The side-scrolling beat-'em-up is a genre that has been around for almost as long as video games have existed. Countless games have been released in this style to the point where coming up with something that feels original and unique is almost impossible. However, Household Games Inc found a distinctive spin to put on this tried and tested formula with Way of the Passive Fist.
As the title suggests, Way of the Passive Fist is not about blazing in headfirst and dominating your enemies with a flurry of punches and kicks. Instead, you're tasked with taking a passive approach and using only blocks and dodges against the robots and warriors that stand in your way. As you're defending yourself against an enemy onslaught one of two things can happen. The first is that you'll defend yourself for long enough that your attacker will be depleted of energy and you can simply push them over to defeat them or alternatively you'll build up a combo meter after multiple successful parries and unleash a special attack. As you defeat enemies you'll gain experience, which will see you levelling up and gaining new attacks or abilities. The idea of these special attacks slightly go against the game's core mechanic of being passive, but at the same time it gives the combat some much needed variety.
While the concept that Way of the Passive Fist brings to the table is interesting, it doesn't work so well in execution. Apart from one or two enemy types that force you to use the block, there is very little reason to stray away from using the dodge almost exclusively. Punches and kicks can be dealt with by using either ability, but when an enemy attempts to use a move where they grab you only the dodge works. Rather than always adjusting to attacks on the fly we found it was much more efficient to just dodge all the time, rendering the block close to obsolete.
Much of this game is played like those found in the rhythm genre. Each enemy type has a set attack pattern, which you can easily memorise to help you dispose of foes much quicker. The problem with this is that the attack patterns are very short and simple, meaning once you've had one or two looks at each type of attacker you'll have their pattern down and there won't be much of a challenge anymore. In fact, most of the time we ended up taking serious damage from accidentally facing the wrong way thanks to the iffy analogue stick controls. Thankfully, you can adjust the settings to use the directional pad, which works so much better with this game.
This style of gameplay ultimately leads the game to being boring. You will find yourself walking about 10 feet, getting locked into a battle arena where a certain amount of enemies will slowly come at you, you'll dispose of them quickly, and then repeat all over again for the game's 10 chapters. Some of the chapters can be relatively lengthy, too, which is a real test of patience when there is absolutely no variance in the gameplay.
The only real challenge the game offers is in the boss battles, which range from lacklustre to tedious. Just like the regular enemies you face, once you've seen the boss cycle through its short attack pattern once, you'll know exactly how to counter everything and you'll be onto the next stage with only some slight resistance.
Way of the Passive Fist does offer you a large amount of control over the difficulty settings, allowing you to use sliders that adjust enemy strength, encounters, combo mastery, and resourcefulness. However, in our experience and testing of this feature we didn't feel like they altered much outside of the combo mastery slider which gives you more leeway in keeping your combos going. Moving the slider from the default "normal" setting to the easiest setting for enemy strength and encounters proved to be not much of a change, and similarly, bumping it up doesn't increase the difficulty as much as you would expect.
Arguably the game's biggest positive is its art style. The pixel art graphics are gorgeous here but completely squandered. Chapters see you walking from end-to-end with absolutely no change in the background. When some of the game's levels can take around 20 minutes to complete, seeing the exact same visuals as when you first jumped in isn't ideal and doesn't do the brilliant art style any justice.
Way of the Passive Fist starts out strong with an interesting concept, but that interest soon wears off thanks to poor execution. Once you've played the first chapter you've pretty much played all 10 as there is never any variation on offer. Combine this with the fundamental flaws of basing the gameplay purely around blocking and dodging and you have a recipe for a promising and unique but ultimately disappointing game.