Sifu is an action beat ’em up video game developed and published by French studio Sloclap. Set in modern-day China, players control the child of a martial arts school’s sifu (master) who seeks revenge on those responsible for their father’s death. Every time the protagonist dies, they are resurrected by a magical talisman and age up, gaining access to more powerful attacks but reducing their health. When the player character becomes too old, they can die permanently, in which can case players must restart the level from the beginning and from the same age as their initial attempt.
The game was released on 8 February 2022 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5. It received generally positive reviews, with praise for its combat, environments, and story, and sold more than 1 million units within one month of release.
Sifu is an action beat ’em up game played from a third-person perspective. The game, which is inspired by Bak Mei kung fu, includes over 150 unique attacks. Basic attack moves can be chained together, though some combos may grant players additional tactical opportunities, such as being able to knock down enemies or stun them. The protagonist and all hostile enemy characters have a “structural gauge”. When the gauge is completely filled, the guard of these characters will break and they will become vulnerable to finishing attacks. Players can also block strikes, though this will gradually fill their gauge. Alternatively, players can also evade attacks or parry when an enemy is about to land a blow. A successful parry allows the player to stun the enemy or throw them toward a particular direction. The game allows players to take advantage of the environment and improvise new attacks or alter their strategy when facing a stronger opponent. For instance, the player may kick an enemy off a ledge, or utilize various objects as makeshift weapons. The last enemy in a combat section may sometimes enter a state of uncontrolled frenzy, essentially becoming a miniboss. Occasionally, the player may be presented with dialogue options, which can enable them to potentially avoid combat altogether depending on their choice of words.
When the player dies in the game, they are magically resurrected at the spot where they die and age several years. As the player character ages, their strikes will be more powerful, but they will have less health. Eventually, it will no longer be possible to revive, and the next death will end the game. Players will encounter shrines, which will be the place where they heal and unlock new skills. They can also visit the “wuguan“, a kung fu school, to practice their skills in between levels. Abilities are lost when the player character dies, though it is possible to permanently unlock upgrades so that they are available at the beginning of each run. As the player completes multiple runs, they can access the “detective board”, where the information collected across different runs will be stored, and secret areas and shortcuts may open up.
In modern-day China, Yang, a disgraced former student of a martial arts school, leads a raid on his old school under the cover of night with four other martial artists: Fajar (“The Botanist”, who wields a machete and never talks), Sean (“The Fighter”, who wields a staff, enjoys fighting hard, and regards the school’s martial artists as weak), Kuroki (“The Artist”, a young woman who wields a three-section staff), and Jinfeng (“The CEO”, a one-armed elderly woman who wields a bladed rope dart with the non-lethal end in her right-arm socket). After he, Fajar, and Sean brutally kill all of the students, Yang confronts the school’s sifu, who is fighting Kuroki and Jinfeng before Yang arrives; declaring that Yang “knows too much”, the sifu fights him, but Yang strikes him in the chest, causing him to suffer a fatal heart attack. After searching through the sifu’s belongings, Yang coaxes out the sifu’s only child and orders Fajar to slit the child’s throat. The child wakes up to find his/her throat completely healed due to the power of an ancient talisman that can revive them from death; however, they grow older with each revival. Swearing revenge on Yang and his followers, the Martial Artist spends the next eight years in isolation, training relentlessly and gathering information on their whereabouts.
Now an adult, the Martial Artist tracks down Fajar, who now has phytokinesis with which he works for a gang of drug traffickers, and slits his throat with his own machete. They then go after Sean (who now has pyrokinesis, has a martial arts school of his own, and runs an illegal underground fighting club to boot), Kuroki (who now creates superhuman illusions, has an ink-inspired dark self that wields kunai, and owns a prominent art gallery that acts as a front for organized crime), and Jinfeng (who has become a wealthy but corrupt businesswoman, uses supernatural bells and a similarly themed meteor hammer with one weight even hanging from her right-arm socket, and is insistent that Yang had done all of them favors), killing them with each one’s own weapon. Finally, the Martial Artist confronts Yang at his private sanctuary. Yang explains that when his own loved ones were close to death, his anger turned him against his former master. The Martial Artist and Yang then battle, with the former finally taking their revenge and striking Yang down the same way Yang struck down their father.
After killing Yang, however, the Martial Artist has a vision as their younger self of a grave and a smaller grave in red light. They then hear their father chastise Yang for stealing the talisman instead of guarding it; Yang angrily explains that he cannot find any other way to save his wife and daughter other than the talisman’s power, but the sifu argues that Yang dishonored his oath and lost his worthiness. The talisman sends the Martial Artist back to before tracking down Fajar, stating, “He/She who has Kung Fu and Wude [(morality)] makes the other know he/she can break him. His/Her hands go out like lightning, and the other doesn’t want to fight anymore.” The Martial Artist decides to go back through with going after the five martial artists, this time allowing themself to spare however many of them they would like to. They also find that not only is the talisman’s statement accurate about all five martial artists—including even Yang—but also that all five contribute to making the Martial Artist reconsider their stance on their revenge or reinforce the importance of “Wude”, with Kuroki, Jinfeng, and Yang explicitly challenging the Martial Artist’s prior beliefs.
The game has two endings, depending on the player’s actions:
- If the Martial Artist kills any of the targets, the original ending is reused.
- If the Martial Artist spares all of the targets, their fight with Yang continues into the gravesite from the other ending, this time in the real world and bathed in sunlight. After sparing Yang, the Martial Artist dies from injuries sustained by fighting Yang; but because they adhered to the principles of “Wude”, the talisman enables them to attain enlightenment. A post-credits scene shows the Martial Artist, now a sifu in their own right, training new students at their father’s former school; one of the talisman’s coins is also shown to be faded.
The game is developed by Sloclap, who previously released their debut fighting game Absolver in 2017. Unlike Absolver, Sifu does not have multiplayer as the team wanted to focus on developing the gameplay and need not to spend time developing the infrastructure necessary for online games. The game was inspired by kung fu movies starring Jackie Chan, where Chan was shown defeating multiple enemies single-handedly. The term “sifu” (Chinese characters 師父) refers to “master” in Cantonese, and the combat style featured in the game is based on the Bak Mei style. The team consulted Benjamin Colussi, a Bak Mei kung fu master to ensure that the game was authentic. The game emphasizes “mastery through practice”, a key value of kung fu which is reflected through the aging system. The game was also designed to be difficult and features a sharp learning curve, as the team felt that players would not gain a feeling of mastery if the gameplay experience is too easy.
Sloclap officially announced the game in February 2021 during Sony’s State of Play livestream. The team initially planned to release the game in 2021, but it was delayed to the following year to further polish the game and avoid overworking the team. Sifu was released on 8 February 2022 for Windows via the Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5, with players who purchase the Deluxe Edition having access the game 48 hours earlier, and receive a digital art book and the original soundtrack composed by Howie Lee. A retail edition of the game, titled Sifu: Vengeance Edition, will be released by publisher Microids on May 3, 2022.
Sifu received “generally favorable” reviews for Windows and PlayStation 5 according to review aggregator Metacritic; the PlayStation 4 version received “mixed or average” reviews.
IGN called the game “utterly uncompromising in its design”, praising the narrative, combat, controller haptics, environments, AI, structure, and expressed minor issues with the camera. Destructoid called it “a constant uphill battle” and “intensely rewarding”, concluding, “Sifu is a challenge worth taking on and overcoming. It’s a story of vengeance with a little heart at the end, and though it might not land perfectly, it’s got a lot of style and action to back it up.” Game Informer‘s review was slightly less positive about the game’s structure, praising its combat for coming out of the gate strong while stating that the game eventually became a tiresome grind. GameSpot heavily lauded the game’s two modes of combat, stating that they were impactful, and also praised the inventive aging mechanic and lack of a repetitive feel due to dynamic fights. The bad camera, bland story and characters, and superfluous investigative elements received some criticism. GamesRadar+ wrote positively about the game, praising its learning curve, aesthetics, and replayability, while taking some issue with the short length and limited enemy variety. Push Square gave the game eight stars out of ten, similarly praising its combat, rewarding feel, presentation, art direction, level design, and soundtrack, while criticizing the occasional unfairness in trial-and-error gameplay and its wonky camera.
Blake Morse from Shacknews gave the game a negative review. He criticised the game’s upgrade system and its roguelike structure, which forces players to grind for a extended period of time and replay levels frequently in order to progress.
Sifu sold over 500,000 copies within 48 hours of its release. The game sold over 1 million copies by March 2022.
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