Review | Sifu

Arenas adds more ingredients to an already exquisite dish.

I first played Sloclap’s action packed brawler Sifu on PlayStation 5 when it was originally released in 2022, pouring dozens of hours into trying to unlock everything it had to offer. So when I discovered it was being ported to the Xbox family of consoles I was elated to have an excuse to dive back into that world to experience the new added content, along with unlocking achievements. Within the first few moments of playing Sifu I was instantly hooked again, not only because of the intense gameplay, but its beautiful, stylized art direction and the incredible score that blends traditional Chinese music with electronic elements.

Similar to many martial arts tales, one of Sifu’s main themes focuses on revenge. The game starts off with a twist, after your father suffers an unfortunate fate the story fast forwards twenty years ahead where avenging your father is the main goal. In-between the main five levels, you’ll interact with a detective board in the hub area dojo as you look for answers to find your father’s killer and piece together the story as you traverse through the different stages.

What really solidifies Sifu as a game not only worth playing, but revisiting with the latest update is the core gameplay and combat. I can comfortably say that Sifu is hands down the best combat in any brawler style game I have played to date, while also being one of the most challenging games I’ve ever played. The fighting sections are fast, fluid, and unforgiving. It requires you to put time into learning the mechanics and will constantly punish you for misjudging an enemies attack. While the difficulty for may not be for everyone, if you are looking for a game that teaches you how to learn and adapt from your failures, then Sifu will constantly reward you.

Sifu is not randomly generated like many rogue-lites, it’s more of a game of trial and error and learning the game’s systems since the level layouts stay the same but due to its punishing combat it prioritizes skill and practice to succeed. Although, with each new run you slowly begin to unlock new pathways by finding key cards. This allows your next run to skip a large portion of the level allowing shortcuts to help you progress. Its combat forces you to learn from failure. Each enemy has a structure and health bar and by taking down the structure your enemies become stunned leaving them open to takedowns. Every time you utilize a takedown on an enemy you slightly gain a little health back making these mechanics extremely useful but challenging to pull off.  Although, once you understand the basics of blocking and dodging the combat opens up even more.  Parrying attacks also prevents your structure from decreasing.  One of the biggest yet most rewarding challenges of Sifu is knowing when to recognize and learn the certain types of attack patterns of multiple enemies.

What sets Sifu apart from other beat ’em ups is that it is also a rogue-lite where every time you die you come back to life but each time your character is older, aging by the amount of years on your death counter.  Meaning if you died three times, your death counter would be at three and subsequently you would age an additional three years. Although, once you hit seventy and die the run is over so finishing levels as young as possible should be the goal in mind. This is when Sifu really sunk its claws into me. I became obsessed with finishing every level at the starting age of twenty, which is no easy feat. If I made a mistake I would restart the level over again demanding perfection from myself. I think at this point I’ve played the club over a hundred times and every time I replay it my excitement for perfection never dwindled.

Sifu | Sloclap

While the core of Sifu has remained for this update, the release on Xbox is paired up with one of the main reasons I am jumping back in– the new Arena mode. There are nine new locations and forty-five challenges spread over five game modes consisting of around ten additional hours of content. The game modes consist of Capture, Survive, Manhunt, Time Attack, and Performance. Although, if this is your first time playing Sifu it comes recommended to play the base game before jumping into the Arena.

Of the new modes, Capture was by far my favorite. Similar to other games with a game mode of this nature, it involves taking ahold of a marked area and defending it from enemies. I found myself frantically clearing the area and racing to the next one as fast as possible. Even with countless hours already poured into Sifu these modes remained challenging and tested my patience, but I just couldn’t stop coming back trying to get three points for each of the forty-five challenges.

One of the best parts of the arena update is the head nod to certain movies that are intertwined into the arena challenges. One of the first challenges you will encounter is called “I know Kung Fu” and  it pits you against waves of enemies that look like Agent Smith from the Matrix and when you attempt to dodge time slows down. These Arena modes will take all that you learned from the base game and expand on that while adding in different gameplay modifiers that can change how certain aspect of the game function in a given arena such as a time slow-down on dodges in that specific arena. While successfully completing arenas will unlock other modifiers and some other cosmetic items, these additional unlockables and these little winks to other media kept me coming back to these levels. 

Sifu sets the new benchmark for brawler style beat ’em ups. The same way Arkham Asylum revolutionized combat for many similar games that followed, I think Sifu takes this beyond and expands upon itself throughout the course of the game. The feeling of triumph from constantly improving my skills and approach to combat scenarios, always paid off at the end of a run or level in an arena. If you’re up for a challenging action game with deep, rewarding combat then Sifu should be at the top of your list and with all of the additional content added in with the Arena update a game that I already considered a masterpiece just amazingly made itself even more deserving of that title.

For all things Sifu and beat ’em up game related, be sure to keep it locked to Pass The Controller. For a deeper dive on all things gaming and nerd culture, listen to the Pass The Controller Podcast with new episodes weekly on your favorite podcast platform. Want to continue the conversation with us and our community? Join our official Discord server.

Sifu and the Arenas update arrives on March 28th, 2023 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows 10, Epic Games Store, and Steam. We reviewed this game on Xbox Series X with a code provided by the publisher.

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