Also On: PS5, PC
Power Fantasy is probably one of the best aspects of video games, imagine striding into a room crowded with enemies then leaving said room with bodies littered on the ground and nary a scratch on your body. I?m sure if I attempted that in real life the result would probably be me curled up in the fetal position as the numerous hands and feet rain down blows until I lose all consciousness. Enough of my poor fighting prowess, Sloclap?s Sifu is one of those rare titles that gives you such a feeling, but it absolutely makes you earn it.
Eight years prior to the start of the game, a cadre of martial artists laid waste to your father?s wuguan (think dojo or school). During their assault, they slew your father, stole an artifact from him and one of them even killed you after they found that you witnessed the whole thing. You would think your tale would end there however you had in your possession a mystical pendant which revived you, but at a cost.
In the ensuing years each of these people have built quite a life for themselves, a botanist for a drug running gang, an underground fight promoter, a world renown artist, a CEO of a large corporation and a healer. Their contributions might have brought good to the world (ok maybe not the botanist for the drug running gang), but no amount of good outweighs the harm they did to you so now after years of honing your skills now you set forth to find those five assailants and destroy what they?ve built much like they did with family.
Standing between you and your task is an army of minions who don?t care how righteous you are and they will do anything to ensure their status quo remains. You have a skillset which can get the job done, but during the course of your adventure you utilize your experience to unlock new moves which can make your job easier. However it?s not one a done deal, when you?ve unlocked a move during your run, you have to continuously pour experience into the move to permanently unlock it, it makes it feel like you?ve perfected it over years of training rather than the usual video game trope of turning on a skill like a switch. You will also encounter spirit shrines which will grant you a run based boone. The higher you are rated, the more you will have access to, so it incentivizes players to stay relatively young, accumulate a high score in the level or have a healthy amount of experience to spare.
Your limbs aren?t your own tools, as you can grab sticks, staves and knives, toss bottles and eventually kick loose objects to trip up your foes. You can also use the environment to maintain the upper hand. These objects and actions do spice up the action, but the fact that they?re limited to ONLY these objects take me out of the action?I mean on a bar full of objects, why can I throw the bottle but not the glasses. I understand there?s probably a lot more work and resources required to make everything a weapon, perhaps this generation of hardware isn?t the one where everything can be interacted with.
Yet with all these tools, the numbers can eventually overwhelm you. One missed parry, misreading an enemy?s pipe swing can leave you pinballing to other enemy attacks leaving you dead. However death is a temporary setback, thanks to the mystical pendant in your possession you will rise again, but your youth will be the price you pay for your revival. As you die more and more, the years tacked onto your mortal body increases and with age comes degradation. You will have less health and take more damage which means you might not complete your quest. Of course you can decrease the rate that you age by lowering your death count, but that will require you to either beat ?tougher? foes or spend experience at a spirit shrine or you can hone yourself so you will never die.
Difficulty will be a hot topic for this title and I can say during my earlier attempts, I could not beat the first boss without hitting retirement age. Brute forcing bosses will not be the smartest option, but once you figure out their moves a boss fight feels almost like a dance. The journey to the boss can also be arduous, but the game is extremely generous with checkpointing, so much that I checkpoint scummed my way to a high score in a level. The game also sets a checkpoint at the start of each level based on the lowest age you?ve completed the previous level at, unfortunately this means any future improvements will not be recorded which is a bit of a bummer (an example would be, I would start the Club with mostly weapons related spirit shrine upgrades?something I wish I could overwrite with an alternate set up where I used the spirit shrine to ensure I can dizzy foes easier). The game also provides alternate pathing which can bypass some combat encounters, but doing so will mean you miss spirit shrines or won?t have the qualifications to use them outright.
Sifu on paper looks like a short title, with it?s five stages you would think it will be a short weekend experience and you will be done. However, it is so packed with content that even though you think you?ve mastered a level, a discovery at a later stage will force you back to an earlier stage. It?s varied arsenal will have you constantly replaying certain sections just to see how different a score you can get (such as the hallway fight in the first level which encapsulates the feeling of a certain fight scene from the movie Old Boy). I read somewhere that the devs wanted action sequences to feel like a Jackie Chan movie, and given what I?ve seen they?ve definitely nailed it. Although most players’ experiences will at first look like the credits of a Jackie Chan movie, through persistence and patience, their encounters will start to look like the final cut of the film.
Note: Sloclap provided us with a Sifu PS4/PS5 code for review purposes.