Developer: Household Games Publisher: Household Games Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC Review Code Provided
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a game buck the typical conventions of its genre as much as Way of the Passive Fist does, and I love it. By and large, it’s a beat ‘em up game with most of the caveats that come with that, namely the side scrolling stages that feature plenty of enemies that want to bash your skull in. However, Way of the Passive Fist does things a little differently. Well, a LOT differently.
Instead of attacking your enemies, like you would in any other beat ‘em up game, you instead dodge and parry their attacks in order to tire them out. Once they’re all tuckered out, hunched over and wheezing, you can prod them and finish them off. Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes a boxer and his entire strategy is to let his opponent whale on him until they get gassed? It’s like that, except you’re controlling an expert combatant and not, well, Homer.
Taking place on the planet Zircon V, you play as The Wanderer, a half-human, half-cyborg badass that’s just minding his own business when mutant bandits decide to attack. Unfortunately for them, it’s the last thing they’ll ever do. As you make your way across the barren wastes of a former civilisation, you’ll encounter plenty of enemies, a couple of bosses and maybe even an evil villain.
In order to defeat the hordes of Zircon V, The Wanderer has access to a couple of key skills. As mentioned, he can dodge and parry, which allows him to avoid pretty much every attack. He also has a shoulder charge that does no damage but interrupts attacks and clears space. Strikes can be both parried and dodged, but you get more points and subsequently EXP if you parry perfectly, whilst grapple attacks can only be dodged. You also have to contend with thrown weapon attacks that can be parried, or thrown back if you use a well-timed dodge.
Chaining together these defensive moves increases your combo score, which also charges your super meter by up to three bars, which can be used to dole out the offense. The first bar is a power punch that can do good damage to one enemy, though you can hit multiple foes if you’re skilled. The second bar is a grab attack that does considerable damage to single opponent, whilst knocking down all other enemies, which makes it good for punishing one bad guy whilst giving you some much needed breathing room. Lastly, reaching the third bar gives you access to the Gravity Well, which eliminates anything unfortunate enough to exist on the same screen as you.
Each level consists of a series of scenes where waves of enemies jump in to have a barney. Every enemy has a unique pattern of attack, with early enemies attacking slowly whilst late game opponents launch twice the amount of attacks in half the time. The challenge of the game is two-fold: memorising the patterns that each enemy can utilise, whilst having decent enough reaction times to be able to cope with what the game can throw at you. It works effectively when you have to deal with slow and fast enemies, as you find yourself reacting too fast and being punished for it.
Usually enemies will attack you one at a time like they’re in a kung-fu movie, so you only need to focus on where the individual threat is coming from at any one time. Still, there are the occasional moments where things bug out and you’re attacked by two opponents, which can sometimes be impossible to avoid. This also occurs during boss fights, but that appears to be the point in that moment. Outside of that, instances are few and far between, so you don’t often feel like you’re being cheated like some of the more infamous “quarter munchers” of the genre.
If you do find yourself struggling, Way of the Passive Fist wisely includes a customisable difficulty setting that can increase or decrease the level of goons on screen, change the amount of damage they can do, the amount of health pickups and checkpoints you encounter or if late parries count towards combos. It’s a great addition that more games should introduce. If you are a beat ‘em up veteran, the default difficulty shouldn’t cause too much problems though. Of course, if you are a masochist, you can turn up the difficulty and not activate any checkpoints. It’s not for the faint of heart, trust me.
When you finally do get into the swing of things, time seems to slow down. The world around you ceases to exist, and there is only Way of the Passive Fist. Inputs become second nature as you enter an almost meditative state, unphased by whatever new threats attempt to block your path. Parrying becomes effortless, as you embody the spirit of Daigo during the now infamous EVO Moment #37. It’s such a euphoric experience.
Speaking of Third Strike, The Wanderer’s design is reminiscent of Oro, who also fights with primarily one hand, only using the dominant hand when going all out. The art design for the whole game is also worthy of particular merit, with some gorgeous pixel art backgrounds that make for some excellent wallpapers. Seriously, I want the main menu screen as my wallpaper. The music, created by Orie Falconer, is also fantastic, blending sinister overtones with electrifying beats.
Unfortunately, there are one or two drawbacks to the overall experience, aside from the enemies going mental on occasion. Beat ‘em ups usually last around 1 to 2 hours, but an initial playthrough of Way of the Passive Fist can take at least double that. Levels can feel like they’re running on too long, especially when the level contains 12 scenes of 5 waves on enemies. No matter how fun a game might be, situations like that begin to drag on after a while.
It would also be nice to have the ability to choose how much meter to spend, instead of just using up three bars every time it fills up, but that’s a minor qualm at best. All things considered, Way of the Passive Fist is an impressive debut effort from Household Games, and it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with in the future.