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Way of the Passive Fist Review: A New Dawn for Beat 'Em Ups

For a beat 'em up indie game all about dodging and deflecting, it is worth absorbing every punch of Household Games' excellent Way of the Passive Fist.
Way of the Passive Fist from Household Games is a side-scroller beat 'em up, but, as "passive fist" suggests, the main character doesn't fight. Instead, the mysterious Wanderer uses parries, dodges, and deflections to clear through each wave of enemies.

The only "attacks" the Wanderer does are counters or shoves to remove a tuckered out bad guy. The parries and dodges give Way of the Passive Fist a rhythm game vibe, where it's all about timing versus button mashing or outsmarting the enemy.

It seems like an obvious take on a well-worn concept: the player dodges and deflects everything instead of throwing punches. Yet, Way of the Passive Fist delivers a new-school indie experience that feels straight out of the '90s arcade at the same time.

A Well Executed Twist On A Timeless Concept
The defensive posture of the game's mechanics is a subtle, but refreshing, take on a normally offensive video game genre. Unlike most brawlers, there's also no co-op mode, so Way of the Passive Fist is more story-driven, focusing on the Wanderer's journey across planet Zircon 5 to save what's left of humanity. The game's emphasis is still on the action and clearing enemies, but the story creates a compelling investment in the Wanderer for the player.

Although a beat 'em up, Way of the Passive Fist plays like a rhythm game where the core mechanics are timing and pattern recognition. The Wanderer can counter several enemies at once, but the enemies attack one at a time.

Each enemy has it's own pattern, or rhythm, and each enemy's pattern type gets incrementally harder (both in speed and pattern) as the player progresses through the chapters. The enemies also alternate among themselves when attacking.

Overall, the game has great pacing. Most of the time, each scene feels doable with an appropriate level of mastery.

The graphics and soundtrack are also top-notch, fitting the game's sci-fi tale and ambiance. The 16-bit pixelated visuals is a nice old-school throwback that adds variety to the atmosphere.

Backdrops can be an afterthought in beat 'em up games, since they're not typically about the environment. However, Household Games' attention to detail in the backgrounds, enemy designs, music, and effects augments what could otherwise easily be a boring and repetitive experience.

Small Flaws That Can Ruin The Experience
aThe critiques I have for Way of the Passive Fist are tiny, but they can ruin the gaming experience if players don't have perseverance or fortitude. For example, the first chapter of the story mode may put some players off.

While it begins as a tutorial, introducing the player to some of the game's basic elements, all of the explanation disappears when the boss, Breen, shows up. Simply, it's not obvious how the player is supposed to defeat Breen, and there is nothing to indicate whether attempts are wrong because of poor timing or because they are the incorrect thing to do.

Although the adjustable difficulty is a positive for Way of the Passive Fist, I didn't appreciate needing to adjust the difficulty just to get through the first boss. It's brutal for new players when late parries don't count toward a combo, especially when they're still learning the game's controls and enemy patterns, and Breen requires combos to be defeated.

In conclusion, Way of the Passive Fist is a slick, well-executed concept with incredible fun to be had. It's a title that's original yet familiar at the same time.

It's not perfect, but the quirks almost make perfecting every parry and pattern a rewarding goal — it certainly hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves for revitalizing experience it provides. If this is the first you're hearing of Way of the Passive Fist, the way of the passive fist is worth knowing and trying out for yourself.