It’s been a hot minute since Slocap graced us with their debut game Absolver, and they’re back with their latest: Sifu. I was lucky enough to get to run through a preview build of the game, and while it was expectedly full of some kinks that need ironing, what’s here is very good.
Sifu tells the story of a kung-fu student whose family is killed by a group of villains you are now actively hunting. My demo was only the first half of the second chapter, lasting me maybe thirty minutes, so while it was hard to get an idea of how grand the story gets, it was absolutely dripping in personality.
It might sound funny, but Sifu is both more forgiving, while also stricter than Absolver. Whereas Absolver was very meticulous in dodging and blocking attacks, having to make sure you perform the exact appropriate move or suffer consequences, Sifu is a bit more lenient on that front. Besides a handful of moves, you can dodge attacks in practically any direction you want, which really frees you up mentally from having to stare and memorize each attack animation. The way Sifu balances this, however, is by throwing a half dozen goons at you at once. A notable step up from the somewhat intimate fights of Absolver, Sifu threw countless goons my way in my time with it, turning fights into a sort of dance as I moved around the arena dodging attacks and jumping in and out for some quick pummeling time.
As someone who loved Absolver, it’s crazy how much better the combat feels this time around. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll effortlessly skate around the battlefield, taking out anyone in your way. I cannot tell you how satisfying it is to land a parry in this game and immediately counter your opponent. Every part of the combat is pure, kung-fu movie power fantasy. You’re not at your strongest right off the bat, however, as you’ll gain XP from defeating foes and can use that to buy new abilities or combos. I love it whenever a game lets you viably play a melee character, so having a game that’s focused entirely on hand-to-hand combat and doing it this well is an absolute treat. If you ever wanted to know what it felt like to be in a Donnie Yen movie, Sifu is the game for you.
Now let’s talk about death.
Sifu features an interesting system where you have the option of getting back up after a fight, but at a cost. If you notice while playing, your character is sporting a sash with five coins on it; think of these coins as your “lives”. Each time you die, it’ll cause your death counter to go up by one, and cause your character to age depending on how many death counters you have. So if you’ve aged up to 25 years old, and have six death counters at the time of your next death, you’ll age up to 31. You can remove death counters by beating specific enemies in a level, and when you complete a chapter it’ll rest completely back to zero; your age however will stay the same.
Your character will physically change appearance every time you enter a new age bracket (30s, 40s, 50s, etc), and comes with some changes. Each time you do this, your power increases as you become wizened by age, at the cost of decreased health. The other perk to dying is that this is how you access the menu to purchase skills with your hard-earned XP.
Now circling back to those coins, a coin will shatter each time you enter the next aforementioned age bracket. This means that despite the ability to die numerous times, you essentially have five “lives”. Each time a coin breaks, you will also lose access to a chunk of abilities on the skill tree. Any you’ve already unlocked stay with you, but any you didn’t are gone for the remainder of the run.
All of this means that eventually, you will die and have to start over, but there are elements in place to make your return a little easier. For starters, it wasn’t present in the demo, but you’re able to spend a bit more XP to permanently unlock an ability so that it’s present for future runs. Additionally, the previously mentioned detective board will save all the clues and shortcuts you’ve previously collected. So while you may hit a permanent death and have to start a run over, each failed run puts you closer and closer to succeeding.
Sifu’s demo had me feeling like the star in a kung-fu movie and I’m eager to see the full thing when it releases next year.