Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available On: PC, PlayStation 4
Following a solid outing with Absolver, Sloclap is back with another martial experience. Sifu is the latest exhilarating fighting experience, this time trading the roleplaying elements with a adrenaline filled fights and one of the most unique roguelite mechanics out there. Sifu is here, and players will get a few gray hairs while they fight through nonstop crowds of enemies and kung fu masters.
In Sifu, players take on the role of a young kung fu master who has witnessed the murder of their family as a child. Now a 20 year old adult, the protagonist is well-trained and is seeking revenge. There are five people who were involved in the murders, and the players will go through the various hideouts of each member to kill them. It’s as typical of a story as you can find, but the main premise is still interesting enough to move the action forward.
Players aren’t going to be playing Sifu for the story anyway. It’s clear that almost all of the developers expertise lies in combat, and Sifu goes all in with that. At a glance, the combat looks like a simple brawler where the skill lies in timing strikes and dodges, like the Batman Arkham series or Sleeping Dogs. The experience is actually much deeper though, with the player needing to constantly access their situation and use the appropriate strikes at the right moment.
Since players will constantly be surrounded by enemies, they will need to ensure that they don’t get overwhelmed. Players can manage crowds in various ways, such as tripping up enemies to keep them incapacitated for a few seconds, leap over counters and tables for spacing, or use weapons to dispatch enemies faster. If players fail to do so, they will quickly learn just how brutal the combat is.
Sifu is incredibly difficult, which will make or break this game for most players. Like most roguelikes, the joy of Sifu lies in getting better and progressing as a result of the player’s skill . While it can be frustrating, the right crowd will find themselves compelled to improve. Even beating a stage doesn’t always feel like its enough, since the structure of the game encourages players to die as little as possible to make future stages easier.
When the player dies, the protagonist will always age as a result of a fancy talisman strapped to their hip. The first death will result in aging just one year, then the protagonist is resurrected and thrown right back into the fray. Each death raises the death counter by one, thus raising the amount of years that the protagonist ages. If the player dies many times in quick succession, they can find themselves aging 4, 5, or 6 years per death. When the player reaches 70 years old, the next death will be game over. Losing forces the player to restart a stage from the beginning.
The key though is that the age doesn’t reset during each level. This is why players will want to replay stages to make future stages easier to approach. Hardcore players will find themselves playing a stage repeatedly, learning all of the patterns and eventually finishing off the boss at the end with no deaths. In between deaths, players can spend the XP they earned from defeated enemies to learn new combos. Like most roguelikes though, these are limited to just the current run. To unlock a skill permanently, the player will need to spend XP on the upgrade five times during the same run. This is a nice way to give players a boost on future runs. They can focus on permanently learning skills early on so they can have access to more skills in future runs.
There are also statues throughout the levels that give bonuses, though they are often locked behind age, score, and XP. The age upgrades are no longer accessible after players reach a certain age, tempting players to obtain them early in a run. These aren’t the only upgrades that are affected by age either. Players will be locked out of obtaining specific skills with XP if they are too old. As they age, they will also have their max HP lowered to represent their body leaving its prime. In exchange, the player’s power goes up to symbolize the protagonist mastering their art with age. All of these systems give players access to small ways to improve their character to make the difficulty more bearable until their skills improve.
The gameplay is stellar, and the presentation allows for the combat to shine. Every attack is beautifully animated, making the crisp gameplay look silky smooth. The graphics have a a bit of a cel0shaded quality to them to hide that the environments and characters aren’t too detailed. This makes Sifu look great when paired with unique stages that each have their own personality. Even if there isn’t a lot of detail in the backgrounds, most rooms are distinguishable and memorable.
The presentation truly shines due to how well the game leans on its love for martial arts movies. Everything from the revenge plot to the hallway fight scenes scream style and a love for the genre. The presentation falls short in a few ways though, namely in the voice acting and the actual story. The game is fully voiced, which is great though the voice acting leaves a little to be desired. Many lines fall flat, and players will hear the same reactions from the enemies throughout the entire game repeatedly. Fortunately, the score is fantastic, meaning that Sifu still sounds great. The strikes, blocks, and breaking of weapons all sound great, especially when combined with the feedback of the DualSense controller.
If the player is okay with chasing perfection and dying over and over again, Sifu is a delight. Sloclap has nearly perfected its craft and has delivered an action experience that’s great from start to finish. Few action games have such crisp gameplay, making Sifu an early game of the year contender.
Sifu is a punishing and addicting roguelike that will challenge players to constantly improve as they beat up tons of enemies.