Played on a PS5

One of my fondest gaming memories is playing Jet Li’s Rise to Honor on the PS2; it was one of the first games to fine tune martial arts mechanics and environmental devastation. It was incredibly well designed for its time and a game style I miss dearly. Slocap, creators of Absolver just released Sifu; a rougelite martials arts game that’s incredibly intuitive with a steep learning curve that when done right, feels so damn good. Its ageing mechanic really ups the tension with each encounter, mixed with its brutal skill tree and you have one of the most rewarding games this generation – even if there’s only 5 levels.

Sifu’s story plays homage to all of the Kung Fu classics of the ages: revenge. After a group of assassins enters your home and kills your father – you are then quest to exact revenge. At first, you are believed to think the world of Sifu is grounded in nature, but magic is clearly in play since the ageing mechanic is reacted upon the people you face. Every time you fall in combat, a death counter rises and the more you fail, the higher the counter, the faster you age. The counter can get reset by 1 year for every enemy you defeat that has taken you out or has a magic aura around them. Additionally, you will get exp for every foe you defeat and combo streak you complete. Those exp will net you one time use upgrades to your overall skillset – but can be permanently unlocked if you focused on one particular skill several times.

As you progress through each level, you will gather score streaks as well that can be used on playthrough upgrades in Shrines – depending on how good you’ve been doing, you can increase your health, the amount of health returned from each defeat, the amount of health from dodge and parry, etc. Sifu’s overall design of their world ties really well with the game’s fundamentals, it is hard for me to ignore its great ambitions for the rougelite genre.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Combos

Sifu’s main focus is its Kung Fu, where you’ll be brawling your way through each of the 5 levels. You start off in his home that can be navigated to level up your character, practice new moves and investigate the clues you’ve gathered for each of the organized targets. Each level has a set of items and information you need to gather that would net you shortcuts throughout the level to try and complete it without losing age. Whatever age you complete the level, will be the starting age for the next. This can be improved on by restarting the previous level and trying to be better. The older you get however, the stronger your character become at the expense of health meter, which makes utter sense.

The combat in Sifu is absolutely responsive and organic. You have your basic light and heavy attacks that can be fluidly interchanged based on timing, direction and context. You can stun foes and toss them to a group behind you, while simultaneously picking up a glass bottle to toss to a distant foe that was going to do the same to you, turn to your left and leg sweep another dude – stun them – finish off with a take down all the while shoulder bashing a person through some table or glass prop window. It may sound complicated but the way the buttons are laid out, feels organic. You can easily tell Slocap spent a lot of time studying the best possible method for players. Holding L1 will give you the ability to dodge high, mid and low attacks based on Left Joystick movement, L2 is to do a focus attack to stun strong opponents, R2 is to dodge and sprint, R1 is to toss weapons and the face buttons has your usual layout of light, heavy, vault and pickup. The camera is also close at first but when you’re surrounded, it pans out beautifully – rarely have collision issues. Truly, it’s absolutely splendid to play.

Visual Artwork in Motion

As I mentioned, Sifu only has 5 levels, but they are masterfully designed; it may not be open world, or even Metroidvania but there’s enough exploration to make anyone feel the vastness of each design – and they’re each thematically different and very stylistic. The overall aesthetic of Sifu feels similar to Tearaway – where it’s a mixture of hand painted color pallets with some paper-like textures overall. Mix it up with beautifully rendered quality and animations and you have a Pixar-like motion before you. On the PS5 the game runs at 4K60 which is mandatory for a game of this nature – I cannot fathom it enough, it’s uniquely gorgeous in all aspects.

Additionally, your character’s ageing starts to drastically change in appearance every 5 years, which you start to see the five o’clock shadow turn to a beard and the hair bun grows to a long salt and pepper warrior’s braid. This ageing mechanic hasn’t really been seen since the first Fable game for the original Xbox – happy to see that Slocap is adding game mechanics that’s been absent for so long.

Warrior’s End is the Beginning

Sifu has amazing replay value with secrets that hardcore players can uncover. Slocap’s effort to refine the brawler genre with technical Kung Fu mechanics while fine lining the difficulty ratio with reward is an admirable feat that should be recognized by all. This gorgeous work of art should be experienced by all PS5 owners, even if it breaks you – because ultimately, it’ll make you a stronger player.

REVIEW SCORE: 9/10

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