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Game review 06 February 2022, 13:00

author: Alexander Eriksen

Alex is a gaming industry veteran of institutions like GameSpot and Twitch. His work has been published on GameCrate, Yahoo News, and The Wall Street Journal. Twitter: @Alexplaysvg

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu…

Sifu is absolutely punishing. This game will make you realize who you are – a clumsy and angry screaming noob. Try it at your own risk.

The review is based on the PS5 version. It's also relevant to PC, PS4 version(s).

There’s something to be said for difficult games. Cuphead, Dark Souls, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you beat one of these; you can hold your head up high and say “wow, I actually beat that.” If that’s the kind of game you like, great, you’ll have a fantastic time with Sifu. If you’re the average person who thought you were getting into just a fun kung fu beat-em-up, well, I have some very bad news for you.

Sifu is a grueling, painful, frustrating game that genuinely had me wondering if the developers had A, tested the game properly, or B, just simply hate the casual gamer. From the get-go you are dropped off at the height of the difficulty curve where you will be stomped over, and over, and over again by nigh-invincible, unhittable enemies. The game not having adjustable difficulty is one of the biggest self-owns for a studio in recent memory; literally everyone expecting this to be a game they can pick up and have fun with right away are likely going to return it in protest.

PROS:
  1. Looks great;
  2. Beautiful animations;
  3. Great soundtrack;
CONS:
  1. Insanely difficult;
  2. Too much grinding.
  3. Overpowered bosses

Let this review be a warning: unless you’ve won several major fighting game tournaments and have an extra finger on each hand, do not buy Sifu. You will not have fun. Your dreams of enjoying a kung fu power fantasy will be crushed, lit on fire, bathed in hydrochloric acid, and the remains dumped into an active volcano while the developers point and laugh at you as they chant “get gud, noob”. “Fun” is not a word I would use to describe Sifu.

"Hold it right there, pal. We don't have fun around here." - Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - dokument - 2022-02-06
"Hold it right there, pal. We don't have fun around here."

L2P noob

This is deeply puzzling to me because all the marketing makes this game look accessible to your average Joe, not exclusively for ten-time Mortal Kombat grand masters. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you’ll likely need years of fighting game experience to get the most out of Sifu. In the 20 hours or so I spent grinding away at it I did manage to level up my fighting game skills but still, even with a decent amount of the moves unlocked, I could not make it past the second level of the game. 

I’m sure at this point you’d just assume I suck at video games. That old trope of game reviewers being terrible at games comes to mind and for a moment I even challenged myself – “after 30 years of gaming do I just actually suck?” All I’d say in response is go and try Sifu for yourself then and see how far you make it without yelling “f***!” at the top of your lungs and scaring your housepets/roommates. I have not played a more frustrating, and frankly at times, unfair, game in a long time. 

And it didn’t have to be this way. The developers could have taken a more holistic approach to their audience, and realized different people want different things. Some people want a serious challenge that they’ll need to pour hours of practice into to master. Some people just want a quick fix of kung fu candy after they get off work. This game could have catered to both but, for some bizarre reason, chose not to. 

One difficulty level to rule them all

Sifu only has one difficulty level – so difficult you will want to forsake technology, become Amish, and never play video games again. Something that could have been universally enjoyable – a kung fu fighting game – is a never ending acid bath for your self-esteem and dopaminergic system. You will not beat the first level of Sifu and think “gee, that was fun!” you will instead ask yourself “is there a God? Because if there was something like this wouldn’t exist.” 

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - picture #2

I’m exaggerating of course, I’ve just spent the entire week grinding this game out to get my review in on time but I still think most people will have the experience I did. Even if they aren’t playing the game in marathon sessions – you will be disappointed, frustrated, and ultimately broken. I could not get past the second level and once this review is done I don’t think I’ll be going back to try. You win, Sifu, I give up. 

Compounding the question of why this game chose to be the most hardcore of hardcore experiences, is why they even bothered to put in a story? They’ve made it almost impossible to progress through it. The plot is the standard kung fu revenge story – a former student kills his master and you, the child of said master, grows up and swears bloody revenge. 

The gang of miscreants you’re after seem to have a lot of character, which makes it a real shame that you can’t progress through the story on an easier difficulty and then play through again on hard mode to unlock all the moves and experience more of a challenge. If I worked at the developer, Sloclap, I’d have raised a hand during a meeting to say “hey guys, uhh, maybe some people will just want to experience the story?”

There’s just unfortunately going to be a massive hole in this review where my opinion of the story should be. It’s probably good, the villains all probably die at your hands, and you discover what magical mcguffin they stole at the beginning. I unfortunately am going to have to watch it on YouTube because if I keep playing I’ll either develop carpal tunnel syndrome or have a mental break with reality.

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - picture #3

I guess I’ll never know why you mysteriously age as you rise and fall in combat. This is one of the core mechanics of Sifu: you start off at age 20 and every death in combat ages you. First it’s only one year but each subsequent death compounds until you literally die of old age. It’s sort of like if Groundhog Day were a kung fu movie. 

There’s never any explanation of this early on and certainly no tutorial on how to play the game properly. The idea is you need to defeat all the bosses using the fewest lives possible. The only way to turn back the clock is to go right back to the beginning and try and make it through the level using fewer lives. You will get to restart a level at the age you began it so at least you don’t need to go all the way back to the beginning.

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - picture #4

I want to point out to the developers that making your players constantly experience fail states was a very bad design choice. Most people can only stand so many trips to the “you’re dead” screen before they give up hope of ever progressing. If I weren’t reviewing this game I would have given up ten hours sooner. If you do get this game, just don’t let yourself be frustrated by constantly dying – dying is part of the experience.

 And when you die you’ll have the option of turning the XP you’ve earned from fighting into new moves. These genuinely do help but the game’s difficulty is so out of whack that even once you’ve unlocked most of them you still will face enemies that dodge every punch and hit back with the force of a super Sayian. I can only guess the ridiculous difficulty scaling is to keep players on their toes but it can at times seem totally random. 

VERDICT

Replaying the same level over and over again to grind out XP you need to advance isn’t a challenge, it’s poor design. Randomly making your enemies invincible to spice up the difficulty isn’t a challenge, it’s poor design. I could go on, but I think this review is becoming like one of Sifu’s levels – endlessly repeating itself.

Once you get something of a hang of the fighting you’ll breeze through a group of enemies just to get your salad tossed by one random NPC. It’s the strangest thing. Your confidence gets utterly shattered when one minute you’re delivering a beatdown and the next getting slapped around like you’re a 90-year-old man with the flu. 

A brawl in a beautiful world

The animations and combat can look gorgeous and make you feel powerful – the fluid animations are something to behold – but you’re constantly knocked off your feet by the random spikes in difficulty. It’s very much “two steps forward, three steps back” and I found myself wishing my character would forsake their revenge quest and settle into a nice career at a life insurance company.

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - picture #5

This is all such a tragedy because Sifu could have easily been an 8/10 instead of the 6.5/10 I feel obliged to give it. The developers failed to make their game accessible, fun, or sensible (the amount of XP you have to grind to permanently unlock a new ability is criminal) to a general audience. The artwork is lovely, the cutscenes and voicework solid, all the ingredients of a great game are there but spoiled by completely botched execution.

I did reach out to the developer about the difficulty and they did say they plan to add difficulty settings post-launch. When that happens Sifu might be worth a second look, but until then I just can’t recommend it. 

Replaying the same level over and over again to grind out XP you need to advance isn’t a challenge, it’s poor design. Randomly making your enemies invincible to spice up the difficulty isn’t a challenge, it’s poor design. I could go on, but I think this review is becoming like one of Sifu’s levels – endlessly repeating itself.

Sifu Review: Woah… I Don’t Know Kung Fu… - picture #6

Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

Sifu in its current state is essentially broken. Even the most skilled fighting game player will have a tough time with this one. What could have been a more inclusive (and fun) kung fu brawl ends up being about as pleasant as a roundhouse kick to the face. Skip the kung fu lessons, buy a gun. 

Alexander Eriksen | Gamepressure.com

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