Sifu Review: Pain and Gain

Sifu is a new game from the studio Sloclap, an indie developer from Paris, France. This is only their second game, the first being the game Absolver, and already they seem to be making a name for themselves with Sifu!

Sifu is a beat ’em game currently available on the PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Games Store. For this review, I was playing on the PS5 version. Keep that in mind if you plan on getting the game on any other system.

To start things off, let’s discuss the game’s premise!

Sifu is a game about revenge. After a former student of your father returns, he, along with his four other friends, fight their way through the school and your home, killing all those that face them and eventually killing your father. After witnessing all this, you are killed as well! However, you’re seemingly saved by a mysterious pendant you held in your hand. And then, after eight long years of training, you are ready to take on all of those responsible for your family’s death. And nothing will stop you. Not even death itself!

Of course, the story goes deeper than simply that but I’ll stop there for now to avoid any spoilers. And because you really don’t need much more than that. This is a story of revenge and stopping at nothing to achieve it, you really don’t need anymore set up. In fact, your character isn’t even named! I had to check the credits just to make sure I didn’t miss it, and I sure didn’t!

From here, let’s move on to the most important part of Sifu, the game play!

As stated before, Sifu is a beat ’em game. The main game play loop is basically to go room to room beating up everyone inside in the most efficient way possible! Something that would probably get repetitive and boring if it wasn’t for the fact that the game’s combat has such a good feel and rhythm to it.

To break it down simply, you have two forms of attack: Light and Heavy attacks. You use these attacks to string together combos ranging from sweeps to palm strikes to even crotch punches later down the line! Apart from that you also have a block that can be timed correctly for a parry if you manage to block just before an attack hits. You can also bob and weave to dodge attacks by holding the block bottom and using the left stick to dodge high and low attacks. This is an extremely important mechanic to get use to as you will be dodging attacks quite a bit! Especially with bosses.

The other big part of combat though is the Structure meter. The Structure meter is a mechanic that both you and your enemies have. Unlike your health meter, the Structure meter isn’t always on screen. Whenever you block an attack or get hit, you’ll see the meter appear on the bottom of the screen. It will fill the more damage you take or attacks you block, and if it does manage to fill completely you’ll take a massive amount of damage! However, by landing hits yourself, parrying attacks, or dodging attacks, the meter will go back down. Keeping this in mind is very important! But as I said before, this mechanic applies to both you and your enemies. An enemy’s Structure meter will appear above their health meter. It’s filled up the same way it is for you, but when it’s filled completely for an enemy, you can preform a take down! Knocking them out instantly and with a very flashy animation as well. Managing the Structure meter is honestly more important the watching your health in most cases! Especially since this also works with the game’s bosses. Letting you end a boss fight early if you managed to quickly fill their Structure meter.

One last game play element to mention is the Focus meter and the attacks tied to it. In the bottom left hand corner of the screen, a blue meter will fill on successful attacks and dodges. This is your Focus meter! It allows you access to powerful attacks at the cost of spending a bar and having to fill it up again. The trade off is just about always worth it though as you can use these moves to help you out of a lot of tough situations. They can be used to even interrupt your enemies mid attack! A perfect way to get an aggressive boss off your back.

Now that is just a simple look at the combat. I could go way more in depth discussing the smaller details but this review would stretch on a little too long at that point. Instead, let’s move on to talking about how you get new moves and techniques. Namely, from dying!

Death is a major part of Sifu, and that’s not just because you’ll be experiencing it a lot. Rather than actually dying, your character ages instead! Starting at the age of 20, you have until your 80s to finish the game. Each time you die though, you are given the chance to spend some experience on some new moves to help make sure you don’t die again. This isn’t the only way to spend your experience though. Each level will have a few shrines to visit. These shrines will refill your health and allow you to select one bonus along with spending your XP on new skills. The shrine bonuses range from increasing your Structure meter to increased weapon durability to increasing your Focus meter to allow you to use it more! Sadly though, these bonus will be lost when you start over again at a young age. This goes for your skills as well but not always. If you pump enough XP into a particular skill before you restart, you’ll be able to keep it permanently! As this does tend to take a lot of XP it’ll be awhile before you have them all, but this does give you a way to slowly build up your arsenal of skills.

Speaking of death though, if there’s one thing you’ve probably heard about Sifu before reading this review it’s that the game is rather brutal with it’s difficulty. And you heard right!

Sifu is a game that does not pull it’s punches, ever. Even from the first level the game doesn’t hold anything back. By the time I finished the first level for the first time, my character was in their 40s! This game will beat you down over and over until you learn how to deal with it’s many systems and encounters. The game as a whole is only five levels long. Each level being about 30 to 40 minutes long. But the difficulty of the game makes sure you won’t be finishing it anytime soon! This review actually took me so long to start because of how long it actually took to finish the game…

The game’s difficulty really is a double edged sword. On one hand, I can see a lot of players being put off by how hard the game is especially right from the start. Some people might not even pick the game up because they heard about how hard it is! Which is a real shame since Sifu‘s difficulty actually gives the game one of it’s best aspects; How rewarding it feels when you finally do improve! It’ll take time but when you start figuring out how to parry properly, how to deflect enemy’s attacks into each other, and even how to beat a boss while barely touching them. It’s just so satisfying! And it wouldn’t be that way if you didn’t have to work for it. Some games can make the player feel cool by having them be so impossibly strong right from the start, but as games like Devil May Cry prove, working and improving to get to that unstoppable feeling is something else… It’s really what makes all that pain worth it. And that drive to get better is what gives the game so much replay value! It’s designed to make you want to perfect every encounter. I have started over so many times not because I reached my 80s but because I wanted to do better at a particular section. And it can be frustrating, but it’s always worth it in the end.

Despite all that though, I certainly can’t fault anyone for not wanting to give that much to a game that continues to beat you down at every turn. However, there is one more aspect of Sifu that may still capture some players. And that’s it’s beautiful art and levels!

If there was one thing that surprised me the most with Sifu it’s certainly it’s art design. At just a glance I don’t think anyone would say the game looks bad. It has a good style and graphics. But all of that really shines with it’s impressive level designs! While the game only has five levels, each one feels and looks wildly different. This is also helped by the fact that each random enemy that comes to fight you has a design unique to that level. If you’re familiar with any other beat ’em, you know that they tend to have about like four looks for each enemy you face and just change the colors around as you go. Not for Sifu! There are some models that are used once and only once. That effort alone is something that needs to be mentioned as it really shows how the developers went above and beyond to make the levels and enemies feel unique.

I would show more of those levels and enemies but I honestly feel like that would be spoiling it, and that it should be really something you experience for yourself! Which is a good way to describe how I feel about a lot of the game. Sifu is a game you should really give a try. It’s difficulty might turn you away at first but just keep pushing through and you will be reward with such a wonderful experience. I can’t recommend it enough! Even as I’m writing this review I’m looking forward to playing some more. Which means it’s probably about time I wrapped things up!

Now to end off the review I’d like to go ahead and summarize some of my thoughts and feelings on the game.
-The game’s story, while seeming rather thin and basic, kept me interested to the end and enough for me to dig further into it.
-The flow and pace of combat, once you get the hang of it, really makes you feel like a cool kung fu master in the middle of a martial arts movie!
-The art design and level design completely caught me off guard in the best way possible.
-The difficulty will put a lot of people off but it’s something that I would never want them to change. And it’s something I hope will inspire players to improve rather than drop the game.

I don’t like giving scores in my reviews as I feel like it really boils down the whole experience of playing a game and reviewing it to just a number. However if you were just skimming this review because you were curious about whether or not I liked the game, I’ll go ahead and say that I loved the game! 2022 just started and I may have already found my game of the year…

But those are just my thoughts! What are some of yours? Did the review help you decide whether or not you’d like to play Sifu for yourself? Have you already played the game? Are you currently enjoying it? Feel free to let me know!

And as always, thanks for taking the time to read this! If you enjoyed it, feel free to share the blog with others or leave a comment. Any interaction is appreciated so don’t be shy!

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