‘Sifu’ Wants You To Fail So Eventually You Can Succeed

Either Sifu is incredibly challenging or I’m just incredibly bad at it. There are moments when everything clicks and the martial arts movie-inspired action feels like a dream. The player will float through enemies, parrying them and countering with a precision that only a true martial arts master is capable of. There’s a scene very early in the game where the player enters into an enclosed hallway with a series of enemies, and it is set up perfectly to seamlessly fight through them in one continuous combo. It feels amazing and is one of the high points of the early game.

That’s when Sifu feels at its best. When this isn’t happening, the player is instead being overwhelmed by common enemies, getting obliterated by bosses, and watching their age increase upon every death. This all feels by design. The game wants you to fail. It wants you to take these challenges head-on and get better. Learn the combos. Get the parries. Die. A lot. Anyone who sticks it out is going to eventually have that moment where it clicks and the entire game feels like the hallway sequence. The question every player is going to ask themselves is if they’re willing to put up with so much failure to reach that point.


What is Sifu?

The main gimmick of Sifu is that every time the player dies, they get older. They’re able to spring back to life immediately upon death, sometimes with a few upgrades, and get right back to combat. This seamless transition is good and keeps death from feeling like it will slow down combat, which is necessary in a game where the core mechanic is built on death. Every 10 years, the player will get a damage upgrade to make combos hurt more, but they lose a little bit of health as the frailty of age begins to take hold. The ebb and flow here is that the more the player dies, the faster they age, but if they defeat enemies, then the aging process will be slower. The game rewards the player for playing well.

As for why the player is going through buildings in a fictional China and battling powerful bosses, it’s a story of revenge. The player watched as a former martial arts student and his gang of followers killed the player’s father before his very eyes. You are then killed, only to revive one year older and completely unharmed. At 20 years old, the player will embark on a journey to defeat everyone who was responsible for his father’s death.

Why You Should Play Sifu

  • Seamless combat
  • It looks and feels like a martial arts movie
  • A good challenge

Sifu is going to challenge anyone that tries to take it on. Some of the highest thrills in this game come after overcoming a challenging boss or sequence without dying. That gradual sense of improvement creates a sense of accomplishment in every play-through, and when the combat clicks, it feels exactly the way the game has been advertised. It has managed to make death, something that is considered a failure in every other game, feel like just another step towards improvement. Of course, the ultimate goal every player will eventually have is to get through the entire game with no deaths at all. It’s possible, but only those who have truly mastered the game will reach that point. Thankfully, the journey to mastering it is fun.

Why You Should Not Play Sifu

  • The grind
  • The story is only okay
  • Failure isn’t always fun

Some players want a game to punch them back. They want a game that will make it so every inch forward must be earned. Sifu is not the most challenging game ever made, but it’s going to require a level of commitment to mastering the controls that not everyone is going to enjoy. Sifu does not ease the player in. There’s one tutorial level and from that point on it’s sink or swim. Players who sink may stop playing before they even beat the first or second boss of the game. Without a difficulty level, there’s no way for this game to get easier other than mastering it. It would be one thing if the revenge plot had more to it, but it’s a very basic martial arts movie plot. This isn’t a bad thing, but it’s not going to be a reason for players to push through.


Our Take

Sifu wants you to fail, but it does so because it wants to see you improve. If you’re okay with banging your head into a wall until everything clicks, then the combat is going to be worth it. This game is fun and, at its best, it has some of the most exhilarating combat we’ve seen in an action game, but the path there isn’t going to be for everyone.

A code for the PlayStation 5 version of Sifu was provided to us for review purposes.