Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Sloclap
Release Date: Nov. 8, 2022

About Andreas Salmen

I'm sure this is all just a misunderstanding.


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

Switch Review - 'Sifu'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 7, 2023 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Sifu is an artful and true-to-combat kung-fu game exploring themes of revenge and redemption.

Sifu was my indie game of the year in 2022. From the challenging but rewarding fighting system to its cinematic presentation, it felt like the best parts of a martial arts movie. Almost two years have passed since then, filled with substantial content updates and a Nintendo Switch release over a year ago. It's an impressive port, but a few shortcomings could sour the experience. After all, the missing performance headroom on the Switch eventually gets in the way.

In Sifu, we control a Pak Mei student on a path of revenge. We witness the death of our father as a child, and we seek out the five perpetrators to exact our revenge, one punch and kick at a time. With only five bosses waiting at the end of their respective stages, Sifu only has limited content to play through on paper. Finishing the game or completing it at 100% can take 10-20 hours, especially with recently added content, which we'll get to later. Technically, you can finish the game in 30-45 minutes if you know what you're doing. That's what makes Sifu especially enjoyable to me. It has a satisfying learning curve, from struggling to beat simple enemies to taking on huge crowds without breaking a sweat.

It's tough to find an apt description of what playing Sifu is like. The closest comparison I found is Sekiro, which is bigger in scope, but its rigid fighting system requires you to master the combat tee. Sifu is relatively similar to that, but not quite. Sifu also requires you to read enemy attack patterns and adhere to narrow timing windows to deflect or avoid. It feels more fluid and dynamic while doing so, since it provides you with a few more avenues to approach combat than Sekiro. There are a few more combos to learn that add a few options for crowd control, thus making combat more manageable over time. At some point, the feeling of mastering the combat, reacting to telegraphed attacks, and deciding whether to avoid or block becomes second nature. Eventually, you'll reach a state where Sifu's combat clicks, and you flow through encounters like a force to be reckoned with. It feels like your own rocky journey from disciple to master, which is as fitting as it gets for a game of this nature.

That isn't all that makes Sifu intriguing to play and beat. The big gimmick is how it handles player death. While we only face a handful of levels and bosses, we'll have to beat them in a lifetime. Starting the game at the quaint age of 20, defeat doesn't mean the end. Upon death, we get to invest XP in skills for our current run and revive to go on while aging proportionately to our deaths so far. Once skills have been purchased five times throughout all our runs, they become permanently unlocked. In short, dying repeatedly means aging rapidly and eventually dying of old age — but you also get stronger through new skills, higher damage output, and lower health. The death counter can be reduced by beating minibosses, but overall, you'll probably age more with each death. It's a challenge to reach the final boss of the final stage before turning 70 and after beating four other stages and bosses.

The good thing is that you don't necessarily need to restart the game after each death. If you manage to beat the first stage at the age of 21, you can start the second level at that age going forward. You'll eventually reattempt stages to get through them more efficiently to increase your starting odds for the stages down the line, and you slowly work your way to being as young as possible before entering the final fight. There are checkpoints throughout stages to purchase additional stat improvements separate from skills, from health regen to weapon durability and unlockable shortcuts within stages. That means how you go through a level decides which encounters you face and which improvements you'll be able to pick up on the way to the final encounter. If you want to get the most out of it, you'll probably want to complete the journey from start to end without using shortcuts to get the most XP and checkpoints before facing the final fight.

You'll surely die a lot, and beginners may struggle to reach the first boss without failing. There's a satisfying way of progressing, both in combat ability and familiarity with the stages and creating perfect runs. This game demands that you sit down and engage with it, even through some frustrating moments, and it rewards you handsomely with an unparalleled dopamine rush. If you're someone who doesn't like challenges or has to learn to push through failure to succeed eventually, Sifu isn't for you. If you're the kind of person who loves learning a combat system inside-out and overcoming tricky combat challenges, Sifu is one of the best options around. If you liked Sekiro or any Soulslikes for the satisfying feeling of overcoming challenges, Sifu is a recommendation if you haven't tried it yet.

Sifu has since added an Arena mode and new costumes, introducing some extra variety to the experience. Considered a hidden true ending on a second run-through of the campaign, Arena mode features quite a bit of content to extend the experience. Arena mode introduces combat challenges in environments and adds some good ways to jump in and out of combat with special challenges sprinkled on top. The on-rail sections feel like the best parts of Sifu combined with traditional linear beat-'em-up sections. I still enjoy sitting down for 30 minutes to dabble in some flashy combat, and the Arena mode adds another way for me to get a dose of the title's satisfying and greatly realized combat.

Visually, Sifu is heavily stylized. Its slightly low-poly look with vibrant colors works in its favor, and some stages, such as a neon-soaked nightclub or museum, are truly outstanding. Combat encounters leave environments in shambles once we've fought our way through the interiors. If you can play Sifu at 60fps on any platform, do that because it improves the experience tremendously. The Switch version only runs at 30fps, but it largely retains the image quality of other platforms and looks quite sharp and clear, even in handheld mode. That clarity comes with the caveats regarding image refresh rate, which isn't stable. When transitioning between areas or during busy combat, the frame rate dips ever so slightly and causes some micro-stuttering, which can interfere with the player's efficiency during combat. Loading times are on the longer side, too, considering the compact levels. Sifu is capable of providing a martial arts fix on the go, but the technical limitations of the Switch crop up regularly. It is certainly not the best way to experience and play Sifu, but it's still the same satisfying brawler if you cannot play it anywhere else.

Overall, Sifu is an amazing indie game that emulates martial arts perfectly in an interactive video game with flashy fights in cool environments, a satisfying learning curve, and a decent amount of content. I'll return many more times for just one more fight sequence, and the Switch version is perfect if you can overcome its unavoidable performance limitations.

Score: 8.3/10

More articles about Sifu
blog comments powered by Disqus