Sifu: Arena DLC: Streets of Rage or Frustration?

Sloclap /

Title: Sifu (Arena DLC)
Developer: Sloclap
Publisher: Sloclap
Platforms: PlayStation 4/5, Xbox O/X/S, Steam (reviewed on)
Release Date: March 28, 2023

Double Dragon, Final Fight, and Streets of Rage were the kings of the console and arcade back in the 90s. Only recently have games like Midnight Fight Express and Sifu tried to resurrect the feeling of knocking out the teeth of mob bosses and thugs with a well-placed round house kick.

Sifu is unabashedly honest about its difficulty. This game was not engineered to be a romping good time for button bashers and quarter crunchers. The premise is that your protagonist has an aging system that ticks up every time you die. Once you reach a frail and old age the game decides that you are unworthy to continue and cuts you off indefinitely. Sloclap is advertising for the hardcore gamers that like the pressure of limitations.

The story for the original game is the classic vengeance and honor as you take it upon yourself to get revenge on the assassins of your family. You start as a 20-year-old green martial artist and work your way up the ranks gaining new moves, abilities, and stats.

I want to focus the attention on the arena mode (though the story mode is the main draw of the game). Sloclap is adding a free update, which includes an arena with 45 different challenges through 9 other locations. Each arena has a modifier or a goal like getting the highest score, staying as young as possible or beating the time. Some of the modifiers include not being able to pick up weapons, no parrying, and enemies doing double damage. Reminds me of the Arkham Asylum series updates where Batman had to do similar arena challenges.

Before I share about the woes of arena mode it is important to tell you that I am not a gamer that is motivated by punishing gameplay. That is definitely the target audience for arena mode. The game even asks you (begs you) to try the story first before you even attempt the mode. I can see why. For the sake of this review, I was only able to get two levels of the story mode before I got into the arena.

Fighting is fierce and loose. You feel like Daredevil doing a single-camera fight scene in a large area. Certain moves and combos reward the player with quicker takedowns, which make you feel like John Wick. Move variety is also diverse. Your player can knock some skulls with a variety of combos or go for an eye gouge or a sweep with targeted moves.

There is frustration to be had in the fighting system of Sifu. Like most modern fighting games today, the key mechanic that makes or breaks these games is the deflect/reversal maneuver. Sifu has a reversal system that requires very keen reaction times. There is no wiggle room for trying to deflect a move too early or too late. You cannot be good in the arena if you cannot deflect a move. There is an arena called Praise the Sun where all blocking is disabled, but deflecting is enabled. I wanted to rage quit that many times. Deflecting attacks does not work from behind as many enemies took advantage of bonking you over the head. It would seem that the player is on task for hitting the deflect button and the dodge button while juggling the combos.

My second frustration is one combo move that seemed to come out of nowhere. During a light and heavy attack combo, the player will spin around and attack an invisible person away from the enemies. At first, I thought my gamepad had thumbstick drift, but the character did it with the keyboard too. This combo thoroughly train wrecked my flow and was the cause of a lot of cheap deaths. I am no expert in martial arts, but I don’t think exposing your back to your opponents is a good tactic.

The third frustration is the mini-bosses and big dudes that come out during certain waves. These enemies have the privilege of doing attacks that plain ‘ol cancel your moves. They throw away your combos as if they are toilet paper and it seems like they can block moves even when they are completely exposed. It is like punching a wall that can beat you with a crowbar at any given moment. Getting into fights with these big dudes seemed like an exercise in running away from them and hoping you find a weapon or poke them in the eye.

Death and failure is par for the course in this game, but I found my rage quit levels getting violently high. Enemies would shout out phrases like, “Is that the best you can do?” or “Stay down” and I wanted to agree with them. That IS the best I can do and I should stay down.

It depends on your taste if you see these frustrations as positives or negatives in Sifu. You might think this adds some spiciness to the all-too-easy beat’em ups. Are you rewarded when the odds are against you, but you still squeak out a win? Speaking of rewards, players need to stay within the goals of the arena to advance. But it is possible to “pass” an arena and get no compensation. I found that out when I FINALLY beat the Praise the Sun arena, but I was too old to be within the goals. You need goal points to advance to different challenges so passing an arena without getting any points seems empty.

The graphics and art style in this game are beautiful. The neon paints of the club fight reflect off the blacklights. The low-poly art style feels fresh but doesn’t make the character models look like PS1 demakes. The clothing styles are creative mirroring popular kung-fu films like the Matrix. This game is an exquisite sight to behold. Also, if you want to impress your friends with a good fight you can record the footage and replay it.

Sifu: Arena DLC Summary

Sloclap was smart to include an arena mode. It is an expectation for fans of fighting games. Arena mode is nice for those who want to get that extra mileage out of Sifu, but my frustrations with the high expectations and strange mechanic choices will scare me away from it.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.