Fans of classic martial arts films are likely familiar with this exchange from 1973's "Enter the Dragon."
"What's your style?"
"My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting."
Leave it to intrepid indie developer Household Games to take this idea to one of its most logical conclusions. Way of the Passive Fist takes players to a dystopian planet, where resources are scarce and violent tribes rule with force. Only the Wanderer can stand up for the people of Zircon V and Shacknews got a chance to witness some of his journey at this year's PlayStation Experience.
One thing to note about Zircon V is that with resources so limited, the key to survival is conserving as much energy as possible. That's why the Wanderer has adopted the titular "Way of the Passive Fist." The idea is that the Wanderer does not physically fight his adversaries at all. Instead, he parries all of their blows and waits for his foes to get tired out before he lightly taps them to knock them out.
With each enemy utilizing different attack patterns, Way of the Passive Fist starts to feel like a rhythm game. Each enemy has visual and audio cues indicating when they'll attack, with their patterns seldom changing. Some foes will try to attack with fisticuffs, while others try to mix in grapples (requiring the Wanderer to dodge, since he can't parry throws), and some will even attack with projectiles. The idea remains the same, though. Wait for the foes to exhaust themselves and then lightly tap them over. It's a creative premise and one that lends itself to a completely different kind of beat-'em-up.
One would imagine that boss battles work similarly and, for the most part, they do. However, bosses utilize multiple patterns that players must recognize and prepare for, in order to survive. It's also key to build up the Wanderer's Power Punch by stringing together successful parries. This move can take out minor enemies in one hit, but is also the key to making any kind of progress against bosses. If the Wanderer misses on a parry or parries too early, however, the meter gets reset.
Way of the Passive Fist has made its way through PAX Prime, but the PlayStation Experience demo featured a few new elements. In particular, robot enemies started to show up. As one would imagine, robots do not get tired, so the idea is to build up the aforementioned Power Punch and pound them into scrap. A new boss also debuted here, attacking the wanderer with a jackhammer and a spinning attack that sent him spiraling around the screen. The trick to defeating him involves figuring out how to parry his jackhammer lunges, parry his spinning attack, mixing in a shoulder tackle to disrupt his jackhammering that would cave in the ceiling, and Power Punching at any given opening. After about six tries, I came up empty against this baddie and ultimately had to walk away a loser.
The other thing to note about Way of the Passive Fist is that Household Games is going out of its way to make this game as accessible to all parties as possible. There are options that adjust enemy difficulty, number of checkpoints, number of encounters, and how forgiving the combo system is, but that's just the start. Every single one of the game's controls can be remapped, allowing players to set dual-stick shooter controls and also allowing left-handed players and players with disabilities to map out something workable for them. The HUD size can be adjusted, combo indicators can be turned off, and the background lighting can be dimmed to help emphasize the game's characters.
In another effort to increase accessibility, the developers reached out to speedrunner Clint "Halfcoordinated" Lexa for help with development. On top of getting his insight as a disabled gamer, Lexa was also able to find creative ways to break the game. While the developers have fixed some of the more egregious bugs, they've purposely left in some of Halfcoordinated's more creative finds as a little gift for players that opt to think outside the box.
Way of the Passive Fist is one of the more inventive brawlers I've seen come along and it should be fun to see what the rest of the game has in store for wanderers of all gaming stripes. Look for this game to come to PlayStation 4, as well as Xbox One and PC, sometime before the end of February.