to the genre we now know as “Souls-likes”. Cuphead, the 1930’s styled, side scrolling shooter, where if you remember, a poor reviewer got lambasted because he struggled to complete the tutorial, let alone the first level. Now I think another game will easily fall onto that list, enter Sifu. The second game to be released by the studio Sloclap, available on PS4, PS5 and PC. Sifu is a 3D brawler game that combines the likes of arcade legend, Double Dragon and one of the most competitive fighting games, Tekken.
“If a man dwells on the past, then he robs the present. But if a man ignores the past, he may rob the future.”
You play as a young Martial Artist who witnessed their father get murdered by a group of 5 kung-fu masters. The Botanist, The Fighter, The Artist, The CEO and The Leader. They themselves are also killed, but are thankfully resurrected thanks to a magic talisman. 8 years later, the young child has become an accomplished fighter and sets themself on a path of revenge to take out the 4 henchmen and their leader. The story of Sifu is nothing new, it’s another retelling of avenging a loved one and preventing oneself from being consumed by anger and rage. Throughout the game, you’ll find homages to classic fighting film moments, one of the earliest is the legendary hallway fight from Old Boy.
As far as game play goes, as previously mentioned, it’s a mash up of Tekken and Double Dragon. You have your standard controls: Light Attack, Heavy Attack, Block, Parry, Dodge and Dash. Using a mix of those, you also have a sweep attack and push attack. As you play through each level, you gain experience which you can use to unlock more skills. Weapons mastery, catching thrown weapons and a whole heap of others.
Sifu is not a game that you can just button bash your way through, if you attempt that you’ll be quickly overwhelmed and beaten to death, which leads to the core mechanic of the game. Death is not final, merely a setback. When you die, you’re presented with the upgrade screen, where you can spend your experience on the previously mentioned skills, once you’re finished with that you can rise up from where you last fell, however your character ages one year and you accumulate a ‘death point’. Die again, you get another death point but this time you age 2 years. The more your death points increase the more you’ll age when you get back up again. This happens all the way up to the grand old age of 70 something where if you’re knocked down at that age, you’re not getting back up again.
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
When you do get a ‘game over screen’ and believe me, you will, all is not lost. Any skills you have leveled up enough to become ‘permanent’ and can be used throughout earlier stages of the game, and you’ll be going back to them to replay them over and over. As you age in Sifu, it carries over into the next level. Finished the first at age 30? That’s the age you’ll start the second level as. Managed to claw your way past the second level and get out at age 75? Well, the rest of the game is going to be pretty difficult to beat on just one life. Thankfully, Sifu saves the youngest age you entered a level as, and allows you to try it again with all your new unlocks. Hopefully this time round you can beat it at a younger age.
The format of each of the 5 levels follows the same plan. You fight your way through a particular setting and you’ll eventually come face to face with a 2 staged boss. Defeat them, cross their name off the list and it’s onto the next one. Well, of course, it’s never that easy. Until you become a Sifu master you’ll probably end up dying to some goons or mini-bosses, and coming to the level boss battered, bruised and old enough that your hair turns grey isn’t a delight. A nice touch is that as you progress through a level you’ll eventually unlock shortcuts allowing you to skip large portions of the level and save your precious lives.
“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never going to keep me down.”
Learning the Sifu controls did take me a while to grasp. The parry window for attacks feels extremely small and having enemies gang up on you for an asswhooping is a pain, but after some practice, things started falling into place. Learning the enemies moves, learning not to be greedy with my attacks. Sifu feels like learning Dark Souls all over again. One thing that did make playing the game an even more of a pain was the camera. In some of the more cramped levels, the camera would just zoom in on the main character’s back, meaning I couldn’t see the incoming enemies attack. This was extremely frustrating especially if I was only a good run. Thankfully, no controlers have been harmed while writing this review.
Visually, I love the art style of Sifu. The lighting is amazing in each level, my personal favourite being the nightclub level. The mix of neon lighting and fires lighting up the later parts of the level look gorgeous. The audio is a nice mix of classic Chinese instruments and modern techno beats. The soundscape as you introduce people to your left and right fist is extremely satisfying. Hearing metal bounce off of enemies skulls, the ‘whooshing noise’ as you pick up a bamboo staff… ‘chef’s kiss’. Both the visuals and the audio combine together to create this great hybrid of video game and movie moments.
The final verdict
At the end of the day, Sifu is a gorgeous game hidden behind a very difficult learning curve. As of writing this review, less than half of all players have beaten the second level of the game. Only 25% of players have beaten the third. (11.5% have beaten the final boss). The difficulty will put a lot of people off, it can be a frustrating game but as a famous fictional fighter once said
“…it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” – Rocky
You can buy Sifu on the Playstation Store for $63.95AU for a digital copy, but you’ll have to wait till May to pick up a physical version.