Missing out on Sloclap’s Sifu when it originally launched was one of my biggest regrets of 2022. The challenging Kung Fu brawler won the respects of Abhi Jha in our initial review last year. We’re a highly opinionated bunch over here at Gameffine and having my reservations against the Epic Games Launcher, I painfully held out till the title came out on Steam on March 28, 2023. Turns out that it was worth waiting. Not only does Sifu come with all the post-launch updates it went on to receive on EGS, the Steam launch is commemorated with the addition of Arenas, a massive update that tests your Kung Fu skills to the limits, as well as various bells and whistles, making it the best version of the game to pick up for us latecomers. Welp, I blew the punchline load too early. Presenting Gameffine’s Sifu review.
World of Pain
Since Abhi covered the base game thoroughly in our original review, it’s moot to go through it all over again. Keeping it short, Sifu is a third person brawler with a few Roguelite elements sprinkled in. The story is a classic tale about revenge and how it consumes the one set out for it. You play as the Disciple, whose father/master is murdered by his former student. Years later, you set out for revenge against the man who killed your master and all those who aided him. The story is choke full of classic action movie references, and each level plays out like one big single-shot action scene. Movie buffs like me will likely have a field day with the game.
Sifu is a tough game, tougher than most action games these days. The game has only five levels (excluding the tutorial level) and each level culminate in a boss fight. But there’s a twist. Unlike your average roguelite, the game doesn’t end when you die. Instead, each time you die, you get right back up, but your death counter goes up by one. This also increases your age by one the first time (you start at age 20) and keeps on stacking up each time you die. Your second death ages you by two, the third by three, and on and on. This aging is persistent and carries across levels. At age 70, you lose the ability to resurrect and face the chance of final death, requiring a level restart.
The ultimate objective of the game is to pull off an age-efficient run so that you can get to the final boss at the youngest age possible. This requires multiple runs and mastering the game’s systems. The age system is unique and can be frustrating for newcomers. But don’t fret, if an uninitiated novice like me can pull off a badass run, so can you. Then there are also the permanent upgrades, level shortcuts and more we’ve talked about in our original review.
Eye of the Tiger
Combat is the heart and soul of Sifu. If it wasn’t for the extremely satisfying and rewarding gameplay loop, the game would have felt like crawling on your bare knees through ice. The combat is easy to get into but hard to master, and is filled with the sort of nuance and depth you expect from a character action game. Rather than button mashing, the game rewards precise, calculated tactics, since odds will be stacked overwhelmingly against you. Levels are intricately designed for flexible combat encounters and are filled with enemy types that telegraph their attacks properly. There are so many ways in which you can take on a particular encounter.
Things like blocking, dodging, parrying, counter attacking, hell even the game’s most basic combos are so expertly animated to make you feel like a badass. It’s safe to say that the game makes the player look good, even if you’re getting your ass handed to you. Practice makes all the difference. Ir’s no wonder that the game’s rich training mode is where you’ll spend most of your time. In just a short amount of time, Sifu’s combat system has completely won me over. It’s right up there with the likes of Doom Eternal, Ninja Gaiden and Sekiro in terms of skill ceiling and versatility.
No Holds Barred
Sifu’s short length was a thing of concern for many when it originally launched. Sure, you could go for the true ending for the second playthrough. Even then, you’ll be stuck with the same scripted encounters as before. Arenas exapnsion is the answer to that. The Arenas is a separate gameplay mode where you get to test your mettle in 45 grueling combat challenges. The Arena challenges are divided into 5- Survive, Performance, Capture, Manhunt and Time Attack. Each mode comes with its unique modifiers, levels and encounter design. If you thought the base game was hard, then you’ll be in for a surprise. Even the most veteran players will have a hard time getting a perfect score in all challenges. This effectively adds 10+ hours to a game that already needed serious time investment to “git gud”. Plus, there will be more arenas dropping via future updates. I guess they took the “not enough content” callout way too seriously.
If the Arenas aren’t your thing, then you can replay the campaign levels with modifiers and cheats for good measure. You can basically tweak anything and everything through this menu, which unlocks after beating the game for the first time. I have been constantly messing around with the various modes for 20 hours, and I’m still nowhere to being done. Speaking of which, the game runs maxed out at 60 fps (most of the time) on Steam Deck. I’ve only had the issue of the game randomly freezing and locking up when you access the skill menu during gameplay. This happened a little bit too much if you ask me, and I’ve seen reports of other people facing the same issue as well. Then there’s the issue of the game’s camera getting a bit too close to your character during certain fights, which can potentially be a death sentence in a game like this. An FOV slider would be a good addition.
Get Good or Die Trying
We gave Sifu a glowing “Recommended” rating last year, and it has just become even better. Sifu has everything you’d expect from a brawler- a complex combat system that can be as good as you make it to be, an addictive gameplay loop that constantly encourages the player to be better, beautiful levels, expertly crafted combat encounters and more replayability than you’d ever want. The only thing lacking is more story content. But the night is still young. With just some minor flaws but overwhelmingly positive offerings, Sifu is one hell of an experience that’s well worth the full price.
Final Rating: 90/100
Disclaimer: This copy of the game for the PC platform was provided by the publisher for review purposes without any riders.