Review: Way of the Passive Fist Puts a New Spin on the Side-Scrolling Beat ‘Em Up Genre

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Violence in video games is a hot topic once again thanks to a certain President who has his head in the clouds, but Household Games Inc. don’t need to worry about causing a stir with their latest side-scrolling beat ’em up, Way of the Passive Fist.

You see, unlike other hits in the genre such as Streets of Rage, Final Fight and the more recent Wulverblade, Way of the Passive Fist demands you keep your violence to a minimum. In fact, it asks you to defeat most of your enemies by simply shoving them. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? And trust me, it is.

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In Way of the Passive Fist you play as the Wanderer, a mysterious man roaming the planet of Zircon V who has evidently mastered the technique of the Passive Fist. What that means is that when he’s assuredly set upon by the manics that are running wild throughout the dusty and run-down planet that once used to be a mining colony, he doesn’t waste his energy beating his foes to a pulp, he lets them tire themselves out by deflecting and evading their attacks instead.

Standard grunts will move in close for a flurry of melee attacks, while bigger foes may even add a throw into the mix, and the best thing the Wanderer can do is skilfully negate them. Then, once your foes have tired themselves out, all it takes is a single shove and they’ll crumple to the floor, exhausted. It sounds simple, but in practice it’s anything but.

As you progress through Way of the Passive Fist‘s story mode you’ll encounter an increasingly varied range of opponents, each with their own attack timings which must be memorised if you’re going to succeed. What’s more, they’ll take in turns to move in for the kill, dashing in and out to test your timing and reflexes. And then you have environmental hazards to look out for too, like lasers, landmines and mortar fire. You’ll have to deflect, evade, shove and dodge like a pro if you’re to succeed, but even then the odds will be stacked against you.

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Luckily, Way of the Passive Fist has a range of difficulty options so that you can give yourself more of a fighting chance of success, and it also employs an experience system so that you can level up the Wanderer and make him more formidable. Even on the game’s easiest settings it’s still rather tricky, however, but at least it gives you more of a chance of getting to grips with its unique fighting system.

As much of a pacifist that the Wanderer is though, there are still times where violence is helpful to your cause. Enemies can be struck with your shoulder at any time, knocking them away to give you some breathing space, while enemies that throw projectiles at you will be displeased by your ability to catch them and send them back their way. Additionally, by performing a chain of parries, evades and counters you charge up a super move bar that allows you unleash a range of devastating attacks. It seems like you can only push the Wanderer so far until he snaps.

While its crushing difficulty may deter many, repetition is likely to be the Wanderer’s biggest enemy though, as at times Way of the Passive Fist feels just too drawn out to truly be fun. Story mode consists of ten levels, each containing a considerable number of scenes, and with character upgrades and new skills doled out at a slow rate, the action becomes very samey between them. If you do manage to make your way through the story, however, an arcade mode is unlocked which allows you to absorb yourself in even more action, albeit with limited lives.

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For those who somehow find Way of the Passive Fist to be a doddle, a checkpoint mechanic similar to the one utilised in Shovel Knight allows players to manually increase the difficulty, though there doesn’t seem to be any reward for it other than an achievement. Basically, between scenes you’ll occasionally find a lever — pull it and you’ve got yourself a new checkpoint should you find yourself being overwhelmed in combat. Ignore it, and you risk losing more progress should you die.

Other than its arcade mode, Way of the Passive Fist also offers longevity via the form of online leaderboards, and your performance in each scene is graded. Those who seek to obtain gold ratings on all scenes will have a real lasting challenge on their hands, though they’ll probably need bucketloads of patience.

Way of the Passive Fist is an interesting title that offers a great deal to those who fully get on board with it, but its repetitive nature and demanding difficulty means that they will be few. Its 16-bit visuals and pumping soundtrack will take gamers like myself back to the glory days of the side-scrolling beat ’em up genre, but its gameplay proves to be much more progressive and divisive. Still, if you’re on the lookout for a unique and challenging game to add to your collection, Way of the Passive Fist is certainly worthy of your consideration.

Way of the Passive Fist is available on Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.