Review | SIFU

Good things come to those who wait

I’ll admit up front, the first time I saw the reveal trailer for SIFU, my first thought once the excitement over what I had just seen had left me was…”I’ll wait for it to come to Xbox”. Then, almost like a wonderful early Christmas present, Sloclap announced on Twitter that Sifu and it’s brand new Arenas update would arrive on Xbox and Steam in March of 2023. Now here we are! Is it something Xbox owners should dive into? Let’s find out.

A Black Belt is a white belt that never quit

Reviewing a game that’s been out on other platforms for over a year is always tricky because anyone genuinely interested in the game has either played it on another platform, already read reviews or watched Let’s Plays. But for those who are completely new to SIFU, here’s a bit of a brief, kinda spoiler-y breakdown.

SIFU is essentially a revenge story. The game begins with you playing as Yang, a former student of the martial arts school in the game, who attacks the school and kills the Sifu (Master). While clearing out the school post murder, they discover you, the Sifu’s child and take care of you too! But somehow you have an ancient talisman that…brings you back to life? But the catch is, while this talisman can keep resurrecting you, you get older and older each time. That’s it, that’s the gist of it. Frankly, the simplicity and intimate nature of the revenge story just makes me believe even more in the “John Wick game” connection I keep giving SIFU because to me, outside the absence of gun combat, SIFU is essentially the John Wick video game I’ve always wanted since first seeing that movie.

The homages to martial arts movies of the past are handled well and executed perfectly. The prime example being the recreation of Old Boy’s hallway fight.

Defeat is a state of mind

Make no mistake though, SIFU is hard. I played and beat the game on Easy and even on easy I died a not insignificant number of times. But it’s good kind of hard. The hard where you simply know you’re either not good enough yet, or just making fixable mistakes.

This is because the game has a really fantastic, deep and well taught combat system. At first glance it may seem overwhelming and complicated, but the game does what I feel is a really good job introducing you to the basics of combat and slowly drip feeding you scenarios that require you put more skills into use. I really loved that the entire intro sequence and introductory credits make up the entirety of the tutorial while also breaking down the story for you. It doesn’t sound like anything revolutionary, but it’s executed really really well. The entire sequence almost feels like the dream scenes from Dragon: The Bruce Lee story and the credits/tutorial are happening all around you as you battle enemies in an entirely red environment. It’s really cool. SIFU even provides the player with 3 defensive options, which is great for making the game both accessible to more players, but providing a crazy amount of depth for players who choose to invest the time to learn the combat mechanics to the fullest.

The game borrows rogue-like elements without really being a rogue-like in the way it executes the death/ageing mechanic as well as how it handles upgrades. Throughout your first play through, you can unlock skills that you keep with you the entire time. But if you spend enough XP, these unlocks can stay permanently through subsequent play throughs, which means you can spend your XP elsewhere. With enough play throughs, you can theoretically permanently unlock everything and start a game quite powerful which everyone knows makes games more fun! As I mentioned earlier, death isn’t the end. With each death, you get older, when you get older you get slightly less life, but as an older person, you’re also more experienced, which means you’re stronger. It’s a really neat and unique twist on a rogue-like mechanic.

But the game’s combat isn’t just deep. It’s really really cool aesthetically. It looks authentic. Everything you do, each fight, the movements, the defensive moves, all of it. You look cool and you feel like a bad ass when you pull off what you want to. This particularly extends to the weapon and environmental combat. SIFU integrates environmental elements really well. Be it random bottles or gym bags that can be instantly kicked into enemies to better help the player handle larger groups, or just being able to slam the head of an enemy into the corner of a table or barrier, it all looks great and provides the player with a tonne of options to dispatch groups of enemies.

If I had any gripe(s) about the combat it’s that the parrying could afford to be a little more forgiving? But this may come down to personal preference. I feel like parries are probably trickier to do than they could or should be, but maybe that’s just me.

Be like water

Speaking of looking cool, SIFU is a beautiful game. It has a truly unique and striking visual style that is both modern and artistic in a way that I feel will be timeless. Set in modern day China, SIFU seamlessly and respectfully weaves various Chinese locales with almost supernatural elements and sequences that keep the game feeling visually fresh and memorable.

The audio also packs a punch during combat in a way that really adds weight and power to your hits. But further to this, the sound effects are in tune with the combat visuals to let the player clearly know when a weapon is broken, parry lands or when an enemy is defeated. It really elevates the combat and almost gives fights a rhythmic flow that contributes to the look of the on-screen action in a way that becomes almost mesmerising.

For me, the music doesn’t quite land on most occasions the way the rest of the package does. The only time I felt the music really helped the atmosphere in an additive way was in the night club scenes. Most of the rest of the music didn’t quite capture the same vibes of the martial arts movies the game seemed to be channeling throughout. I don’t think the atmosphere really suffered as a result, but it could have also been greatly enhanced had it been just a bit better.

Developer Sloclap cleverly put a martial arts revenge story spin on common video game elements which really added to the immersion of the game world. Your “home hub” is the home from your childhood where your father was murdered that expands and more of the home is revealed as you progress through the game. The skill tree accessed here is an actual tree growing in your garden. Alternate costumes are accessed via a wardrobe, training accessed via Wing Chung wooden training apparatus, collectibles are a pin board where you’re putting together the pieces of your investigation into your father’s murder and level selection is just…looking out of your home window. It’s simple, but it’s a really nice immersive touch.


New to the Xbox version and a free update for the existing versions is Arenas. Arenas – for all intents and purposes is a challenge mode that blends wave based survival and high score elements to create a welcome distraction and palate cleanser from the main campaign.

Like any challenge mode, you get points for hitting set targets which unlock further challenges. Completing these challenges provides a currency which can be used on cheats and modifiers for the campaign. There’s a whole array of cheats and modifiers. Some make the game harder (why would you do this!) and others make the game easier. The cheats disable progression saving and high score uploads. Modifiers only disable high score uploads. There are also bonus challenges which can unlock alternate outfits which can also be used in the main campaign.

It all works harmoniously and adds relevance to the Arenas as opposed to it being just another throwaway mode no one will bother with. A lot of thought and work went into this to make it something players will want to sink their teeth into and they should. Also yes, Ryan Gosling’s iconic jacket from Drive makes an appearance as an outfit in this mode and it’s so cool.

Don’t fail for want of trying. Give it a go

Put simply, SIFU is a fantastic game. It’s everything I wish more modern video games were. Short (the game can be beaten in just a handful of hours if you’re good enough) but with an absolute stack of replay value. Be it via the brand new Arenas mode or through the games collectibles, modifiers and high score chasing.

There’s even a surprisingly in depth and creatively open photo mode and replay editor that allows you to take some beautiful artistic shots or create awesome clips of your action. Virtual Photographers and Video Editors should have a blast with this. Unfortunately I lack the creative spark to fully exploit the tools available here, but even a dullard like myself could appreciate the power of the tools at the player’s disposal here. It’s quite impressive.

PC, Switch and PlayStation players should definitely jump back in to try out the new Arenas mode and Xbox players should definitely give SIFU a go. If you can find a way to break through the difficulty barrier, there’s a fantastic brawler on offer here that I definitely think is the template going forward to bring the 2D scrolling beat ’em ups into the 3D world. Where previous efforts like Die Hard Arcade didn’t quite stick the landing, SIFU definitely takes home the gold.


Played on
Xbox Series X


  • Incredible combat mechanics
  • Great visual style
  • Punchy combat audio
  • Tonnes of replay value


  • Some may find it too difficult
  • Music doesn't quite stick the landing
8.5 out of 10
XboxEra Scoring Policy

Nick "Shpeshal Nick" Baker

Australian gamer, AFL Football fanatic and father of 2. Follow me on Twitter @Shpeshal_Nick

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