Sifu is an action-packed brawler that does a good number of accessibility features right, but the combat and bugs hold it back.
Score6.5 out of 10
- Scaleable HUD
- Legible subtitles
- Remapping available
- Waypoints and markers are clear
- Precise input pressing required
- Difficulty includes permadeath
- Remapping breaks some inputs
- No visual cues or target locking to help in combat
Sifu is certainly a game that has sparked a lot of accessibility concerns for disabled players because of the conversations surrounding how the game handles difficulty, a topic we reported on last year. While I’ll touch on this later in more detail, to nutshell it, when you die you don’t fail the game right away, instead you respawn, but each time you do, you grow older, making you more susceptible to damage, but stronger at attacking.
Now, Sifu does do a number of accessibility-focused things well, but my time with the game left me with a few concerns. Additionally, I’ve been speaking with those who have played it on the PS5 to get a better understanding of some features. So, here’s our take on the kung fu title with my time focusing on the PC version.
First Boot and Options
From the first boot, after I’d done the general start-up screens such as brightness and language selections, the only accessibility feature to pop up was to enable subtitles really. From there, the main menu opens and offers the chance to jump straight in or explore more settings, which is where I instantly visited.
You can find our Sifu menu deep dive here if you want a more in-depth look at what’s available. However, some of the standout features is that the HUD can be increased by 200%, subtitle background opacities can be set, and remapping appears to be available. Most of these features also come with a preview GIF to the right-hand side so you can see comparisons of different values in action.
Subtitles are actually fairly impressive with thick text that have a background stroke as well as a background box capable of being applied. You’ll also notice key character names or items are marked in bold. There aren’t speaker labels sadly, and there isn’t a subtitle size slider. Instead, subtitles are grouped in with the HUD scale, and increasing this to 200% makes the subtitles wonderfully large and legible.
The issue here is that with subtitles being grouped with the HUD, and with there seemingly being no container or line breaks of sorts for the subtitles, when they’re large they break outside of the viewable area. As a result, while I find shorter lines of dialogue easy to read and follow the action because of their readability, the longer lines feel too long to read nicely, and when they cut off the edges, I’m left deciphering what could be being said.
One thing to note is that Sifu is not friendly for the blind as there is a heavy focus on seeing enemy body language in order to time any parry, block, or dodge. Even then, if you can see the enemy prepping an attack, they’re often pretty bloody quick to deal it so you need the reflexes to boot. Audio cues could be used, but they’re not overly reliable considering you usually have a handful of enemies surrounding you from all angles.
Some enemies will display a visual cue, such as a boss who has glowing hands when he’s about to strike, but it’s up to you to visually determine if he’s going for a high or low strike. Regular enemies tend to not have anything outside of their body language.
Having an option for incoming attacks to be displayed with an overhead graphic like Marvel’s Spider-Man or even Batman: Arkham Asylum would be a useful feature for those who want to forego the often exhausting requirement of perfect timing.
There is a high contrast mode available on PC which is essentially the shader filter from The Last of Us: Part 2 and it’s great to see it available in Sifu for accessibility. However, the option is not available on PlayStation consoles. Can I Play That? has reached out to Sloclap for comment on this to find out why exactly.
Precision Over Button Mashing
On the topic of precision, let’s get into the general combat. If you’re hoping for a way to cater the experience to your own ideal challenge, you won’t find that here. Button mashing is not the way forward, and you’re required to merge blocking, parries, and dodging to build up your focus, XP, and generally survive. This combination of inputs can be messy, holding LB to block, RT + stick to dodge, and then attack combinations when shifting from defensive to offensive.
Some moves require pressing 2 buttons at once, and then there’s the Focus mode. Focus, when the bar has been filled, can be activated by holding LT and slows time to allow you to perform a special attack. A circle with a dot, or dots, will appear and require aiming the stick to the attack you want to perform, then you hit the prompt to confirm the attack.
The controls can be remapped, however, those who have remapped have complained that this breaks inputs. Remapping can only be achieved by changing the game’s layout to Custom instead of Default, otherwise, controls will remain greyed out.
Difficulty in Age
It’s clear that the difficulty of Sifu did not have accessibility in mind throughout as it is meticulously dependent on how successful you are at performing combat at your best. Even the game’s marketing has been focused on “perfecting” the art with phrases such as: “Mastery through practice,” “Learn from your errors,” and “For every mistake, time will be the price to pay.”
Now, the concept of growing older the more you fail is kind of cool, and I’m personally a fan of the way the combat works. However, I’m not a fan of the punishing death system when an option to just enjoy the fighting mechanics without permadeath could have been an optional choice to include. The way it works is that each death multiplies your age. The older you grow, the more susceptible to damage you become, but to balance that, the more damage you inflict.
This specific way of playing means that disabled players are faced with barriers that could have been overcome by the existence of optional features such as auto-blocking, game speed, or even having incoming attack cues with less precise parrying needed. After all, the game is a single-player experience, so why not allow players to adjust the level of challenge that is assumed for all players, and let them cater the challenge to their playstyle?
For example, as I said, I enjoy the general combat but I don’t enjoy failing and starting a level again. I’d much rather turn permadeath off, increase the window for perfecting parries, and then just enjoy trying to overcome a specific section I’m having trouble with. For those who are thinking about the age system, this could absolutely remain in play without permadeath, but perhaps it affects XP in a more brutal way. There could be a lot of ways to make Sifu a bit more bearable.
As it stands, those having trouble with the combat, especially those with physical disabilities may find even the tutorial impossible to get past as it requires performing the listed actions perfectly to progress.
While Sifu is quite low-key with its on-screen visuals, there are large white dots that indicate an interactive point. Additionally, doors and objects will shimmer to let you know they can be interacted with. Thankfully most of the game is fairly dark in setting so it’s not often you come across bright scenes that render these features illegible.
This is a very linear game as well, however, in areas where there’s a point of interest, you can press a button to focus on the invisible waypoint at that time that prompt is available. This is handy to have and keeps me heading in the right direction. Although, it would have been nice to have this constantly available to use at will instead of just when prompted, especially if you’re like me and keep stopping to use photo mode every few minutes then forget what you’re doing.
Tracking Skills and Lore
The cognitive side of Sifu feels fairly simple to keep track of with the main focus being just beating the ever-living crap out of people. The skill tree isn’t wonderfully presented but does show purchasable skills with a bright white dot, while those you can’t afford are greyed out. It’s a system that finds players spending earned XP to unlock more combat moves. It can be accessed through the home area from the tree, or it can be used in death before you revive.
Obviously, you need to have performed well enough to have built up enough XP to purchase a new skill, but these are only temporary. Purchased skills only last for a current run, but if you die you’ll lose that skill and have to earn XP to buy it again. If you want to unlock a skill permanently for use in all runs, you’ll need a significant amount of XP saved up, which requires not doing a terrible job.
I think there could have been a useful game modifier feature here to help XP increase just a smidge more for those who may want that optional help. There are also points in the world where you can unlock skills from a little statue without having to have died. This also allows you to upgrade some buffs such as regaining more health when performing takedowns.
There’s a board filled with world lore in the style of a detective board keeping track of location information, and characters that populate as you unlock more. The use of a cursor to select different sections feels slow and there’s no way to use a d-pad or WASD/Arrow keys to snap to different ones.
Specifically for PS5 users, Sifu makes use of the DualSense controller and this includes haptics and the controller speaker. The team at Can I Play That? have had hands-on with the PS5 version and found haptics exist for any rain that’s available, but also for wind such as a fan on a desk that comes through the speakers, along with kicks and punches.
While immersion is great, sometimes focusing on functional uses can make for a more immersive and accessible experience in one.
Sifu is a lovely-looking game, and the bonus is that it does UI scaling at a level I would hope more studios followed suit with, minus the breakages of subtitles of course. The on-screen indicators and prompts are nice to see when the UI is large, and it’s handy that levels are so linear. The high contrast mode being implemented is a lovely touch as well, although it being unavailable on PlayStation is a kicker.
Remapping being broken is certainly problematic, and the amount of inputs required in quick-succession to progress is bound to make for an exhausting experience for those with mobility disabilities. Even then, the lack of helpful visual cues and other accessibility features to cater the challenge to the player makes for an experience that could be shared by many.
A review copy of Sifu was provided by the developer / publisher.