GamingReview: Sifu

Review: Sifu


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Does anybody remember God Hand? God Hand was a 2006 game released by Capcom and directed by the survival horror icon Shinji Mikami. God Hand was near universally panned on release, but after years of people digging through the review bomb ruble, they found what was probably the greatest hand to hand combat in a video game.

Sure Yakuza has more gameplay variety and an undoubtedly better story, Sleeping Dogs and the Arkham games were more accessible and more immediately satisfying, but no game had ever gotten hand to hand combat THAT right. Until Sifu anyway.

To ensure I don’t ramble, this is going to have to be heavily truncated and compartmentalized, but Sifu is now the best hand to hand combat game around, and alongside its most recent update, it has finally been released on Xbox.


In Sifu, you play as either the son or daughter of a kung-fu master who was killed by five of his former students. Seeking revenge, you set off to take down each and every one of them. These five ‘bosses’ are what comprise the game’s five stages.

I do think it important to note that, while the game does now offer difficulty options, the original difficulty labelled ‘Disciple’ is far and away the best difficulty for new players; ‘Student’ is comically easy and effectively trivialises an otherwise thrilling game, and ‘Master’ is far too hard for a beginner. Even if you pride yourself on tackling the hardest difficulties immediately, I implore you, pick normal. The game does not need your help to be difficult.

The Folly of Youth

The reason the game can be so difficult for beginners is because the entire conceit of the game is that you have to reach the end in one lifetime. Notice I said ‘lifetime’ and not ‘life’, that’s because Sifu is not so insane as to expect perfection. You can die, but when you die you can revive on the spot by adding a year to your life. See, you start the game at 20 years old, and you get gradually older the more you die, and your goal is to beat the game before you use up all your available years and die. Every time you beat a level, you start the next level at the age at which you finished the previous level, but you can always replay earlier levels in order to beat them at a younger age.

If you’re confused, I wouldn’t be surprised, let me explain. When you die at 20, you get 1 year added to your age, the next time you die you will get 2 years added to your age (as you’ve died twice) and so now you will be 23. This is an exponential growth that can see you hit your 30s by your 4th death; however, there is a remedy. There are certain powered up/ higher tier enemies that, when defeated, will take one of those deaths away, not one of the years (you cannot de-age outside of easy), but when you die at 21, you will instead rise as a spry 22 year old instead of a decrepit 23 year old.

For each new decade you enter, your damage will increase, but your health will decrease, there are also age cut-offs for certain moves and shrine bonuses, so pay attention to what skills only a young man can learn.

The Essence of Learning

There are two ways in which you can ‘level up’: you can use xp you’ve earned from defeating enemies to learn new moves (moves which can only be permanently unlocked by investing heavy amounts of xp into), and you can use your level score (based on your combat performance) to buy upgrades at one of the level’s shrines (there are 3 per level, and each can only be used once per run). These are not permanent fixes however, as when you become too old to continue and actually die, you will lose all of your moves that you did not deign to permanently unlock, as well as all of the shrine bonuses for the level on which you died.

Do You Know Kung-Fu?

Sifu’s combat is fairly simple: you have a light and heavy attack, you can throw enemies when stunned, trip them, and break their ‘Structure’ bar by parrying and attacking them in order to deal a flashy finisher, thereby circumventing the need to deplete their health.

While simple, Sifu’s combat used to be so difficult to explain because before it’s latest update, it was incredibly esoteric and relied solely on your own ability to understand what works in what situation, and why. Thankfully, all of this has been alleviated with the addition of an actually informative tutorial mode. Thank god. Now, in lieu of explaining all of the intricacies of the combat, I can simply say “go play the tutorial”.

The Joy of Mastery

Sifu is a difficult game to fully sum up without a plethora of visual aids, but essentially you are just working your way through room after room of increasingly difficult enemies and trying to get to the end, and defeat the boss, without too many deaths so that you can then tackle the next level with your aging knees and back in tact.

The gameplay of Sifu is all about entering a flow state; it’s key that you understand what your opponents can do, as well as how to counter or avoid their attacks. While it may seem initially daunting, there is nothing better dominating a room or entire stage of enemies that once gave you trouble.

Who We Fightin’?

Each of the 5 levels is painstakingly constructed to be as beautiful and as unique as possible. All of the bosses are represented in some way by their stage: Fajar is the animal who lives in the slums, Sean is the nightclub dwelling bad-boy, Kuroki is the suffering artist holed up in her museum, Jinfeng is the CEO who never leaves the office, and Yang (the man who killed your father) is the stoic master meditating in his hilltop dojo.

If you’re looking for more of a definitive story, there is one here. It’s not just a slapdash excuse for you to go kill some enemies, throughout each of the levels there are a series of collectibles and clues, all of which speak to the larger narrative of who these people actually are and why they killed your father. As well as this, there are a number of shortcuts which can be unlocked in a sort of metroidvania-esque workaround should you find yourself getting too old before the boss. These shortcuts can either be unlocked by progressing further in that level, or even by finding a key or passcode in another level. These crisscrossing collectibles do a great job of showing how even though these bosses are intimidating and powerful, there are still human, and they are, or at least were, good friends.

The Never-Ending Journey

As for what to do after you beat the game, Sloclap have been updating the game since launch and periodically adding new content, whether in the form of alternate outfits, in-game challenges, or unlockable modifiers and cheats to tune the game any which way you want.

They’ve also recently released the Arena mode, which is a collection of 45 individually tailored challenge missions. They’ve also finally allowed you to somewhat customize your moveset to a greater degree by allowing you to switch out the animations on some of your attacks, so you can truly tune your fighter to look as cool as the limits of the game will allow.


I’ve gushed quite a lot about the game, but what’s wrong with it? Honestly, not much, especially now that the update and re-release has seemingly ironed out every issue I’ve had with the game. There were still times when the camera would catch on a wall, but in most cases that was due to my poor positioning, and the enemy tracking doesn’t seem as magnetic as before, so it’s far easier to choose your targets.

On top of everything I’ve said, the game was only $40 on release; which is an insane deal no matter how you look at it.

This is a game that I would universally recommend, and with so few (if any) issues, it easily deserves a 10. 10 obviously does not mean perfect, just that there were so few issues that my enjoyment was never soured. Even after 100 hours, I still sunk 5 into the new update, and that only came out two days ago. Sifu initially released last February, and even amongst the likes of Elden Ring, it was my favourite game of last year, and in re-playing it for this review, it’s also my favourite game this year.


Sifu is boundlessly entertaining, immensely satisfying, and unrelentingly fresh. Even over a year after its initial release, I was still excited to jump back in, and I'm still excited to go back.

+ Beautiful artwork
+ Near perfect gameplay
+ Wonderful level variety
+ Challenging bosses with fascinating lore
+ Pitch-perfect progression
+ Now comes with comprehensible tutorial
+ Surprisingly cheap
+ Replete with martial arts and action references from the Raid and Oldboy to Kill Bill and The Matrix

- Few occasional camera issues
- Most cosmetics are wonderful, but some are lackluster for the time they require

Reviewed on PS5, also available on PS4, PC, and Xbox.
Daniel Kelly
Daniel Kelly
A man forever in search of a game to surpass Metal Gear.

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Sifu is boundlessly entertaining, immensely satisfying, and unrelentingly fresh. Even over a year after its initial release, I was still excited to jump back in, and I'm still excited to go back.<br/><br/> + Beautiful artwork<br/> + Near perfect gameplay<br/> + Wonderful level variety<br/> + Challenging bosses with fascinating lore<br/> + Pitch-perfect progression<br/> + Now comes with comprehensible tutorial<br/> + Surprisingly cheap<br/> + Replete with martial arts and action references from the Raid and Oldboy to Kill Bill and The Matrix<br/><br/> - Few occasional camera issues<br/> - Most cosmetics are wonderful, but some are lackluster for the time they require<br/><br/> Reviewed on PS5, also available on PS4, PC, and Xbox.Review: Sifu