Sifu launched this past February on PlayStation and PC and quickly built up a passionate core following due to its hard-hitting action and interesting core 'ageing' mechanic. Now, nine months later, Sloclap’s martial arts brawler has arrived on the Switch with a solid port that doesn’t sacrifice anything that made the original release so great.
You begin the game infiltrating a rain-soaked temple, battering the students found inside, eventually joining with allies as you make your way further into the building. After you reach the top, it’s revealed you are Yang, who battles the sifu of the temple and kills him as his child watches from a cupboard. This child is subsequently killed by one of Yang’s associates. However, a medallion in the child's hand brings them back to life. Hereafter referred to as ‘Hero’, the child is the protagonist of the game, who — after turning 20 years old — seeks revenge.
Sifu tasks you with making your way through five stages to defeat those involved and eventually find Yang. The core mechanic involves the medallion that revived your character as a child, which gives the Hero the ability to cheat death. This, however, comes at a price: every time you die, you age another year and a death counter ticks up by one. So, you start the game at 20, you die once, your counter is up one, and now you’re 21. If you die again, your death counter is two and you’re now 23. This culminates with your first death over the age of 70 being your last. Defeating enemies can reverse this counter to decrease how much you age upon death, though.
So what happens as the years pass? Every decade the hero visibly ages. The older you get, the more damage you take, but you also deal more damage. The game has unlockable skills using points obtained upon death or after reaching a shrine. These can be unlocked for a specific run, or they can be made permanent by purchasing them five more times after an unlock (this does not have to be done on one run, however). Once you reach your next decade, you lose access to a set of unlockable abilities for that run (barring the ones you’ve already unlocked, of course). Don't worry, it sounds more complicated than it is.
When replaying levels you can start the level at the earliest age you’ve previously gotten to the level as. So, if you reach level two at age 54, you can start the next run from that level at the same age.
Combat is the star of the show. Sifu takes inspiration from classic films such as Gareth Evans’ The Raid and Park Chan-wook’s masterpiece Oldboy, paying homage to the hardcore hand-to-hand combat scenes from those films. You’re equipped with a light and heavy attack, a dodge, and a guard/parry as your core moveset. Lights and heavys can be chained into their own specific combos, as well as specific directional inputs combined with your buttons for certain moves. One area where this combat really shines is how it challenges you to have complete mastery of your environment. If you see a stool on the floor, or a bottle on the bar, these can be kicked/thrown at your enemy at a moment's notice. You can also back your enemies into walls to make those hits worse, or even throw them off of a balcony or kick them down a stairwell.
This is what Batman Arkham combat would feel like if it had the mechanical complexity of a game like Devil May Cry. Often you take on many enemies at a time; wearing down their stun meters allows you to perform a takedown move much like the ones in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Sifu’s combat feels incredibly good. The combination of visual and audio effects gives every hit a meaty feel, that really nails that visceral experience of watching the best kind of action movie.
It’s a good thing that you are able to come back from death in Sifu, because you will die. A lot. Sifu is tough as nails, there's no two ways without it. Learning and making full use of dodges and parries is essential to your survival, much like the games that inspired it, such as Capcom’s God Hand. Once you get the hang of things, there's nothing like it; the satisfaction gained from finally toppling a boss that’s been destroying you for ages makes all the blood, sweat, and tears worth it.
If that difficulty doesn’t sound like your thing, developer Sloclap has thankfully added options since launch to help you. Alongside the new Student and Master difficulties to make it easier or harder, respectively, the game also has a list of gameplay modifiers you can unlock after completion that can make your experience easier or harder at your own discretion.
The Switch edition runs at 30FPS compared to elsewhere, and outside of one point early on in the first level, there aren't many major frame drops that we noticed while docked. Handheld tends to drop a bit more often, but this usually occurs when walking about, rather than during actual battles, thankfully. Visually, the game has carries over to the more modest hardware fairly well, thanks in part due to its striking art style. There is a film grain effect that is super noticeable on docked mode; while it isn’t game-breaking by any means, it’s enough to stand out, especially against the white lights of the museum stage. The initial loads are also fairly long in comparison to the PS5; however, they’re completely manageable and only really look bad in direct comparison.
Sifu was one of the best games of the year when it launched on other platforms, and it’s no different now on Switch. Its hardcore combat that pushes you to the limits of your skill, paired with a smart ageing mechanic, makes for one of the most satisfying gaming experiences in the beat 'em up genre. While the Switch port is obviously a bit downgraded from the PS5 version, it’s still a more than valid option for Nintendo-only gamers and those keen to try this kung-fu brawler out on the go.