One of my favorite moments in Marvel’s Daredevil series was the hallway fight scene. It was strongly influenced by Park Chan-Wook’s “Oldboy” and it was more than just a cool ‘one-take’ fight scene. The fight scene showed the protagonist going down multiple times and getting back up to continue the fight. It had story implications, it was great, and I had quite a few people recommend the show to me after that episode. Sifu had me play a very similar scene early on in the campaign. Even on my first run, I felt like I had outdone Daredevil in that hallway. I was fighting for my life and it was going well. At that point, Sifu had me hooked and I was looking forward to the rest of the game. How good does the game hold up after that? Read on for our Sifu review and find out!
Everybody is Kung Fu fighting!
Sifu is a realistic third-person brawler with tight Kung Fu combat mechanics and cinematic martial arts action embarking you on a path for revenge. That’s the tagline and the game stays true to that throughout the game. It follows the story of a young person who witnesses the death of their father and embarks on a quest of vengeance after eight years of training in the ways of Kung Fu. In short, players can be the movie martial arts master with the firsts and feet of fury they dreamed about. The game offers an immersive third-person action formula combining intense hand-to-hand combat gameplay with an age loop twist.
It starts off right in the middle of the action. You are infiltrating an unnamed location and have to fight off groups of people while learning the mechanics. It’s a great starting point and the game instantly shows off what you can be expecting in the next 8 to 14 hours and beyond. I came into this game without a lot of knowledge of what I could expect, as I like to do, and I thoroughly enjoyed the tutorial and scenes that followed.
Aging by the death
The game has an interesting mechanic which you’ll hear about shortly after the tutorial. You start off at the age of 20. Every time you die in the game, you age 1 year. If you die again shortly after, you will age 2 years, so the death-counter increases as well. You can slow down the rate of aging by decreasing this death counter during gameplay. There’s a few other small gameplay indications that are attached to this mechanic but we won’t be going into that for this review. Just remember that you have 50 years to exact your revenge and how you do it depends on the choices you make in the game.
The game has a cartoony art style and I’ve seen it described as painterly. I can’t really think of a game with a similar art style. It doesn’t have a lot of gore, even though you are fighting through waves of enemies, sometimes with hand weapons, and could be kicking them down to the floor below. The animations are fluid. The camera moves around to make you feel like you are in a Kung Fu movie and there were only a few times where the camera was problematic for me. It definitely had some small issues, but it usually worked for me. The levels are different enough to be able to differentiate between them at just the sight of a screenshot.
The clock is ticking
Now let’s get into the actual gameplay. The game is quite difficult at times, especially some of the boss battles. In the beginning it is easy to get overwhelmed when it throws multiple grunts at you at the same time. Smashing buttons will only get you so far in this game. With the death mechanic looming over your head, you’ll want to improve your fighting early on, in order to benefit from your efforts later in the game. You’ll have to do better each time you die and the game almost forces you into that mindset. You know how many bosses you’ll have to beat, and you know the maximum age you can be so the clock is ticking.
The game knows that you will be replaying some levels just to ensure that you are young enough to be able to keep fighting until the end. That’s why it provides some shortcuts in levels so that parts can be skipped when running them again. I found this to be an excellent addition. I noticed that the death mechanic was constantly in the back of my mind and I would let it control my gameplay quite a bit. That’s why I was running through the first level quite a few times before I found that I had managed to do it at an acceptable age. These shortcuts are often found by running through the level the normal way the first time around and finding a set of keys or a keycard.
Input issues weren’t a thing
I must note that Sifu also ran really well on my Steam Deck even though it wasn’t Steam Deck verified at time of writing.I had an issue initially while using my PS5 controller on Steam but it worked a lot better after I had changed my controller settings to ignore Steam Input. It immediately responded a lot faster so you may actually run into an issue if you didn’t change this setting. This also applies to GeForce Now. Other than this, the game was always responsive and it never felt like input issues were the reason I was losing a fight.
Another game mode for Sifu is Arenas. Currently, there are 9 arenas, each with 5 different types of challenges. Manhunt, Survival, Performance, Capture and Time Attack. These challenges were difficult but provided some further atmospheric fights that made the effort all worth it. It is definitely recommended to finish the story before even attempting any of these challenges and I found it to be very difficult once I started attempting these. I think I will attempt to improve a bit more within the arenas over my next couple of gaming sessions.
Sifu is a game that surprises you and pulls you in straight away. It is a game that forces you to perfect your fighting and provides a lot of replayability. With the addition of Arenas, it seems to give you even more reason to start up the game more often to see if you can do even better than before. I know for a fact that there are people speed running this to finish the game at age 20 and I’m sure that the playthroughs that take no hits at all are even better. I won’t be one of those people. The first time I managed to get to the final level I was 60. I’ve definitely improved since, but the last level has been extremely hard for me to beat.
It is punishing, and especially boss fights can take quite a few attempts to beat. The death mechanic has to be something you don’t mind too much, otherwise it can become discouraging. I can’t really hold this against the game as a lot of people that will be playing this will be looking for exactly the challenge that this game provides. Overall, I feel like as a fighting game it is not too far off from what it wants you to achieve during your runs: Perfection.
- Great start to the game
- Good artstyle, runs well
- Works well on Steam Deck
- Forces you to improve
- Each boss is different
- Death mechanic has to be your thing
- Boss fights can be punishing
That was it for our Sifu review. Sifu is available through GeForce Now and Boosteroid. You can follow our Twitter account to stay up to date with the latest changes.