PAX West 2017: Way of the Passive Fist Wins With the Defensive Approach

On the surface, Way of the Passive Fist may just seem like just another retro throwback to some, a nod to the likes of Final Fight and others. You play as a fighter simply known as the Wanderer, traveling the doomed post-apocalyptic planet of Zircon V, taking care of any trouble that come across his path. Basic stuff, arguably. But upon playing it, it becomes clear that developers Household Games have crafted something much more special. See, a lot of beat-’em-ups arguably may seem to rely on button-mashing at times, but what if you implemented a different kind of strategy as the key to success, mainly a defensive strategy that relied less on a direct approach and more on timing and zen-like concentration? Then you have something truly intriguing on your hands.

Yes, the combat in Way of the Passive Fist isn’t based around constant punches or attacks, but rather parries and dodges. You have to pay attention to your enemy, notice their patterns, then be able to perform the right action at the right moment in order to avoid it. Once you’d successfully drained an opponent’s energy, you can just simply push them down and have them knocked out, and yeah, we already know you’re writing up jokes related to “The Homer They Fall” in the comments. Real original there, guys. But as it turns out, this strategy won’t work for every enemy. Sometimes they require such solutions as being able to dodge a knife thrown at you at just the right time in order to catch it and throw it back, in a fun touch. But you also have to be able to chain together combos based on how many attacks you can successfully avoid in a row. Once you’ve filled up a meter, you can launch a special punch that successfully KOs an enemy as well.

It is indeed an innovative approach to combat that works incredibly well, especially once you get into the rhythm of things. The challenge ramps up whenever multiple enemies appear and you have to handle them from all directions, but it never feels unfair, putting up a perfect challenge. Of course, you can also tweak said challenge yourself, not just by selecting a level of difficulty, but by adjusting various statistics before beginning the game. Would you like to make it tougher by having enemies deal slightly more damage with a small tweak, or ramping up the number of enemies that spawn with a massive tweak? It’s a particular fun touch that allows for a lot of options, and even toughens up the Wanderer’s full title in different ways.

Aside from its defense-based gameplay, though, Way of the Passive Fist is also quite notable when it comes to its visual designs. It’s actually quite appropriate that The Simpsons was referenced here earlier, because the developers have stated that the game’s biggest influence was the licensed beat-’em-ups of the 1990s, such as Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men brawlers. So the end result is a pixelated style deliberately attempting to recreate a Saturday morning cartoon of the era that (sadly) never existed, which it does perfectly, showcasing a colorful apocalypse with fun character designs that still manages to remain mostly kid-friendly.

After defeating each level and the various encounters within (which is thankfully generous with checkpoints, but has a harder Arcade mode for those who want a more authentic approach), you use the experience points gained from your bouts to upgrade the Wanderer and give him new abilities. We sadly didn’t have enough time to see how this affects the gameplay in any notable way, but even just as is, Way of the Passive Fist is easily one of the most unique brawlers we’ve seen in quite some time, and combined with its striking 24-bit presentation, makes for an upcoming scrapper that we can’t wait to see more of. It’s simple yet brilliant, and you should keep an eye out for it when it comes to PS4, XB1 and PC in the future.