Difficulty in games is a tricky beast. Sure, some gamers like it “rough”, but others fear the savage Game Over screens of old. So, hitting that trifecta of challenge, accessibility and respecting gamers time is crucial. Especially for someone like me who struggles to find free time in daily life. Sifu is a perfect example of the sweet spot of difficulty vs. demand for mastery of gameplay being a head-banging exercise in frustration. Developer SloClap have released a game which I really, REALLY liked for about an hour or so, then grew to hate.
I suspect I’m not alone in this rather harsh view. The recent release of players statistics for Sifu shows that only 27% of players have progressed past the second level! And only 3% of players have beaten the final level. 3%!! Thankfully, the developers have seen sense and recently announced an incoming patch. Introducing selectable difficulty settings and more accessibility options, which is excellent news. Currently stuck behind its crushing lack of respect for my precious free time to play is a beautiful, snappy, indie fighting game.
Painting the Sifu picture.
Sifu is built on a story of revenge. As a small boy, the main character, witnessed the death of his own Kung-Fu Sifu at the hands of five baddies, before they turned on him. Thanks to a magical charm he survived and trained in Kung-Fu to the age of 21 to then go and hunt down these bad guys. Combat is melee based and on the surface looks almost like an Arkham game. But…it is not! It is far more closely aligned to Sekiro, you know the game…the HARD souls-like game from From Software. Counters, timing and wearing down an enemy posture or stamina is the core loop, but death can come from any enemy at any time. Mistakes are punished and 10 seconds of inattention will put an end to a run.
That’s right…”a Run”
Sifu is a bit Soulsy and also a …Rogue-like. (Yes, I can hear the rest of the KC team groan). Death is not the immediate end, as the charm which saved the small boy years ago, still protects him now. Meaning on death, he resurrects a little older and a little wiser (deals more damage), but with less health. The unusual element is that as the main character ages, different skills are unlocked or closed off on the skill tree too. XP is used to unlock these skills, but there is no carrying over of skills unless they are unlocked 5 times in in one run-through. That’s a lot of XP and I’ll be honest. I never got far enough through the game to have enough XP to permanently unlock ANY skills. But when all said and done, when the charm’s revives run out…its a complete start over!
Here is where my complaints of not respecting gamers time come in. The barrier to unlocking skills, to be able bring them along on the next run means getting a large amount of XP, before getting too “old” to continue on and properly dying, ending the run. I found the actual challenge of the gameplay so high, combined with the amount grinding and memorisation needed too much. It’s an unforgiving wee game and I quickly felt my valuable “gaming hours” were totally wasted at the end of a playthrough.
Simply put. I don’t have the time, patience, gumption or interest in banging my head against a wall with no tangible in-game benefits. I love the aesthetics and the slick combat ideas here and will certainly be returning to Sifu…BUT only when the developers deliver on these recently promised difficulty settings.