GAME REVIEW: Sifu – A Martial Art Masterpiece

  • Title: Sifu
  • Developer: Sloclap
  • Publisher: Sloclap, Microids
  • Release Date: February 8th, 2022
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4 and 5, PC
  • Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

SYNOPSIS:

The hunt for the assassins of your family will take you through the hidden corners of the city, from gang-ridden suburbs to the cold hallways of corporate towers. You have one day, and countless enemies on your way. Time will be the price to pay.

SifuGame

Sifu has been one of the more anticipated indie games for 2022 where death and aging go hand in hand. Regarded primarily as a fighting/ beat ’em up game, many other websites also describe it with action-adventure and even some rogue-lite elements.

The game opens at night. You maneuver as an adult male dressed in black through the rain and into a building and serves as your tutorial. When you reach your destination, you clash fists and kicks with hordes of fighters and your karate master. He regards you with disdain, claiming he regrets training you. Little did I know that I wasn’t playing as the main protagonist…

Your character–male or female–steps out from hiding but is cut down on orders from the character you just controlled.

After a dramatic opener, Sifu really begins. You start at a wuguan (school)–a central location where you spent years training in martial arts. Serving as a hub of sorts, you collect clues, train, and select your level. Your character’s goal is to seek revenge on the group that murdered your father, the sifu, and the rest of your family. The group consists of a unique set of martial artists: The Botanist, The Fighter, The Artist, The CEO, and of course, The Leader, and this breaks the game down into five levels.

I consider each level a “run”. You select a location where one of the targets are, then you fight your way through his/her henchmen. The layout of each area is contained yet has various ways to move about the level, something that allows for enjoyment when having to replay the level over and over.

When you progress through each stage, you may collect clues for your board, obtain power-ups, and gain experience points which may be used to add special moves such as the snap kick. Once your health depletes, you die, and the death ticker climbs. Each time you are resurrected, you increase in age and astonish your foes. There are several opportunities during battle where you can lower that death count in order to lengthen your time on your run. This is important because even when you clear one stage, your death count remains the same when you start the next level.

In between levels, you can train at your school (wuguan)–which I found vital to nail down my combos.

ANALYSIS:

Graphics/Music: The art style is one of the strongest aspects of Sifu. With almost a brush-stroke aspect to graphics, it adds to the Asian-inspired theme of the game. The colors are stark and vivid, which makes everything pleasing to the eye (and makes photo mode more enjoyable). I also applaud the art behind your character as he or she ages. In fact, it made aging look beautiful.

The music within Sifu is also strong. It keeps in tempo during the many fight sequences that get your heart pumping. There is a mix of zen and club tracks that fosters a diverse soundtrack. I had purchased the deluxe edition which came with the soundtrack, and it is one I often listen to even when not playing the game.

I did want to mention voice acting. Unfortunately, many phrases and words from NPCs were cheesy. They became repetitive and unbelievable. The voice of my female protagonist was half-way decent, and I was disappointed the game was only available in English (Example: Chernobylite has a Russian option with English subtitles. The Russian voice acting was so much better quality than the English). In understanding that voice acting is not high priority for beat ’em- ups, it did pull me out of my element given how the visuals and music were otherwise spot on.

Gameplay: The gameplay mechanics are what brought Sifu into the gaming spotlight. Each time you perish on a run, you grow in age. This translates into more powerful hits; however, you pay with it in less health. The death timer sequence processes smoothly as you get back up and resume the fight.

I look good for a 70 year old…

As far as the martial arts, Sifu has based move sets from Pek Mei kung-fu. While there is one button for “light” attacks and one for “heavy” attacks, the system is far more complex than this. You are able to manipulate hundreds of combinations. Some stagger an enemy so you may stun or knock them off their feet. Even blocking is nuanced for high and low attacks. A “structural gauge” also exists, which can be filled up before breaking an opponent, or yourself, allowing for finishing blows. The most important note is that Sifu can pose a challenge to most players, especially those who are used to button-mashing in fighting games. I had made this mistake when I felt overwhelmed with The Botanist boss fight. What I discovered was that the more erratic my button-pressing became, the more I slipped up and died. Sifu stresses parrying and intentional combos, which ultimately lends to success. I would not say that Sifu is too challenging as some claim, as I do not play fighting games often. I took full use of practicing in the wuguan and make up to the room before the boss in the Club (second level) before my first run ended.

A NOTE ABOUT APPROPRIATION:

There has been some stir about cultural appropriation regarding the Sifu development team. As mentioned in The Gamer by Khee Hoon Chan, this Chinese martial arts game was developed almost entirely by white people. Even the martial artist consultant was a Caucasian. Some people on the internet had taken offense to this; however, if you really read through Chan’s article, he only notes this as an observation and judges the game based on its accuracy of Chinese culture. Of course, he–like most of us–wishes for cultural representation within the industry, but that is to be considered outside of Sifu itself.

I am a first-generation Chinese American who also happens to hold a black belt in martial arts, and some people have asked about how I felt about this. I am a firm believer that one should judge any form of media based on its product. Does the game itself misrepresent the Chinese? Surely, I would be more appreciative and proud if Asian developers or consultants were a part of this game; however, I have done my research, and the developers at Sloclap have worked hard to be as accurate and respectful as possible. If the effort is made to genuinely represent a culture, it shouldn’t be a problem who makes the game. I personally found the fighting to be relatively accurate (I was not trained in Pek Mei but rather Uechi-Ryu), and I also know several non-Asians who spent years mastering martial arts.

For the most part, Sifu reflects the Chinese culture relatively well. Could they have included those of Asian descent for input? Of course! Does this mean no one should be offended? Of course, not. Everyone views cultural appropriation from their own perspective. So my bottom line is that everyone keeps an open mind and open dialogue–that’s what matters most. It is important to identify true cases of misrepresentation and appropriation. I appreciate Chan’s article and can only hope people read through it and understand his message–not just the headline in order to simply make a fuss.

Coming from an Chinese gamer, Sifu is totally fine, guys. In fact, I am glad Sloclap created a game steeped in Chinese culture. They made something that no one else has yet, and that should be celebrated.

FINAL SCORE:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sifu has made its mark in 2022 as a high-throttle fighting game. I applaud its unique gameplay and focus on intentional combat. It poses a deep challenge even for the best gamers; however, Sloclap struck a balance between what items/skills that remain permanently versus what you lose after each run. The dialogue is cheesy, the complexity of the mechanics can be overwhelming at times, and many may be turned off by those raging against a group of white developers; however, I give Sifu a stamp of approval. It’s a gorgeous game about revenge and karate, proving that skill takes time, and that age is just a number.

Will you be purchasing Sifu? Join the conversation about what it takes to make a great fighting game and much more on our Facebook group or scan the QR code below to join our Discord!

Sources: TheGamer, SifuGame

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