Much-anticipated kung-fu brawler Sifu is out now on PS5, PS4 and PC, and its immensely high level of difficulty has taken many players by surprise. Why? Sifu is a game you absolutely cannot button mash your way through. Every button press in Sifu matters, whether you’re dishing out blows or deftly weaving through your enemies’ attacks, and the game is much better for it.
As tough as nails as Sifu is, then, it’s also incredibly rewarding when you play well. However, getting over the initial difficulty hump and growing more accustomed to its gameplay is no small task. That’s especially so when you’re forced into combat with a small army of even the most basic of goons, or the shockingly demanding mini-boss encounters.
Dying in Sifu isn’t the end, though. Thanks to the power of the magic talismans in your possession, you can resurrect upon death, at the cost of aging your character. Passing certain age thresholds will increase your damage, but lower your health. But overall, it’s best to clear each stage while dying as few times as possible, keeping your age low enough to allow for multiple attempts at the much harder later stages.
We’ve put together an essential tips guide to help you get as much enjoyment out of Sifu as possible. It’s a game that’s equal parts fantastic and intimidating, but one that’s well worth the time investment needed to best its most difficult challenges.
1. Avoiding is your best friend
Sifu presents three methods of evading incoming damage from your enemies. First up is parrying, which can deflect attacks and can completely break your enemies’ guard if timed right. However, the timing needed here is incredibly strict, even more so on stronger enemies and bosses.
Next up is dodging, which can create considerable distance between you and your opponents when you need a bit of breathing space. However, it’s equally easy to back yourself into a corner by doing this, or right into another enemy’s attack.
Avoiding, then, is an ideal halfway house between these two methods. By holding L1, your character will enter the avoid stance. Swiping the analog stick in a direction while holding L1 will perform a quick evade which allows you to phase through most attacks. This is because avoiding grants a small invincibility window to your character, preventing them from taking damage while remaining right in your enemy’s face.
Avoiding is arguably your most powerful defensive tool, especially when you’re still getting used to the game. However, the mechanic isn’t without its depth. Attacks that target your character’s lower body will require you to evade “upwards,” which is done by holding L1 and flicking the analog stick up. The opposite applies to overhead attacks, which can be ducked under with L1 and down on the analog stick. Plenty of mini and major bosses will weave low sweep attacks in with their regular combos, so stay alert and learn their patterns to ensure you’re avoiding in the right direction.
2. Understanding Structure
Tying into that first tip is Structure, one of Sifu’s best gameplay mechanics. Structure is essentially how much punishment you or your enemies can take before their guard is broken, and is represented by a bar that slowly fills up from yellow, to orange, to red, as you or an enemy take damage.
It’s really quite similar to the posture system in Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. And much like in that game, Structure in Sifu is a double-edged sword. Breaking your enemies’ Structure will leave them open to a finisher, instantly defeating them. When your own Structure is broken, you’re left wide open to powerful follow-up attacks.
As such, keeping your Structure gauge low is crucial to survival in Sifu, and this can be achieved by successfully avoiding attacks, another reason why that system is so important to learn when you’re just starting out.
For enemy characters, as mentioned, breaking their structure will allow you to instantly finish them in most cases (unless they revive as a more powerful mini-boss type enemy). Remember that you don’t need to fully deplete an enemy’s health to defeat them - filling up their Structure gauge is enough to take them out.
3. Focus on permanent unlocks
Sifu is hard, so much so that it can often feel like you’re butting your head against a brick wall instead of making any meaningful progress. One way to combat this is with the skill tree, which lets you unlock a wide variety of new moves and combat abilities. These unlocks cost experience gained from defeating enemies, and last until you use up your final life.
Not all is lost, though, as you can also work towards unlocking each and every one of these skills permanently. Each skill is unlocked with a set amount of experience points. Once unlocked, if you invest that same amount of experience points five more times, you’ll permanently add that skill to your move set. This means that when you start a new run, you’ll never have to unlock that skill again - it’s usable from the outset.
Even better, you don’t have to invest points five more times all in a single run. If you dump experience points into a skill three times and then die, you’ll only need to invest two more times on your next run, provided you re-unlock the skill first, mind. You can also replay levels that you’re comfortable with on the same run, providing a safe revenue of experience points for easier unlocks.
As such, we found it best to focus on one skill at a time, earning enough experience to permanently unlock them across all runs. It may be tempting to splash out on a bunch of different skills if you’ve accrued enough experience, but we wouldn’t advise this, as they’ll all be gone once your run comes to an end.
4. Shortcuts aren't always the best way forward
Every stage in Sifu features a shortcut or two, allowing you to bypass a significant amount of enemy encounters and progress to the boss much quicker. Using shortcuts is a fantastic way to avoid many of the tougher encounters while keeping your character’s age low, which in turn will give you even more breathing room when attempting Sifu’s later stages.
However, taking a shortcut in a stage isn’t always the best way forward. Less enemy encounters means you’re accruing less experience points overall, making it harder to earn those permanent unlocks that’ll make all your future runs that little bit more manageable.
Before attempting a stage, then, assess what it is you’re looking to achieve. If you want to get to the boss as quickly as possible and potentially lower the starting age of a later level, then feel free to take the shortcuts.
On the other hand, if unlocking more skills is your goal, consider exploring the entire stage to clear all the encounters available. Not only will you get more experience this way, you might also run into new items for your Board - a collection of items, keys and lore tidbits that can even make new areas available to you on each stage.
Exploring the whole stage is also the best way of ensuring you come across all the dragon statues, which offer invaluable upgrades that can make your runs in Sifu much more assailable.
5. Weapons are your other best friend
The levels of Sifu are littered with weaponry, and with good reason. Baseball bats, knives, bricks and bottles, all can be picked up and put to effective use. And you really should be picking them up when you can, as there’s virtually no downsides to using them. It’s even worth exploring your immediate environment after a fight, as weapons can be taken from arena to arena, giving you a solid advantage against a fresh set of foes.
Weapons in Sifu are incredibly powerful against both regular enemies and mini-bosses, even more so when you consider you can take perks at the dragon shrines that increase weapon durability and damage. Weapons are finite and break after a number of uses, but you’ll usually get enough mileage out of just one weapon to take out a small handful of baddies.
One very crucial aspect of using weapons, though, is that one in your hands is one less in theirs. Sifu’s enemy AI is very much on point - if one can see that a weapon is just waiting to be picked up, there’s a very high chance they’ll make a beeline for it. And as you’d expect, weapon damage dealt to you is just as vicious, if not more so given your relatively small amount of health.
6. Finally, some skill suggestions
Knowing a general approach to levels in Sifu is all well and good, but when you’re looking at skills to permanently unlock, the high number of them can make that difficult to parse. Fortunately, we know of a few invaluable skills that you’ll want to get fully unlocked as soon as possible.
First and foremost is the Charged Backfist. It’s a little on the expensive side at 1,000 EXP, meaning you’ll need to spend at least 6,000 EXP to get the skill permanently available. But it’s worth it, as with proper timing, the Charged Backfist (performed by holding Triangle for a short time) can instantly stun most regular and mini-boss enemies, leaving them wide open for a quick combo.
Another table-turning skill (almost literally in this case) is Environmental Mastery. While situational, this skill turns certain objects like bottles and furniture into items of destruction, letting you immediately kick or throw them at an enemy with R1. This will often cause enemies to lose balance and fall over, leaving them open to a ground combo.
Finally, you’re going to want one of the best Focus attacks in the game - the Strong Sweep. These special attacks come at the cost of your Focus meter, which builds up when you successfully land or dodge attacks. The Strong Sweep, in particular, can make your life a lot easier in boss encounters. It only costs one Focus bar to use and is unblockable, meaning that it can be used to reliably knock a boss to the ground to deal damage to them, or simply to create a bit of space.
And that’s it for our essential Sifu tips guide. With this newfound knowledge in mind, you should hopefully be able to make some serious progression through this brutally challenging game, entering each stage at a comfortably younger age than before.
And with developer Sloclap confirming that more content is on the way via free updates, it’s sounding like Sifu is a game we’ll be grinding away at for a while. Thankfully, the game is fantastic, even more so when these tips are put to good use.