In most side-scrolling brawlers, the idea of aggression and a constant offense against legions of enemies is the driving force behind the gameplay. Way of the Passive Fist is a game that looks to mix up that philosophy, while still maintaining the essence of the genre. And in that regard, the game accomplishes this while also having an intriguing concept behind its narrative and visuals. However, a few small missteps prevent Way of the Passive Fist from becoming fully realized. But that doesn’t mean the game isn’t fun to play or fails to offer anything unique to those who began to walk the path of the defensive master.
The most interesting parts of Way of the Passive Fist come from the various ways you interact with enemies that appear on screen. You’re entire repertoire of abilities is built on the idea of being defensive and avoiding attacks, rather than rushing to beat down everyone in your way. You parry attacks, catch weapons to hurl them back, and even use the momentum of your enemies against them.
This changes up the core of the brawler genre, forcing you to become more strategic and look for visual cues from enemies instead of blindly running around and mashing buttons to attack wildly. Taking down multiple enemies and avoiding damage is definitely as satisfying as it sounds, making you feel like a kung-fu master. As you progress however, it becomes more important to be aware of enemy reactions and positions in order to react with the best way to eliminate them and avoid getting hit, which can get to be very tough later on.
Unfortunately, the best parts of Way of the Passive Fist can also be its greatest weakness. When a large group of enemies crowd up the screen, it can be incredibly difficult to block attacks and react to the situation at hand. In some cases, attacks can come from multiple angles and box you into getting hit regardless if you successfully parry or block incoming attacks. While some instances like this do require finesse and good reaction to get around, there are moments where you’re left helpless to do anything and take massive damage.
This becomes problematic in stages where you’re bombarded with attacks from multiple enemies and environmental hazards, leaving you with little to no options. This doesn’t bring the experience to a complete halt, but when this does happen it can be very annoying and often force you back to a previous checkpoint.
Outside of its unique twist on the brawler genre, Way of the Passive sports a very good looking 16-bit visual style. There’s a lot of visual inspiration from classic brawlers that were released on the SNES, Genesis, and arcade. The cinematics in-between stages are reminiscent of a time when the genre offered just enough story to thrust you right back into the action shortly after. The stages are colorful, despite using a wide range of browns to fit the setting of the story, and have a lot of interesting details that don’t get in the way of the action in the foreground.
Enemy designs are great and have a lot of personality which gets more over-the-top as you progress through the main story. The bosses you encounter in each stage are where the design of the game truly shines, giving a lot to look at while engaged in a challenging battle.
One thing that is interesting is how the game offers you many options to customize the difficulty of the game. When starting up a new game, you can tinker with the settings for enemy strength, the number of battles, health item frequency, and the required combo level to generate special moves.
While you aren’t penalized for changing these settings, they all affect the total experience, which can be helpful to people who just want to follow the story to its conclusion. It would’ve been nice to have more rewards or incentive to take on the much tougher settings, but having the option to do so at one’s leisure is definitely appreciated.
If you like brawlers and want something different that you haven’t experienced before in the genre, then you’ll enjoy diving into Way of the Passive Fist. While not perfect in every aspect, it does attempt a lot of new and interesting things that other brawler games have shied away from trying. It may take a bit to ease into the gameplay if you’re someone who likes to mindlessly slug it out, but if you have an open mind and exercise patience, you’re going to like what you find here.
This review was based on a digital review code for Way of the Passive Fist for the PlayStation 4, provided by House Hold Games.