Sifu’s best mechanic is the modern take on arcade highscore
Sifu stands out from other action titles with its own unique aging mechanic that draws on classic arcade game design philosophies to engage players.
Competing for high scores in arcade games has become a dying diversion. However, it did not stop Sifu modernizing the arcade experience with its unique aging mechanism. This cleverly designed feature uses an arcade-like game design to bring friends together and encourage competition through mastery.
Sifu is a modern 3D beat-em-up similar to the side-scrolling beat-em-ups popularized in the arcade era, such as Dual Dragon. Styled after iconic kung fu movies, Sifu aims to capture the frantic combat found in fast-paced action movies using its aging mechanic to encourage mastery of the martial art. In doing so, the game gave players a new method of competing against each other for bragging rights.
SifuThe aging mechanic of is the equivalent of a system of lives. Get a “game over” in Sifu means getting too old to fight, and completing levels at a young age equals a high score. Whenever the player’s health is depleted, they pick up where they left off at full health, but aged accordingly. Players start the game at age 20 and age with each defeat until they reach the end of the line at age 70. From there, they must start the level over from the age they started at, losing any upgrades they’ve earned along the way. This is one of the rare cases in video games where getting a high score means having the lowest number.
Classic arcade features like high scores and a lives system combine to create a satisfyingly addictive mechanic designed around the concept of getting old. Completing a level before age 70 is no cause for celebration when players must start the next level at the age they completed the last one. Just like in an arcade game, players have a limited number of lives to complete the game, so perfecting the early levels through countless replays is vital to surviving the later ones.
The unique challenge of staying young adds heart-pounding tension to each run, which yields worthwhile rewards. Some of the best upgrades are related to the aging mechanic, which eliminates a number of them if the player is too old to learn them. Although the levels do not change between races, completing them at a younger age increases replayability because SifuThe depth and variation reside in its gameplay.
Playing alongside friends is where chasing the highest score really comes into play, and it’s done without any leaderboards. The reward for beating a hard level at 50 is stolen the moment a friend shows how he can beat the same level at 23. beyond just finishing the story. Bragging rights among friends will always remain a desirable reward, just as they were in the heyday of arcade games.
This system also encourages friends to share tips and secrets with each other, which is like imparting fighting game knowledge during arcade days. SifuThe constantly aging main character mirrors the player’s experience as the more time he spends perfecting combat, the more of a kung fu master he becomes. Learning to parry or dodge is trivial compared to figuring out exactly when to use which move. Sifu retains much of this information, relying on the player to study the game’s mechanics first-hand and then pass that wisdom on to their friends. Learning about the many different techniques other friends use in their games is like the friendly conversations that took place over crowded arcade cabinets.
Much of this competitive discussion can still be found among players of other roguelikes or genres such as Soulsborne. However, Sifu manages to accomplish this by drawing on old-school arcade design philosophies in a way that’s almost unrecognizable. Unfortunately, many gamers and developers think arcade games are a thing of the past, but Sifu proves that the spirit of arcade games can still shine today.
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