Sifu: the review of the brutal and beautiful action by Sloclap



With its remarkable aesthetics and fights taken straight from kung fu movies, Sifu has captured the attention of many: our review

The more complex a game is, the more difficult it is to clearly convey its features to the general public, and sadly the market is often the most crystal clear proof of this theorem. True, in the past there have been many cases of extraordinarily deep titles capable of selling millions of copies or conquering passionate fanbases, yet the norm is that the most mechanically elaborate games always move towards the so-called “niche” or, in case of success, almost never sail the seas of those who sell millions and millions of copies. It is also for this reason that most modern blockbusters aim at the mass of content or at the mainly narrative experience: they are easy-to-understand titles that are appealing even to those who are not long-time players, and a simplified system can still be qualitatively excellent if properly developed.

Yet, even if this way to success is still the most followed, several teams with a very different vision of gaming exist and resist, sometimes just eager to create games based on simple personal preferences or directly opposite to what the market dictates, hoping to conquer those users who feel poorly represented by today’s landscape.

Sloclap, a rather young French team with only one game to their credit so far, seem to belong to this curious club of “black sheep” of development. Their first work, Absolver, was still an atypical fighting game with many qualities, but in part not understood by the public and perhaps a little ‘too ambitious for the actual resources available to the software house. The bases of that game are still more than solid and Sloclap has decided not to abandon them; indeed, it has reused them to create a singleplayer action clearly inspired by kung fu movies named Sifu, which recently caught the attention of several fans of the genre.

We have played it, and after hours of levels overcome spitting blood we do not want to get lost in frills: Sifu is one of the most mechanically granitic and brilliant games that we have experienced in recent years, an impressive demonstration of talent by Sloclap, and a work whose brutal management of the difficulty will not fail to completely capture those who love the experience really challenging. And this excellent result has been achieved with a mixture of excellent ideas and design in a state of grace, for goodness sake, but also inspired in part by an old cult of the action genre by many unfairly criticized.

We explain it all, of course, in our Sifu review.

Structure and narrative: kung fu has no age

Sifu: the protagonist is very mobile, and can overcome obstacles gracefully

Sifu is a story of revenge, built around the typical topoi of 80s and 90s kung fu movies, but aesthetically inspired by more modern works of “barrel cinema”. We’ll talk about the aesthetics in due time (and it’s absolutely worth discussing), but already the narrative is more complex than it may initially appear. You start the game, in fact, with a brilliant tutorial, which literally puts you in the shoes of what will then be the final boss during an attack on a school of martial arts. It all kicks off with the elimination of the mysterious master of that school and his young son, who is saved, however, by the mystical powers of a curious amulet. Protected by this artifact – which can continuously save him from certain death in exchange for a few years of life – the boy swears revenge against the five individuals who organized the murder of his father, in a desperate mission that could cost him everything.

It’s a rather basic premise, we realize, but it moves well to the management of the campaign divided into five levels, one for each “goal” of your alter ego. The hunt of the protagonist is not, however, a simple delirium of omnipotence: our over the years has compiled a bulletin board of investigations, where advancing between the maps get new clues and items essential for the progress, these searches are very important to understand more deeply the motivations of their targets, and at the same time represent one of the fulcrums of the curious progression of the title, since they allow you to avoid entire parts of the levels, speeding up greatly the completion.

Sifu: watch out for weapons, enemies can use them in turn

Yes, because in Sifu the maps are not just arenas full of opponents to be beaten: the level design is quite elaborate, offers many interactive elements, and at the first crossing of each location you will find many locked doors waiting for you. The keys and items needed to unlock these passages are found in the levels themselves or even in subsequent paintings, which leads to retracing the paths already completed several times to get new information or simply have to deal with fewer enemies. In fact, the basic version of a level is often chock full of confrontations and enemies, making it extremely difficult to reach a boss without ever dying. Considering that your life years are limited, then, it’s often a good idea to return to past levels to finish them with fewer deaths on your shoulders, so you’ll have a better chance of completing the next one.

Ah, the loss of years, however, is a separate mechanic handled brilliantly in our opinion. The better you play and the more enemies you eliminate, the less years you will lose for the deaths. Get yourself killed many times in a row and the years counter will begin to increase gradually, until you take away more than six or seven years of life at each death. Once you’ve passed seventy, you’ll only have one last chance; make a mistake and you’ll have to try again from the beginning the last level you did, trying to get to the conclusion all in one piece.

Gameplay: the god of the hand is back

Sifu: being surrounded is never a good idea

Detta so may seem a structure absolutely brutal, and in some ways it is, so as to approach almost a sort of mutation of what we saw in some titles roguelite … but Sifu is not absolutely a videgioco unfair in its evilness. Once you unlock a level, in fact, the age at which you reach it is saved, and this can be decreased by retracing the previous picture with greater skill. As mentioned above, the objects scattered around the maps allow you to unlock smart shortcuts that greatly facilitate the completion of the whole with fewer deaths, and there is even a system of character growth, with passive upgrades and extra kung fu moves that are a very useful tool against certain types of opponent. This is where the fun comes in, because from a mechanical point of view Sifu is a title of rare quality, which perfectly integrates its level of challenge to the progression of the skills of those who play and the virtual growth of his alter ego.

Eliminating enemies, in fact, allows you to get experience points, which can be spent at the moment of death, at the conclusion of the level in the main hub, or by interacting with specific statues scattered around the maps (they are rare, so don’t rely on them too much). Their use offers two possibilities: to passively upgrade the protagonist, or to add new techniques to his arsenal.

Passive power-ups are extremely useful, as they allow you to improve life regeneration every time you knock out an opponent, focus bar recovery (which we’ll explain shortly), or stun resistance (which progressively increases if you parry too many blows, however it’s when you aim for martial arts that Sloclap’s game seriously starts to shine.

An art by Sifu

Sifu’s combat system closely resembles that of Absolver, with similar command response, a wide variety of blows, and a view mostly from behind with three-dimensional movement that is rather free (but still conditioned by the position of the antagonists). Here, however, the enemies are frighteningly warlike, they are not afraid to attack you at the same time, and have an enviable variety of attack patterns, which forces the player to use the right technique at the right time. And in this element, that is the application of defensive mechanics and the management of the fights, Sifu seems markedly inspired by none other than God Hand, Shinji Mikami’s villainous classic, now considered among the most satisfying and difficult titles of the entire action genre.

Even when you are old you will have the possibility to finish the game

Let’s explain: in Mikami’s work, the extreme variety of enemies and their not inconsiderable number forced to use with wit not only the customizable moves, but also the movement – getting surrounded was a suicide – and the various dodges, with the latter fundamental to get out of one-on-one without a scratch. Sifu is much more intuitive in its movement and move management, yet it follows an extremely similar philosophy: the battlefield must be “controlled” by repositioning yourself smartly and avoiding groups of enemies, dodging in place is usually the best way to avoid mauling, and some “elite” enemies have an almost impenetrable defense until you manage to expose them by avoiding their series of attacks with the right mechanics.

Sure, Sifu also makes things a little easier with more environmental interactivity – there are weapons and throwable items available in the maps, fabulous for gaining an advantage – but then you get to the bosses, and in those situations it’s all about reflexes and chosen techniques. The game’s magnificently calculated system, however, still manages to make things artificially easier for those with a little bit of cunning, as certain skills used with the right timing are a tremendous asset to surviving (hint: the ground counter is a boon if you struggle to avoid low blows). Ah, do not think you can abuse the mechanics: there are moves are not always effective and enemies do not suffer them “cold” for more than a couple of times, plus, restart checkpoint at the time of death does not return to the previous age, and also leads to a complete reset of the techniques learned, regardless of the age of your character. The only way to maintain your martial arts is to unlock them multiple times to make them permanent, so it’s worth focusing on the most efficient ones.

It doesn’t end there: The game takes from God Hand even the system of “demons”; it is in fact possible to quickly eliminate certain stunned opponents with executions, only that sometimes doing so makes them enter a kind of berserk state that turns them into elite enemies with more complicated patterns and greater resistance. We’re not looking at the level of annoyance of the fearsome demonic enemies of Mikami’s work, for goodness sake, but in a heated battle the appearance of one of these nice guys can really get you in trouble. There is, however, a positive aspect: killing an elite lowers your death count, ensuring you age less with each defeat. Paradoxically, then, you might actively seek out some of these opponents in advanced levels, once you figure out how to defeat them without too much trouble.

The mix of refined mechanics, alternative roads in the levels and the need to constantly improve to avoid permanent death also eliminates any repetitiveness. Redoing maps isn’t tedious, but rather a constant challenge with yourself, whose goal is to achieve the perfect performance.

Technical compartment: the wonderful aesthetic of slaps

Sifu: a corridor usually corresponds to a spectacular series of confrontations

In this hardcore concentration of virtual punches and kicks, other aids depend only on the resources available to your alter ego, which we mentioned while we were talking about passive power-ups. The aforementioned focus bar allows you to use special moves useful against almost all enemies, which ensure to pass at least once their powerful defenses (it fills up slowly, but so be it), the stun puts you in danger if you overdo it with parries – defensive maneuver always efficient, however, that cares little about the direction of the attacks received – then properly enhance the stability offers a slightly more solid defense, and increased regeneration or increased resistance of weapons (clearly destructible) should not be underestimated. That said, don’t think that a little bit of experience makes the game a piece of cake: the difficulty curve rises sharply from the second level onwards, and if it weren’t for the excellently calculated shortcuts you’d have practically no respite.

Sifu: a club where you don't dance

From applause instead of the aesthetics of the game, which left us open-mouthed more times than we thought possible in a work of this type. Seriously, what can not get the graphics – which still rests on remarkable animations and a general level of detail respectable – it earns effortlessly the art direction. Sloclap, after all, seem to be devotees of kung fu and action movies, and their work pays homage to a large number of films in the genre, from Gareth Evans’ The Raid to Tsui Hark’s features, and even Tarantino’s Kill Bill. There are maps (the museum in the first place) where the use of color and lighting is masterful to the point of raising significantly the quality of the fights, the environments are all unique and very pleasant to explore, and changes of perspective are often used with great skill to make the fights as clear as more scenic. And okay, the camera is not perfect, so much so that it can happen to slip badly in a corner and lose the frame, but if nothing else its tendency to distance itself in many stages greatly improves the overall perception, avoiding many of the problems of visibility that often plague the modern action.

Comment

Sifu has seriously impressed us. It is a mechanically granitic title, supported by a design worthy of absolute veterans of development, which is not afraid to be brutally challenging and manages to surprise even from an artistic point of view. It is not particularly long-lived (especially if you are a high-level gamer), but it is a title to say the least brilliant, highly recommended for lovers of action and challenges that do not forgive. If this is only the second work of Sloclap and have already grown to this point, we dare not imagine what they can do with the next game.

PRO

  • Exhilarating and mechanically sound combat system
  • Exceptional aesthetics, strongly inspired by the pillars of action cinema
  • Brutal and non-bypassable difficulty that gives enormous satisfaction when you overcome its challenges
  • Some annoying bugs remain
  • Some inaccuracies in the offensive timing of a few specific elite enemies
  • If you’re a gaming dragon, it won’t last long
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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