Talking about a game that has been out for some time is never easy. Many of you surely already know all about SIFU and maybe some have already stripped it off on other platforms, but if you’re on these pages you’ve probably been waiting for the Xbox version… or maybe you simply haven’t had the opportunity to recover this little pearl yet and you’re intrigued by it. For this reason we will treat the game as a novelty, which it actually is for Xbox players, but even if you are a “veterans” stay with us, there are some new features that will entice you to pick up the pad again. But what is SIFU and why was there so much talk about it when it came out?
Let’s start with the narrative incipit: the story initially sees us in the role of Yang as we advance accompanied by four companions in a martial arts school, defeating the various students without too much difficulty, until we reach the Sifu (master). The fight naturally turns out to be much more challenging, but in the end Yang gets the upper hand and manages to kill the opponent. From the dialogues it is understood that the two have some kind of bond, but before leaving Yang notices the son (or daughter, we are given the possibility to choose) of the Sifu who has witnessed the fight while remaining hidden. Yang does not want witnesses and orders one of his companions to slit the child’s throat. A brutal order that is carried out without hesitation, but after some time the boy wakes up as if nothing had happened. It was not a dream however, in fact the child was really dead, but thanks to a mysterious talisman he was brought back to life. The young man begins training to be able to avenge his father’s death by hunting for Yang and his four allies, and nothing can stop him on his way… not even death.
The story of SIFU initially it therefore seems like a “classic” revenge story, but during the adventure we can find several collectibles to consult on an investigator bulletin board and which greatly expand the motivations and background of the characters, with all the pieces of the puzzle that only one once the true ending is discovered, they offer a complete picture of the events with unexpected implications. But what makes it truly memorable nonetheless SIFU it’s not the story, but the gameplay.
Basically it is a three-dimensional beat’em up, and to face the various types of enemies we will be able to alternate between light and heavy attacks, grips and above all dodges. The latter prove to be fundamental and difficult to master, as the use of the right analog is also required to direct the dodge based on the attack received, often in rapid sequence. In fact, the normal parry if abused leads to a state of stun in which we will be at the total mercy of the enemies, furthermore some attacks cannot really be parried but only avoided. Learning to distinguish the various patterns and the direction from which the blows come from is the only hope of surviving the brutal fights, but one certainly cannot always be on the defensive. Attacks also require the right timing and direction with the analogs for some special shots, so quickly pressing random keys soon leads to defeat. The set of moves available is initially limited, but by spending experience points on specific statuettes, our repertoire can be expanded both with new attacks and with new passive skills. By investing several times on the same skill it will be permanently unlocked, otherwise the upgrades are lost in the event of definitive death. Indeed, death is the real peculiarity of SIFU: the talisman that resurrects the protagonist in the prologue is not just a narrative device, but the real core of the gaming experience.
We begin the path of revenge at the age of 20, but in the event of defeat, the talisman will allow us to return to life for the price of one year of age… at least initially. If we were to die too many times in a row, the price to pay will always be higher, for example by increasing the aging of 7 years if not more. As we age, our physical appearance will also undergo transformations with more beard, hair and wrinkles, but it’s not just about mere aesthetics. As a true kung fu master, over the years we will also have more experience in combat which translates into greater damage, all at the expense of lower health. Furthermore, the talisman cannot save us forever, and once the threshold of 70 years has passed, in the event of death it will be definitive, forcing us to start over from the beginning. Fortunately, it is possible to rejuvenate a few years through special upgrades, or by replaying a level trying to die fewer times before advancing, so as to be younger before a new challenge.
Replayability goes well with the excellent level design of the settings, in fact we often come across doors that can only be opened with hidden codes even in totally different levels, thus inducing us to replay to discover a totally different path that allows us perhaps to avoid numerous clashes and increase the chances of finishing the stage without losing too many years. This also greatly increases the longevity of the game, considering that a “direct” run can be completed in about 5 hours, although a lot depends on your skill with the pad to master the combat system.
The new Arena mode takes care of further extending the experience, a novelty arriving precisely at the same time as the release of SIFU on Xbox. As the name suggests, Arenas allows you to try your hand at a series of challenges of various types, from the classic survival waves to timed ones, up to particular modes such as conquering a territory, eliminating a specific target surrounded by enemies or a series of battles with modifiers specials and references to various action films. There are currently 45 challenges available with 9 new locations, but the developers have already confirmed that more levels are on the way in the coming months.
From a technical point of view SIFU sports 4K resolution and 60 fps on Xbox Series X, while Series S and One only have a lower resolution but all with the same frame rate, fundamental in this type of game. Voice acting is available in English and Chinese for greater immersion, while menus and text are fully localized in Italian.
I know kung fu
– Keanu Reeves’ famous phrase in The Matrix fits perfectly with the soul of SIFU. The comparison, then, is no coincidence, considering that the game is openly inspired by many action films including the Matrix itself (among the challenges of the Arenas there is one that takes up the iconic battle against Agent Smith’s clones), but fans will not struggle to grasp the countless references to this kind of film. To stay on Keanu Reeves theme, SIFU has also often been referred to as “a video game about John Wick”, and the feeling is exactly that: action, tactics and mastery in knowing when to attack and when to defend are mixed in what becomes a graceful dance of fluid and precise movements, leaving behind of us a trail of helpless bodies. The possibility of picking up weapons such as sticks and katanas or simple objects such as bricks or bottles expands our arsenal of attack even more, and the satisfaction when you manage to emerge unscathed from a seemingly impossible situation is enormous.
Not even death can stop me… maybe
– Things don’t always go as planned, and one bad parry is enough to see your health plummet to zero. The resurrection mechanic pays off SIFU truly particular, both for the aesthetics of the protagonist which changes in real time, and for the “pressure” that is felt every time the age counter rises. The game therefore encourages you to constantly improve, with a delicate balance between the satisfaction of being able to overcome an obstacle and the possible frustration when to succeed you get dangerously close to the limit of the power of the talisman.
An artistic jewel
– As its budget price also suggests SIFU it’s certainly not a Triple A production, and the development team is quite small and young considering this is their second game. So if the resources are not very high, what is not lacking is talent, and thanks to a unique artistic direction SIFU it is a little visual jewel. The low-poly graphics go well with the oriental atmosphere, and there is also a variety of settings such as discos, museums and slums. Finally, especially during the boss fights, there are “supernatural” sections where the developers have given vent to their creative flair with colors and effects that leave their mark.
– The introduction of Arenas is sure to be an interesting addition for both new and veteran players. The challenges are varied and engaging, I particularly enjoyed Capture and Manhunt, but also the other challenges proved to be inspired and challenging, pushing players to overcome their limits to improve performance… or even just survive. The Arenas also guarantee several hours of extra play, and the already announced further support in the coming months manages to limit the “defect” of the poor longevity of the story alone.
I hate it
…maybe too much
– The downside is that some challenges are perhaps too demanding, and I don’t deny that more than once frustration has taken over. Even during the adventure there are moments in which some sections send various curses flying, so if you are not a particularly patient player or if you prefer more relaxing experiences, keep in mind that SIFU it is still a difficult and ruthless game, but not unfair. With the right practice, any challenge can be overcome, but it may take hours or days of practice before you see the result. Just like in real martial arts.
– Maximum frustration, however, occurs when the failure is not due to our fault, but due to the game code. Let me be clear, these are quite rare events, but I’ve seen enemies disappear or get stuck in walls making it impossible to hit them, graphic clipping and animations that didn’t work properly, sometimes forcing me to have to restart a level because of these problems . We hope that corrective patches will arrive in the next few days to resolve the situation, but at the moment it is necessary to report these drawbacks.
Let’s sum up
SIFU it is a hard and ruthless experience, but also capable of giving great satisfaction for those who have the patience to learn to master martial arts. The feeling of being in an action film like John Wick or the Matrix is accentuated by the numerous quotes, and we note the love of the authors for this kind of film, so much so as to include dedicated challenges in the new Arena mode. This addition adds several hours of gameplay and proved to be packed with diverse content, with more levels arriving in the coming months. I can therefore only recommend the purchase of SIFU to anyone who wants to test themselves and is not afraid of a rather high level of challenge, as it is a game that remains imprinted for a long time.