Sifu was one game that I was really looking forward to but was disheartened when I wasn’t able to review it earlier this year. It was quite amusing, reading stories of players flipping their controllers due to its difficulty settings, which became another controversial talking point in the industry.
Enter the version 1.08 update, which was released a couple of weeks ago to a fantastic reception from the player base. Not only did it add difficulty settings, but it also retained the core gameplay mechanics in the process, ensuring that players still get the full Sifu experience.
In the game, you follow the protagonist, who after witnessing the death of their sifu at the hands of Yang and his goons, embarks on a quest for vengeance. When you meet your end at the hands of your opponent, you are revived at the cost of adding years to your life when you die – a steep price to pay for lifelong learning and a thirst for revenge.
Before we proceed to the review, just a quick mention that the physical edition of Sifu is now available over at your favorite retailers. In Southeast Asia, Excelgames Interactive is the official distributor of the Vengeance Edition, which includes some fancy bonuses such as an exclusive SteelBook case, base game for PS4 or PS5, Artbook, Digital soundtrack, and 3 lithographs.
There is (no) Easy Mode
There have been endless articles written about the cultural significance and crushing difficulty of Sifu and you probably don’t need to hear another one, so I’ll talk about why this updated version is a better version than the original.
Let’s talk about the newly added “easy” mode, named Student difficulty.
It is quite easy to scoff and balk at this new setting, and surely there are quite a few of you thinking “journalist difficulty” as I write this. Hear me out a little because the difficulty selection introduces another dynamic to the game, allowing players the freedom to experience Sifu at their pace.
Kung-fu (or any martial art) is a lifelong practice that requires dedication and meticulous mastery. Default mode allows you to experience all that and more, but Student difficulty allows you access to the game that is less intimidating but still gives you all the lessons you need to move forward.
One major difference between the difficulty modes is how age is computed, with the default difficulty (Disciple) aging you much faster because it is tied to your current death count. You’ll start aging by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 years, and so on, accelerating your approach to 70, which signifies the end. As you get older, you get wiser and stronger, but you also lose HP (because old bones, you get it), so some players might want to play around with this mechanic a bit.
The introduction of Student difficulty reduces aging to a constant 1-year addition every time, slowing down the process significantly and giving players more time to master and perfect their craft. Enemy aggro is also reduced. You will get far more tries to defeat annoying bosses and enemies would be literally lining up to fight you, like in any good Steven Segal movie.
Sifu‘s new Student difficulty is still quite tough, and the enemies will still kick your ass if you don’t apply the proper techniques learned. In fact, the first boss will still be a challenge even at the lowest difficulty and can easily age you upwards of 25 if you’re not careful.
All in all, there’s really no shame in tackling Sifu on Student difficulty because all it really does is slow down the aging process, but the game is still an overall exercise in discipline and learning, which is what Kung-Fu is really all about.
With Age Comes Wisdom
From a narrative point of view, Sifu’s story is quite sparse. Game completion ranges from 3 to 8 hours depending on difficulty selection and how fast you can power through the narrative. Student difficulty does allow for quick completion runs of the game once you’ve learned the patterns and weaknesses of the bosses, who still prove to be a challenge.
The roguelite aspect of Sifu is triggered when you permanently unlock skills as well as access points in levels once you complete them. One aspect I really enjoyed is Detective Mode, where you piece together the clues collected during your adventures to unlock previously gated locations, rewarding exploration.
Sifu‘s combat really shows its polish especially when you’ve honed your kung-fu to the point of it feeling like a real action film. You can weave through your combos as you wipe the floor with your enemies after watching them kick your ass for the last few hours. One thing that wasn’t improved too well is the awkward zooms and cuts during finishers. There are design choices regarding environmental “blind spots” that impede your vision that makes fighting awkward in some areas.
It’s also pretty cool how the immersion of the game plays a role in creating an atmosphere suitable for the revenge tale. Sifu‘s story is short enough that it doesn’t dwell on the revenge story too much as that genre is quite limited. The longer it goes, revenge stories run the risk of forcing a message (See: The Last of Us Part II), and fortunately, Sifu doesn’t fall into this trap.
Sifu implements pretty good DualSense’s haptics, allowing you to feel the currents of air or the falling rain as you push through the level delving deeper into the immersion. Another cool option is the ability to switch the voice acting to Mandarin making the game feel more like a classic kung-fu film. Just like Ghost of Tsushima‘s Kurosawa mode and Trek To Yomi in general, this adds to the overall atmosphere and immersion of Sifu.
What we liked:
- The new update provides new difficulty selection options
- Detective Mode is quite a fun way to reward exploration and taking on more challenges.
- Frenetic martial arts action throughout the title that never stops until it’s over, and then some.
- The immersive atmosphere is a step up for the beat-em-up genre.
What we didn’t like:
- The default difficulty is crushing and I’m glad that they allowed for a reasonable difficulty setting
- Design choices such as unnecessary zooming and environmental blind spots make fighting in some areas awkward.
- Sparse storytelling and reliance on higher difficulty runs could reduce replayability.
Verdict: Buy It!
Sifu is a definite must-experience beat-em-up for 2022, and for those who have passed on this title because of the crushing difficulty, you can rejoice in the fact that the developers have added difficulty settings that allow you to experience the game at your own pace but still keep the overall experience.
While the original really pushed for the aspect of lifelong mastery through its difficulty setting, the new update really opens up the game to a fuller experience that a wider base can experience instead of being intimidated by it. There is more to Sifu than this, boasting its atmosphere and immersion to breathe life back into the beat-em-up genre that’s really been relegated to retro games or remakes of retro games.
*Sifu was reviewed on the PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.