SIFU Review. It’s all in the reflexes!

Kung Fu originates from the Chinese word gōngfu, A culmination of gong (merit) + fu (master) As Kung Fu is a near-ancient art form, historia...

Kung Fu originates from the Chinese word gōngfu, A culmination of gong (merit) + fu (master) As Kung Fu is a near-ancient art form, historians suggest that the fighting styles of Kung Fu were originated by hunters during the Xia Dynasty, who had to defend themselves in the forests of China. But with as with many long and rich histories, it has spawned many stories and legends. The stories still continue today in many movies and you probably have seen a few. Kung Fu Panda, Bruce Lee's "Fists of Fury" or " Enter the Dragon", countless Jackie Chan movies and many more. Kung Fu has influenced not only Chinese culture but across the entire globe. Sifu intends to take the lore and allure of Kung Fu and allow the player to find their path of revenge and experience. The player utilizes this ancient fighting styler themselves in an intriguing story of revenge.

What is it?

Sifu is an action brawler that tells the story of a young man who is on a path of revenge looking for the five people responsible of the death of his family. Trained in the art of Kung Fu he is also in possession of a relic that will allow him to take the experience of defeat and use it to beat his opponents. This comes at a price however, as each time the relic is used you age. How much of your life are you willing and able to sacrifice to get justice? 


Sifu has an easy pick up and play control scheme with more complex layers underneath. You start off simple with a light and heavy attack, a deflect/parry button that also doubles as a guard, a throw button, a vault/climb and a dodge/run button.  The depth is presented in the various combos you can create with your controller. Many of the attacks will be skills that you have to unlock before you can actually perform them and once you do, it might take some time to really be able to pull them off fluidly. Such is part of the growth of you as well as the character you are playing. There are some key elements to making it far in Sifu and eventually beating it.
Your character has two bars, health and structure. Structure is the representation of your ability to defend yourself and fight. Each time you get hit, it is impacted until it finally dwindles down and opens you for attacks for a short time.  To prevent this from happening it is important that you deflect and parry the attacks to stop your structure from breaking down. A last-minute dodge can also boost your structure back up, so be light on your feet.
Some enemies will be stronger and be able to launch a devastating special attack. These attacks are indicated by glowing limbs. When you see that glow, you better be quick on the block button and parry it. Doing so opens up the opponent for a counterattack or throw. If the glowing limbs are accompanied by a ring or orb you cannot block the attack and it is best to avoid those. Perform a quick dodge move, and time slows down where any attack on the enemy in this moment will be stunned. A stunned enemy cannot defend themselves and therefore any throws. A few good combos like this and you break the enemies character allowing for even more attacks.

The art of Patience. 
If you expect to just run in and start button mashing, you might be ok for the first few opponents, but you will quickly find yourself overwhelmed. Not unlike games such as Dark Souls (dare I invoke its name?) it is important to have patience, disperse and move away from crowds and get familiar with the block, parry and dodge mechanics of the game. Then use them to clear yourself from danger and find an opportune moment to strike. If you mess up and find yourself in a disadvantageous position, your enemy will strike with determination and show no mercy.
Don’t let yourself become surrounded, use crowd control techniques such as throwable weapons to stun and thin the group. Prioritize your encounters and pick the deadly threats first and then take care of the rif-raf. Or if they are stronger then keep the rest for last so you can focus on them without interruptions.
Once you break down the enemy enough, you can be presented with a takedown opportunity. Takedowns replenish lives, but beware as some can be countered, giving the enemy a confidence boost making them much harder to defeat.
Defeating all of these enemies will reward you with XP (Experience Points), XP allows you to buy skills for your current run giving you an edge. Once you hit game over, the skill resets again. However, if you make it far enough to pay the cost, you can unlock the skill permanently and it will be available in all of your future runs.

The big feature in Sifu is how it deals with loss. Thanks to a magical pendant you are wearing, defeat does not mean the fight is over. On your death screen you are presented with a skill tree where you can assign XP points to new skills, where you can revive yourself to fight again. The trade-off for doing so is the sacrifice of your younger years and you will age a number of years indicated on the screen.  At first this might be just one year, but soon they will add up in bigger numbers until suddenly you find yourself in the body of someone in his 70’s. 
Being older has some advantages increasing the damage you deal with each hit, but you will also have less life. Age enough and certain skills can no longer be unlocked. Afterall you cannot teach this old dog new tricks. The pendant has 5 coins on it and after a certain amount of uses those coins break. Destroy them all and the next death it is game over for you. Lucky as you perform takedowns and other moves in the game you can reduce the number of years you will lose between each revive however the uses per coin do not change

Between missions, you go back to your wuguan . A wuguan is a training hall for Chinese martial arts. You might be more familiar with the Japanese word for it : Dojo. Your Wuguan functions as a bit of a hub world where you can practice your moves, upgrade skills if you have leftover points, read the clue board for story clues and select your next mission. If you continue to the next area, your current age will be the start of that level unless you are younger than the last time you tried. If that is the case, this will be the new starting age of this level until you best your performance the next time. If you feel that your age is too high to make it from here, then you can start the level or a few levels before and try to make it through with less deaths and therefor end up with a younger age.
But old age should not have to stop you.  You might still have plenty of life to make it further through a level, find those shortcuts and give yourself time to study your opponent's so, by all means push through and give it a try.

As you make it through the level you will encounter a series of mini-bosses and end bosses who will test your skill, patience and resolve. Defeating them will not be easy but very rewarding. As hard as some of the battles felt, each one felt like something I could overcome if I just took my time and was calculated in my gameplay.


Sifu compliments its hard-hitting visceral gameplay with stylish visuals that do not go the realistic route but instead feel like a water painting come to life. The style might not be for everyone but even for skeptics, I would encourage you to stay with it as it will grow on you. The environments are varied, run down slums, serene nature scenes to neon lit night scenes and fire raging through neighborhoods. I will say that some areas are very dark, and in those moments, it can be a bit confusing where you are supposed to go. There is an option to increase the brightness, but it is easy to go too far and wash out the whole game. Those dark moments are minimal though and short enough to not become a large issue.
The animations are well executed, and the movement of combat is smooth. With build in contextual response to the environment the close quarter combat moments stay surprising and varied. Even after hours of play I had plenty moments where I had strong recoiling reactions where I screamed “OoooooooooooH! “Out loud while curling up in a ball imagining the pain that punch or kick must have caused. All combat in the game is supervised and choreographed by Benjamin Colussi, a Pak Mei master who studied Kung Fu in Foshan, China under the mastery of Lao Wei San. The input of this expertise is reflected in the flow of the attacks and impact of all the kicks and punches.

The audio design complements the visuals and gameplay with good sound effects, voice actors taunting you and environmental sounds. I played my review copy on this on PlayStation 5, with its next gen rumble controller. There was not too much notable use made of the controller, but the rumble gave good feedback, and the controller would play back environmental sounds like buzzing flies, water etc. As well as play game queues all through the speaker. With the added rumble it creates an immersion even when I was playing with headphones on.  With music composed by Beijing-based composer Howie Lee Sifu bringing a soundtrack that combines the traditional and contemporary artfully into a score delivering a complete package that feels authentic and engaging.

If you like to share your gameplay, then there is a photo mode built-in that you can access in an instant with the D-pad up button.  There is a variety of options to choose from in order to get that perfect screen shot. Since it will not be easy to setup the perfect pose while also trying to pull off a combo the photo mode comes with an option to pose the main character with ease, allowing you to create the perfect scene no matter how the game paused.

Parents view
Sifu will be rated by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Strong Language, Violence. However due to the chosen art style you might find it not as offensive to be played, but perhaps older teenagers. It is certainly no Mortal Kombat which is more violent and gory. The story of revenge and the cost of revenge is mostly implied through the game and open for your own discovery. In its heart the game is still a videogame version of a Kung Fu action movie.

Final Thoughts

Sifu has garnered a good amount of attention in the past few months and for good reason. The game might have small origins, but it came to play with the big boys. Delivering a solid presentation with excellent gameplay and a unique gameplay feature with the aging mechanic Sifu makes an impact and brings new life to the fighting games. I am aware that comparing a game to other games is both inevitable as it is often controversial. But if were to be asked to describe Sifu I would say is a game that brings fresh new action in the spirit of an old school brawler sprinkled with a dash of rogue-like elements to spice it up. Get caught pushing too hard, too fast and the game will punish you without mercy. If instead you take your time, be methodical and learn when to retreat and when to attack you can become a Kung Fu Master. Sifu is the Dark Souls of Kung Fu action games. That might be a bold statement and perhaps a comparison that comes with some controversy as the Souls series are in a punishing class of their own, I am standing by the statement and am willing to trade in a few years doing so.
The game will release this week on Epic Game Store and PlayStation with PS4 > PS5 cross-buy.

Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Sloclap, Microïds Release Date: January 25, 2022
Platforms: PC (Epic Game Store), PlayStation4, PlayStation 5
Review platform: PlayStation 5

About the writer: DadGeek (Rob) is the co-founder of GeeksVsGeeks. He is a product of the eighties and never let go of his geek interest and hobbies no matter how often someone told him to stop. His love for gaming and all things geeks has been part of his parenting style and permeates throughout the whole family. A family of Geeks vs Geeks 


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