Way of the Passive Fist

Way of the Passive Fist. Passive Fist. I've punched an awful lot of enemies with my PASSIVE fist..

Posted by Nate on 14 April 2019 at 3:18PM

Do you remember that one episode of The Simpsons where Homer enlists in a local boxing league? Moe discovered that Homer could withstand a huge amount of physical trauma and when his opponents eventually became tired and worn, he could simply push them over to win the bout. Essentially, this is Way of the Passive Fist!

What this boils down to is a sort-of rhythm game in the skin of a beat-em-up. You either parry, dodge, catch or push against enemy attacks. Each enemy type has their own pattern of attacks which ultimately is a variation on a theme. Once you have done this enough times, the enemy's stamina bar is low enough for you to simply prod them with a finger to send them crashing to the floor.

Playing as The Wanderer, you are journeying to inflict revenge upon Dr. Dyson. He has been experimenting on the local populous including yourself historically. There isn't much of a detailed narrative though you do meet some interesting characters along the way, in the guise of bosses.

Way of the Passive Fist is a bit of a bastard of a game with both parts fun and frustrating simultaneously. You can get into a rhythm of deflecting attacks – thankfully enemies take it in turns to attack you individually, usually – including catching knives thrown at you and slinging them back at the attacker for a one-hit kill. When you aren't hit for a long period, and you're combining all available moves it is immensely satisfying.

However, there are numerous annoyances. Checkpointing isn't consistent with the challenge of the stages. For example; somewhere halfway along the game you face against a robot enemy for the first time. It can take a few moments for enemy patterns to get engrained in your memory so you can expect quite a few hits whenever meeting someone new. This robot deals substantial damage and hits quickly and successively and KO'd me about a dozen times (if not more!). What was especially annoying was that the checkpoint was just before the stage before this. So, every time I had to complete a full stage before taking this robot on again. The stage in question had another annoyance: hazards!

I imagine the approach to difficulty and challenge when developing a game is itself a difficult decision. However, one thing I dislike is disguising them in mechanics that just make doing the same thing superficially more difficult. There are occasional stages within levels with hazards such as; falling rocks, a laser coming in from the side and bombs being fired at you. First of all, they add no gratifying gameplay experience. Secondly, make them consistent! The bombs and laser hurts enemies but the falling rocks don't!

For a game with the word 'passive' right there in the title, The Wanderer is quite violent! Depleting the enemy's stamina is the least efficient way of dispatching them. Stringing together a minimum combo of five allows you to use a special ability, the lowest level being a powerful punch. This punch can take out some enemies in a single hit and does quite a substantial amount of damage to others. Once you become accustomed with the game, this is the way to get through the stages. Manipulate a weaker/easier enemy to attack you to build up your combo, then walk over to a tricky customer and unleash the special and dispatch them. It makes things an awful lot easier!

I don't know what I was expecting with Way of the Passive Fist but I was left a little disappointed. The gameplay hook is both interesting and unusual and the audio visual design is strong throughout. It just felt like that's all it had. A more involved story or varying tempos could have really helped shake things up while progressing. There are five unique characters that you encounter all of which are bosses. These bosses have their own unique patterns and are actually a lot of fun to face. More of these unique battles would have been beneficial. Around stage four or five – there are ten in total – I was really struggling. Not just with the aforementioned robot, but I just kept getting overwhelmed by the number of enemies on the screen at once. It took me somewhere near two hours to get through both stages. However, once I did progress, something became aligned in my head and I was able to complete the game without much more trouble. The final boss especially was far too easy and anticlimactic. It's like the challenge just ebbed away, though I'm aware I was also getting better at the game.

I feel bad that it's taken me over a year to play Way of the Passive Fist since its release and while it didn't quite reach the highs that I'd hoped, it was a good choice for a game to spend the weekend with.

The good

  • Interesting concept that works surprisingly well
  • Boss fights are fantastic and challenging
  • Engaging audiovisual design

The bad

  • Feels unfair in places
  • Stage hazards add nothing
  • Not enough variation in gameplay methods