Way of The Passive Fist is an arcade-style, side-scrolling beat ‘em up with a unique twist. You play as The Wanderer, a martial arts expert with a metal hand roaming the post-apocalyptic world and defeating a range of foes without using violence. Kind of. Rather than punching and kicking, you have an array of passive moves like a parry, a dodge, a shove and a chargeable super punch. It’s an interesting gimmick that pays off for the most part.
Enemies will telegraph their attacks through audio and visual prompts. Each type of enemy has a few manoeuvers that you have to learn in order to avoid them effectively. Basic attacks can be avoided either through dodging or parrying, while special moves such as grabs or ranged attacks can only be dodged. The prompts are colour coded to show you which type of attack is coming in; red for grabs, purple for a fast combo, etc.
Rather than a health bar, enemies have a stamina gauge that you’ll deplete with every successful parry or dodge, and once they are exhausted you can give them a satisfying nudge to eliminate them. If you build up a combo, you can unleash a super punch which finishes off most enemies in one hit.
The combat is fun and the game throws in new enemies and mixes up attacks to stop things from getting stale too quickly. But it felt like the most effective method the majority of the time was to stand in the middle and wait for enemies to come to you. The further along you get the less effective this is, as environmental hazards get thrown into the mix. However, these hazards can also be used to lure enemies to their demise, which keeps the playing field level.
Enemies will patiently wait their turn to attack, so you’re rarely dodging multiple strikes at the same time. But once the screen begins to fill up with a variety of enemies, it can be difficult to discern what’s going on. Prompts are sometimes obscured and enemies will attack from out of view. You can use your shove to repel enemies and dash out of the way, but when things get too hectic it can be frustrating missing a prompt you thought you hit.
The difficulty settings in Way of The Passive Fist have a focus on modifiability and accessibility. You can change enemy strength and density, frequency of checkpoints and more. Every option is on a slider and any combination of the settings can be used in tandem, so you can tune your difficulty to how you want to play.
Even with all the settings turned down, Way of The Passive Fist is hardly an easy game. It requires you to learn enemy patterns and be constantly aware of your surroundings. Its pacing is distinct from other side-scrolling beat ’em ups where you can mash buttons until everything is dead. Precise timing is key, making the game feel more like a rhythm action game — more Elite Beat Agents than Streets of Rage. It distinguishes itself among a sea of indie brawlers and initially feels fresh and compelling. Working up a big combo or exhausting a huge, lumbering enemy to the point where a little nudge will finish them off is immensely satisfying. Facing new enemies and studying their attack patterns until you can comfortably avoid all their attacks is addictive and rewarding. But the game falls short in a few areas and doesn’t expand on its premise enough.
The bosses in Way of The Passive Fist are some of the least fun and most frustrating parts of the game. Despite the variety in design and fighting style, all bosses are defeated in the same way. Build up a combo to get your super punch and unleash it on the boss.
While new enemies are added as you progress and attack patterns are mixed up, that’s about the only thing that changes as you make your way through the 10 chapters. The chapters are often long and consist entirely of fighting a group of enemies until they’re all defeated, walking to the left until you come across another bunch of dudes. Rinse and repeat.
The game looks and sounds great. The 16-bit style is colourful and detailed, but you never interact with the environments in any way. The core gameplay is fun, but I was left wanting more variety and interactivity. Each chapter eventually began to feel like a reskinned version of the last, the only exception being the underwhelming boss fights.
Way of The Passive Fist stands out in a crowded market of indie brawlers by trying a new and compelling gimmick. But the combat isn’t enough to carry it through the whole game and the result is a brilliant core premise with underwhelming execution.
- Fresh new take on side-scrolling beat-em-up
- Highly customisable difficulty levels
- Looks and sounds great
- Repetitive combat
- Underwhelming Bosses
- Lack of gameplay variety