Sifu is utterly uncompromising in its design, and that’s a sword that cuts both ways. It’s brutal learning curve and unique structure that demands you beat it in just one lifetime both loom as great barriers to overcome, but on the other side them is one of the best modern action games around.
Sifu is a beat ’em up action-adventure game played from a third-person perspective. The game, which is inspired by Pak Mei kung fu, includes over 150 unique attacks. Basic attack moves can be chained together, though some combos may grant players additional tactical opportunities, such as being able to knock down enemies or stun them. The protagonist and all hostile enemy characters have a “structural gauge”. When the gauge is completely filled, the guard of these characters will break and they will become vulnerable to finishing attacks. Players can also block strikes, though this will gradually fill their gauge. Alternatively, players can also evade attacks or parry when an enemy is about to land a blow. A successful parry allows the player to stun the enemy or throw them toward a particular direction. The game allows players to take advantage of the environment and improvise new attacks or alter their strategy when facing a stronger opponent. For instance, the player may kick an enemy off a ledge, or utilize various objects as makeshift weapons. The last enemy in a combat section may sometimes enter a state of uncontrolled frenzy, essentially becoming a miniboss. Occasionally, the player may be presented with dialogue options, which can enable them to potentially avoid combat altogether depending on their choice of words.
When the player dies in the game, they are magically resurrected at the spot where they die and age several years. As the player character ages, their strikes will be more powerful, but they will have less health. Players will encounter shrines, which will be the place where they heal and unlock new skills. They can also visit the “wuguan”, a kung fu school, to practice their skills in between levels. Abilities are lost when the player character dies, though it is possible to permanently unlock upgrades so that they are available at the beginning of each run. As the player completes multiple runs, they can access the “detective board”, where the information collected across different runs will be stored, and secret areas and shortcuts may open up.
Sifu Reviewed by Mitchell Saltzman on PlayStation 5. Also available on PlayStation 4 and PC.