When Sifu first launched back in February, its steep difficulty curve wasn't necessarily criticised, but it was enough to put a lot of potential players off. Indeed, even if you go take a look at our review — which dropped prior to release — the comments section is full of people questioning whether they'd be willing to put the time into what can be such a demanding game.
As we all know, the conversation that surrounds difficulty in video games erupts on a regular basis, usually sparked by the arrival of a particularly challenging title like Elden Ring. We're not here trying to add to that debate, but we do want to highlight just how good Sifu's latest update is. Patch 1.009 (released on the 3rd May 2022) adds two difficulty settings to the brawler: Student (easy) and Master (hard).
Some might argue that Sifu is selling itself short by including an easier difficulty level months after launch, but we think that developer SloClap has done a fantastic job of implementing something that makes the game more approachable on a fundamental level — without it actually damaging the title's ability to challenge the player.
Indeed, Sifu's Student mode is a fantastic way to learn the game. On its normal difficulty, Sifu is fair but very unforgiving. The title's aging mechanic means that multiple deaths in quick succession can propel you towards a game over very, very quickly. Roadblocks in the form of especially tricky encounters or boss battles can be a common occurrence, and there isn't much room for moment-to-moment adaptation. More often than not, you're all but forced to repeat the same levels over and over again until you've got the hang of things — that's just how Sifu is designed.
But Student mode dials back Sifu's unforgiving nature to a point where it feels like you can learn the nuances of its combat system without having to endure the repetition. For starters, the ageing mechanic is toned down significantly. Each death ages your character by one year — never anything more — and this alone is enough to make Sifu seem relatively welcoming. Combine that with a larger player health bar as well as less aggressive enemies, and it's now possible for newcomers to progress through at least a couple of Sifu's levels before the dreaded game over hits.
That's the thing, though: Student mode doesn't make Sifu a walk in the park. You still have to understand and utilise the game's systems if you want to find success; it's easier rather than easy. But if you bounced off Sifu following a brutal arse-kicking and simply never felt the urge to go back, this update shouldn't be ignored. It's just a great way to ease yourself into the experience.
And then there's Master mode, which, based on our time with it, is a borderline nightmare — in a good way, of course. If you're the kind of player who committed every boss combo to memory and you can pretty much breeze through Sifu without breaking a sweat, then Master mode has your name on it. While we don't think that it provides a massive boost in overall difficulty, its clever use of remixed enemy combos and relentless AI brings a whole new challenge to the table.
In a lot of ways, Master mode is going to make you relearn Sifu — and that's probably what a lot of hardcore players want. SloClap's effectively added a revamped campaign to its game — and for free, no less.
So there you have it: Sifu's difficulty update is really good, and just goes to show that with the right kind of implementation, hard games don't have to sacrifice their identity in order to broaden their appeal. Again, if Sifu didn't quite click with you, or if you were put off by all the talk of its difficulty, then this could be the moment to strike.
Have you given Sifu a go since this update? Remember to keep up your training in the comments section below.
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