Too Long; Didn't Play: Way of the Passive Fist

Sponsored By: This one’s all me.

Time Passivated: 2 hours

Dodge Review

Real Talk, Yo: This game is making me better at boss fights.

Parry Review

I have had great difficulty with boss fights my entire life. If the reasons why were represented in a pie chart, twenty five percent would be down to difficulty recognizing patterns, fifty percent would be difficulty remembering patterns, twenty percent would be impatience and six percent would be not pressing various action buttons once too many.

Way of the Passive Fist is helping me train out of all of those bad habits. First, let’s explain what Way of the Passive Fist is, then we’ll take a look at how it’s making me a better gamer.

Way of the Passive Fist is a very long title for a game inspired by all of those palette-swapped side-scrolling brawlers from the mid 1990s. If you’ve ever spent a week’s allowance on beating people up in Fatal Fury, or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or The Simpsons, or X-Men or … well, you get the point. If you’ve done that, you’ll find Way of the Passive Fist to be instantly familiar. It has all of the trappings: fantastic character design, destructible environmental objects that contain health, boss fights with lower-than-usual audio-sampled catchphrases and a level that involves walking on the roof of a moving train. Everything you loved about the style of a game like Final Fight is worn proudly on the ragged sleeves of the protagonist.

Fans of those games will also find Way of the Passive Fist to be very unusual, because instead of walking from left to right while attacking enemies, you walk from left to right while waiting for enemies to attack you. Your attack options are limited to a push-back move that does no damage, a dodge, a block and a dash move. You have precisely one offensive move, and you can only use it after you’ve successfully blocked or dodged enough attacks to charge your combo meter. Once the combo meter is charged, you can throw a punch that does massive damage, and is the only way to hurt bosses. Lower-level enemies can be defeated by depleting their stamina. Every attack you block wears out your enemies, and when their stamina is down to zero you can use the push-back move to tip your wheezing opponent over.

In short, Way of the Passive Fist is a side-scrolling brawler that rewards patience instead of quarters. Cool, no?

But enough about the mechanics. What makes Way of the Passive Fist such a great cross-training utility for getting better at boss fights? Just check out this list:

  • Pattern Recognition Way of the Passive Fist color-codes its enemies based on their attack patterns, and they have both audio and visual tells alerting you to what move they’re about to do. There’s no Arkham-style icon over your head telling you when to block, though. You have to count frames of animation, or remember the rhythm between the audio cue and the attack. Some enemies attack fast, some attack slower, and some alternate between punches and grapple moves, which means you need to alternate between blocking and dodging. It’s a phenomenal tool for learning how to recognize what an enemy is going to do and when.
  • Pattern Memorization In a way, every enemy in Way of the Passive Fist is a boss. They will attack you exactly the same way every time, as I addressed in the previous bullet point. Because they’re enemies and not bosses, though, you’ll see a lot of them, so you get lots of practice with any single enemy’s pattern. Before long you’ll be surveying the enemies on screen and saying “Oh, that guy's a purple Mad Max-style raider, which means two quick blocks followed by a pause and one more block before he’ll dash away and let a different character attack.

    You’ll have to train yourself to learn quickly, because in later levels as they introduce new characters, or new bosses, you don’t want to be taking a lot of hits just to learn the enemy pattern.

  • Impatience Way of the Passive Fist isn’t a game to play if you only know how to charge in and start hitting attack buttons until everyone falls down. They have a name for games like that, it rhymes with the principal from Parker Lewis Can't Lose. You have to wait for your opponents to come to you, and you have to react to their attacks on their respective timelines. Bosses require even more patience, because the only way to hit them is with your super, which can only be used after you’ve successfully blocked or dodged six attacks or more. Once you use the attack, you have to charge it again, so it pays to hold off on using it until the boss gives you an opening to use it rather than trying to sneak in and slip one in while he or she is charging their attack.
  • Button Mashing Button Mashing is the worst possible thing you can do in Way of the Passive Fist. Your combo meter resets if you miss a block or if you hit the block button when nobody’s attacking you. Remembering to count my button-presses in an action game is something I’ve never been able to get the hang of, and it’s why I’m terrible at Street Fighter and why I can’t get S ranks in Bayonetta. With Way of the Passive Fist, I’m being forced to play more deliberately. It’s like Henry David Thoreau made a brawler! (On Walden Puncher, the long-lost novel in which Thoreau left society behind so he could go to a small shack in New England and learn Krav Maga. The hunting and fishing scenes alone were breathtaking.)

And that’s just how it’s helping me! Imagine what it could do for you!

Will I keep punching deliberately?

I’m about halfway through the campaign, and there’s a ton of replayability here for those of you who like earning various metallic medals for your performance in games. Also, I can’t get enough of that art style. The developer’s say right in the flavor text for the game that it’s “based on the saturday morning cartoon you wish existed.” It is nigh impossible to argue that point. I want to see more of these characters. I want a toy of the main character to stand on my desk and look bad-arse while I work. I want a movie sponsored by Hasbro that kills off the character in this game so it can sell me new action figures of the characters introduced in the movie.

In short: Yes, I think I’ll keep playing.

Is it the Dark Souls of Fatal Fury look-alikes?

A game that’s this heavily dependent on paying attention to animations, and this punishingly unforgiving of mistakes, is treading deep into the Souls territory. One of the features I like the best is that it has difficulty sliders to adjust enemy aggression and strength, which means if you’re using the game to train yourself up you can do the equivalent of an assisted pull-up until you get strong enough to do it on your own. Then, once you’re strong enough at that, you can add ankle and belt weights to increase the challenge.

While the sliders mean that Way of the Passive Fist cannot be the Dark Souls of its kind, the overall design of the game means it’s darn close, so I’ll give it nine out of ten parries. If you want a challenge, it’s there for you, but if you don’t you can still dial it down.


Minor update: since writing this I’ve beaten the main game and unlocked the free New Dawn expansion.

The New Dawn expansion is absolutely the Dark Souls of expansions. Good grief! They somehow took boss fights where you’re not allowed to hit the bosses directly and made them harder.

Still fun, though.