Recent events in the world have once again brought about the topic of violence in video games and their effect on players. While several recent studies suggest there is little to no link between video game violence and increased violent behaviour in players, it does give one pause to consider just how much of the medium is dominated by violence. It seems almost every game is driven by the mechanic of destroying something, lest you be destroyed. Even something as innocent-looking as Kirby: Star Allies is primarily made of an adorable pink puffball slicing, burning, freezing, or outright devouring alive countless enemies…
So I have recently begun the pursuit of finding games that subvert, or otherwise remove violence from the equation and still offer meaningful gameplay, and thus I was directed towards Way of the Passive Fist; an addictive and incredibly fun take on the Beat ‘em Up genre that is less about mindlessly punching your way to end, and more about skilled passivity.
Way of the Passive Fist (get it?) is set on Zicron V—a planet thought to be filled with untold resource and wealth, but ends up being a harsh wasteland where only the strong survive…again, do you get it? The player takes on the role of “The Wanderer,” a warrior of untold ability, able to survive the post-apocalyptic environment through a mastery of the ancient fighting style: “The Way of the Passive Fist.” When it seems an old enemy has resurfaced, he begins his journey to right the wrongs of the past, and save humanity from a tyrannical rule.
It’s a fun story that plays very well to the whole aesthetic Way of the Passive Fist is going for; looking and playing like a classic 16-bit arcade-style Beat ‘em Up, with overly large characters, retro sound effects, and an edgy 90’s metal soundtrack. Levels and characters are richly detailed with bright and colourful pixel-art, and even the story is told with minimally animated “cutscenes” that deliver the story with scrolling text boxes that evokes a bygone era.
But where the game really stands out is in its gameplay. While it may look similar to games like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, Way of the Passive Fist demands patience and timing if you wish to succeed. Players have no real attacks; no punches, no kicks, none of that. Instead, players wait for enemies to attack, and through precisely timed blocks and dodges, wear out their opponent’s stamina until a simple push will fell them. If blocks and dodges are timed well, a combo meter will build that allows for big power moves.
It ends up feeling more like is a rhythm game than anything else, as you carefully watch enemies approach and master the timing on their successive hits. This can get frantic with multiple enemies, and especially during boss fights where you’re not only managing a bunch of flunkies, but a dynamic character with special abilities.
However, it’s not completely without its hangups. The precise nature of the gameplay may be off-putting to some players, as on more than one occasion I found myself becoming incredibly frustrated with the juggling act that is looking and listening for telegraphs that signify a hit to block, or a hit to dodge, watching for enemies that attack differently when alone, or when cycling in a group—all things that can easily break a combo string, and start the ball of losing rolling down the hill.
These minor grievances aside, Way of the Passive Fist is an excellent game that I had a ton of fun playing. While it certainly doesn’t escape requiring violence to propel its gameplay (lest the name fool you), it circumvents it in an incredibly interesting way, not requiring players to be outright violent towards their enemies. It’s a game that continually left me wanting more and I highly recommend it.
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