Who says getting old isn’t fun?
French developer Sloclap made its debut with 2017’s Absolver, a martial arts-themed game that was praised for its depth and well-implemented combat system. The studio builds on these foundations with a new PS5 version of Sifu, adding a roguelike element to its excellent combat while offering tough but fair challenges in its five areas or hideouts.
Players take on the role of a young Baimei Kung Fu student seeking revenge after witnessing the murder of his father and mentor (or Master). After years of training, the unnamed protagonist is ready to face five leaders who are now spread across various enemy-infested locations. A mysterious pendant is carried throughout the game, which causes the character to age with each death.
This unique mechanic is both refreshing and frustrating. You have to try to keep the students young in all five hideouts while trying to avoid maxing out their age or you’ll end the game. Learning how to overcome enemies through repetition is key to Sifu’s success, which will lead to many satisfying moments of victory. However, the period of grinding and slow progress means it’s not a game for everyone.
Bottom line: The aging mechanic in Sifu presents an engaging challenge, and the visuals and combat keep you engaged. While backtracking and slow progress can be frustrating, the story could have been better.
- Deep, satisfying combat
- Visual shock
- great soundtrack
- funny aging mechanic
- feeling of slow progress
- immature story
- sometimes frustrating camera
Disclaimer: This review is implemented through the review code provided by Sloclap. The company did not see the content of the reviews before publishing.
Four blessings: OK
Aging mechanics are the driving force behind the game. Not only did it inspire players’ desire to continuously improve their skills, but it also changed the concept of video game “life”. Each death adds one to the death counter, which in turn is directly related to your age when you respawn. The pendant that brings the protagonist back from the dead will gradually break with each rebirth, and the damage to the pendant at each rebirth depends on the height of the death counter. So keeping this counter as low as possible is key, as it doesn’t reset between hideouts, the run ends after the pendant completely breaks and you die for the last time.
|PlayStation Edition||game console 5|
|play time||10-20 hours|
After the game is over, players can revert to their starting age from the last unlocked hideout, or choose any previous level to lower their overall age through improved runs.
The roguelike element really shines here, with XP earned that can be spent on permanent skill points that provide powerful combos, as well as shortcuts from mini-bosses that let you skip parts of each hideout once you reach a certain point. The latter is especially important for progress, as is the temple. These are rare, but offer bonuses and provide various enhancements related to XP, combo scores, and character age. Experimentation at these shrines gives players a different approach and keeps running feeling fresh, especially when you inevitably step back to advance your age.
Visually, Sifu is impressive, with a unique art style and an engaging color palette. Each location is set distinctly, and each boss is associated with a color that is also reflected in their respective hideouts.
Each combat area within the hideout is also visually unique and detailed. Some are filled with melee weapons, while others contain items that can be destroyed in battle. This attention to detail keeps things fresh as you go from one combat zone to another, and allows you to better track where you are in your hideout during repeat visits.
Sloclap knows exactly how to present information to the player visually, which is critical to player success.
There are other examples of good visual cues, the pendant gradually cracking on screen and the protagonist looking older and wearing different clothes as he ages. These all give clues as to how close you are to the end of the game. Stronger enemy attacks flash red and yellow depending on how dangerous they are, while stronger opponents appear with fiery auras. Sloclap knows exactly how to present information to the player visually, which is critical to player success. The sound is also well used to keep the locations memorable, with Beijing-based composer Howie Lee crafting the perfect music for each hideout’s pitch.
Combat is undoubtedly the top priority of the four servers, and this is where the game shines the most. There’s a real sense of fluidity in combat, with seamless movement, attack, block, and dodge thanks to carefully crafted animations. Weapons were also used, baseball bats, knives, bottles, and even bamboo sticks that felt heavy and comfortable to swing.
Although your character is very proficient in kung fu, the learning curve is quite complicated, and many enemies can deal serious damage if you’re not careful. Gradually, you become more efficient at dispatching enemies and more accustomed to positioning yourself correctly to avoid attacks and parries from opponents. The latter trick is especially important when trying to be as young as possible. Similar to the likes of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, parrying is one of the key ways to drain enemy stamina and can quickly lead to finishing moves. Being too offensive can easily lead to death, and the game does a great job of letting you approach combat in a more cautious way, with more emphasis on skill and timing rather than mashing up combos.
Four blessings: bad
Unfortunately, the precision and fluidity of combat can’t match the camera, which can be clunky. Many battles take place in large areas, with plenty of room to maneuver the camera around the character and the enemies you face. Occasionally, though, fights occur in tight spaces, and the camera gets stuck in the environment when cornering. You can get hurt because you don’t know what’s going on. This may seem finicky and will likely be patched in a confirmed day one update, but in a game with such a low fault tolerance rate, it can be frustrating.
While the game has a balanced learning curve, beating a hideout when you’re old leaves little chance of meaningful progress in the following days.
The feeling of slow progress can be frustrating at times. While the game has a balanced learning curve, beating a hideout when you’re old will result in a small chance of making meaningful progress the next time around, meaning you may have to go back to the same hideout you just beat. Everywhere to improve. As you get older in all your hideouts, you may even find yourself needing to go back to your original hideout and play all over again to improve your overall age. Shortcuts do help offset this, but if you’re stuck on a boss, or haven’t been far enough in your latest hideout to unlock the shortcut, repetition can occasionally get in the way of enjoyment.
The shortcuts mostly come in the form of key cards and keys that can open previously locked doors, but that’s not all you’ll find at Sifu. Intel can be found in every location, trying to flesh out the characters and hide itself. However, these are mostly skippable and obviously not the point, nor is the story beyond the game’s opening. The five bosses are underdeveloped, and some characters have optional dialogue, but most of them are lines. Sloclap says the story becomes clearer and richer after multiple playthroughs, but the game has little incentive to seek it out.
Four blessings: Should you play?
With its deep, satisfying combat, stunning visuals, and unique aging mechanics, Sifu is well worth the price of admission. While progress can feel slow at times, unlocking new moves and improving your combat skills is extremely satisfying, especially when you’re figuring out how to best defeat a tricky boss. Shortcuts are well laid out to help break up repetition, while lowering your age in hiding represents a new target to chase when diving back to a location. This PS5 game is also visually stunning, with beautiful colors and lighting throughout.
While the game does have some issues, those aren’t enough to undercut Sloclap’s well-crafted game. Unfortunately, it may be overlooked among the other heavyweights in February, but a kung fu rampage in this well-executed brawler is well worth your time.
Bottom line: Sifu’s bonus battles are a joy, as are the visuals and unique mechanics. Progress can feel slow and frustrating at times, but its innovative take on progress is worth checking out.