Sifu Review: Roguelike martial arts is too complicated for its own good

Sifuhave a good yard. You are a martial arts master, intent on revenge, fighting odds that cannot be surpassed for a lifetime. But you have a secret weapon: Every time you die, you come back to life. You race to complete your mission as your avatar turns weak and gray.

It’s a novel concept, so it’s a pity that the developer of Slotlap wasn’t able to make it work. Sifu is a game rife with puzzling, inevitable, infuriating omissions, and nearly all of them tied to its supernatural twist.

A gray-haired martial artist attacks a woman in boots in Sifu. The impact caused her to arch up considerably.

Image: Slotlap over Polygon

Before we get into that, let’s talk about the good stuff: The “bad martial arts master’s” salute is done with incredible skill. Sifu has the core of a great action game, giving you all the tools to play your Hong Kong action fantasies. Light and heavy attacks chain together into beautifully animated, satisfying combos thwacks and comic flow. You can finish off tough enemies with brutal, quick executions in environments that will leave you gasping for breath again and again. From the jump, you are a force to be reckoned with.

But your enemy has caused a war. They can knock you out in a few hits, and they use their numbers to surround and overpower you. SifuThe goons are hardly as polite as we’d expect in the post-Batman: Arkham third-person combat world. They don’t wait their turn, and they don’t broadcast their intentions with flashing warning icons. So you’re always moving, sliding across tables and jumping over furniture – constantly scrambling to deny them the full benefit of their overwhelming numbers.

In an overgrown industrial alley in Sifu, a young boxer stabbed a topless man with a piece of metal pipe using a piece of metal pipe.

Image: Slotlap over Polygon

When the attackers do catch up with you, you still have the tools – maybe too much. SifuMy defensive resource is called “structure” and it works a lot like “posture” in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. You can block to absorb attacks, but your structure meter will swell. When full, it will burst, leaving you vulnerable for a few precious seconds. But if you time your block perfectly, enemies will take damage from the structure. Sifu adds another layer of technical complexity to its “avoidances”, which are accomplished by holding the block button and swiping the left stick up or down, depending on whether you’re dodging a high attack or a low attack. With the right timing, you should get rid of the damage and recover a bit of the structure.

Figuring out the uses of each of these defense tools takes a lot of work, but it comes with its rewards. There’s nothing like pinpointing the perfect moment for a duck under an oncoming baseball bat and watching your opponent knock the poor goon out behind you.

Sifu is at its best when it puts you in overwhelming situations and requires you to use these offensive and defensive tools to overcome the odds. You’ll shove enemies into a crowd of your allies and then dash through them, attack, disarm, attack, dodge, sweep and have a great time. I wish I could say that this is the extent of Sifuits reach, and it’s a pleasure to enjoy all this violent, motivational fun.


All other things. When I saw the first trailer that reveals the nifty mechanic “gets old every time you die”, I thought, Oh, neat. I wonder how they would bring that concept into an elegant game system. I’m sad to announce that the answer to that question is: “They didn’t.” It’s confusing and hard to use. Its internal logic is difficult to follow, and it matches everything it touches.

A young female boxer hits the back of the head of a nightclub security guard in Sifu. He fell to the ground.

Image: Slotlap over Polygon

So let’s get into it.

You start Sifu as a 20-year-old teacher Pak Mei. You have to raid the hideout of the five big bastards and kill them in a predetermined order. Every time you die, you come back to life with a fully charged life bar and a few gray hairs. The quantily of aging that you will do is a Fibonacci sequence determined by your current death count. After your first death, you will be 21 years old; after the second you will be 23 years old; after the third day you will be 26 years old; and from then onwards.

I hope you are not confused because we are just getting started.

Each passing decade is an important milestone. You will gain a little attack power, but your max health will decrease. This is great. The balance between risk and reward in combat evolves as you age into a glass cannon. Each death will also give you access to a small shop where you can spend experience points on extremely useful combos and skills, such as catching thrown projectiles, performing a blow damage attack or a missed kick that causes the opponent to fall. Cool! Simple enough.

But! Each of those skills has a specific age limit. I suppose it’s impossible to teach an old dog new tricks. You also have the option to redeem a skill you already have. You don’t unlock a better version of it, but if you buy it five times, it will be unlocked in all subsequent runs. Hrm.

Sifu's level up screen image.

Image: Slotlap over Polygon

This system needs a lot of things, and even the interface struggles to make sense of it. The upgraded screen is a series of black, gray, and pink dots; XP cost; tool tips; and terms and conditions. The process of accumulating experience into unlocked skills will not be rewarding. It’s like paying off my student loans.

You can also increase your core stats with the shrines that alternate in each level. While other upgrades are mostly active skills and attacks, shrines give you passive benefits: things like increased weapon durability, health regeneration on kills, or even a chance to reset your death counter. Each temple allows you to invest one point in one of these nine perks, each with three levels. What currency do you use to open these perks? Well, it depends on the privilege. Some are unlocked with experience, some are simply under a certain age, and others have a third abstract currency called “level points”.

Right now, you might be saying, “Why are you telling me all this? A lot of games have progression systems that are hard to learn. I played Dark Souls. “And you were right. Complex progression systems can be really fun when they are elegantly incorporated into the gameplay.

But that is not the case here. Nothing.

I haven’t even dig deep into how bosses work, or how you have to start running again once you die after 70. I spent a lot of energy on parsing Sifuits hazy web of rules and systems, and I want to save you, dear reader, from a similar burnout. Just trust me when I say that no matter how hard you try to understand Sifuit won’t meet you halfway.

Like Hades and Profit, Sifu is a running game where every attempt is a chance to go further than your last. But unlike those games, its implementation doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s really hard to tell if you’re making any lasting progress.

In Hades, the weapons and perks you choose in any given run are continuously reinforced across the screen with weapon icons and effects. In Sifu, there is no external reminder of the skills you have equipped. I can’t count how many times I crushed the input for a technique, only to realize I hadn’t unlocked it on that particular run. Unless you go through the hard and painful process of permanently unlocking a skill, you will never have a chance to develop muscle memory. Briefly: SifuIts visual language does not benefit its complex system.

Likewise, the perks you’ve gotten from temples are reset and overwritten with each new attempt, making it impossible for you to easily plan your build or even hold any worthwhile insights. Have confidence in your own abilities.

Sifu is a very hard roguelite, and naturally you will have to replay ad nauseam levels. However, it is worth mentioning that the level layout and enemy positions are identical on each run. I enjoyed the game where this case happened. Part of the Dark Souls experience is learning effective routes back to boss battles, weaving around enemies, and fighting only when necessary. In Sifu, This is impossible. The matches are scripted. The doors remain locked until every lowly goon is defeated. Getting back to your boss can take 10-15 minutes if all goes well for you. The benefit of these no-nonsense runs is that they increase your sense of control. But when you’ve watched the same scripted events and heard the same unmissable dialogue for the tenth time, you feel awful by heart, and all that’s left is toil.

An old boxer pushes her leg against the back of a collapsed goon, knocking him into a nearby nightclub stall, in Sifu

Image: Slotlap over Polygon

It’s a pity, because there are some beautiful scenes in this game. You stroll past the colorful psychedelic trees and haunting sounds. It was amazing – for the first time. But with each iteration, I grew increasingly frustrated and skeptical. These level designers did a great job, but were nobody Tell them what kind of game this is? Didn’t anyone point out that players would have to wade through this adorable interactive art installation over and over again, just for the privilege of being beaten to death by enemies on the other side?

Sifu extremely annoying because underneath all its messy, slick lines, there’s a great action game that I reallyActually want to play. But Sifu couldn’t get out of its way, and its highly conceptual ambitions spoiled its basic pleasures.

Sifu will be released on 8 February on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC; Early access for pre-order customers will go live on February 6. The game has been evaluated using the PS5 download code provided by Sloclap. Vox Media has an affiliate partnership. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.

https://www.polygon.com/reviews/22918073/sifu-review-ps5-ps4-windows-pc-release-date Sifu Review: Roguelike martial arts is too complicated for its own good

Aila Slisco

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