Ah man, I’m torn here.

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve played any fighting game, let alone spent enough time with one to get my sense back for frame timing and what have you. This isn’t because I don’t like them, I still do, but gone are the days when I had a bunch of mates together where we could punch on with each other for hours on end. So now I end up playing the campaigns a bit, dabble in multiplayer and then…just leave them to the wayside. Then there are these other hybrid monsters that keep coming our way, games that seek to replicate some of the essence of the fighting games along inside another genre and usually not doing so well.

Which is what makes writing this review quite conflicting. In my mind it does everything extremely well: the art style, the combat, the rapid pace at which it gets you in on the ground with the game. You quickly get a sense for your character, their place in the world and the force that’s driving them. You’re then thrown fist first in a bunch of fights and you start to get that feeling of being the badass among a bunch of amateurs, much like you do when playing the Arkham series of Batman games. But after a short while something started to dawn on me which, unfortunately, ruined the entire thing for me.

I’m fucking terrible at it.

The first level goes by easy enough, showing you the basics of the game and getting you familiar with the controls. The one thing that I will genuinely complain about here is that, whilst I’m super appreciative of a game that doesn’t get in your way too much, there’s really no tutorial to speak of so you’re left to figure out most things on your own. But for the most part you’ll figure it all out, stumble your way through a few fights and then get into the game’s main course.

This is where things started to go sideways for me. The fights get significantly harder and rely on you being able to adapt more readily to the situation than I had otherwise anticipated. No worries right, I’ve played my share of soulslike games to know what I’m getting in for right? Well wrong as whilst I was able to make progress it always felt like inches at a time and none of the abilities I’d choose at the shrines seemed to make much difference. It was around then that I discovered that the game was squarely more of a fighting game come RPG and less of the beat em up that I had been expecting.

Which, I agree, is totally my fault. I was hoping to be a kind of super badass kung-fu master, with additional powers granted to me alongside new challenges. Sifu is a lot, lot more freeform than that, allowing you to craft your own martial arts style based on the moves you feel most comfortable with. This is what has allowed some incredible speedruns topping out at a mere 22 minutes for the full story, allowing a gifted person to finish the game 4 times over in the time it took me to beat one and a half levels!

This then puts me in a tricky spot: trying to divest my feelings about the game from the objective quality of it. This is always a fruitless endeavour of course as even the parts that I might ascribe to being good by an objective standard (like the graphics for instance) are tainted by many a subjective ideal. So how then do I rate a game which I feel is likely quite good when viewed from every other lens other than the one of “how I felt playing it”.

Because, long story short, I really didn’t enjoy my time with it past the first 30 minutes. For some reason the soulslike games, which I think probably beat me around more than Sifu ever did, manage to do so in a way that makes me want to be better. Sifu though? For some reason it just didn’t feel fair, even after I’d put some time into trying to figure out a good moveset that would suit my playstyle. Objectively I know that’s not the case, but that didn’t stop me from rage quitting the game over multiple nights after only 10 or 20 minutes of play.

I guess I’m saying all this as a preface to this: don’t look at the score as indicator of quality for Sifu. I think it’s done an exceptional amount of things right: graphics, combat, story, you name it. But when it came time for me to sit down and try to enjoy it I just couldn’t. I know that my tastes have definitely changed over the years, but I still didn’t think I’d strayed too far from these kinds of games which I honestly have hundreds of hours dropped into. So maybe forget my review, go and play it instead and make up your mind as to whether or not I’m a blithering idiot.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sifu is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 1.5 hours playtime and 17% of the achievements unlocked.

About the Author

David Klemke

David is an avid gamer and technology enthusiast in Australia. He got his first taste for both of those passions when his father, a radio engineer from the University of Melbourne, gave him an old DOS box to play games on.

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