STAFF REVIEW of Way of the Passive Fist (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 29, 2018.
by Brent Roberts

Way of the Passive Fist Box art Remember back in the day when you and your friends gathered around an arcade machine and took turns plunking your quarters into the limitless abyss of an arcade cabinet? You'd do this to buy just a little more play time so your character could maneuver around the screen and beat up more enemies? Well, if you’re reading this on a smartphone, or your idea of ancient gaming system is an original Xbox, then this may just come as a surprise to you.

Back in the day, side scrolling action adventure games were an overwhelming genre that never relinquished their dominating hold of greatness. Everyone, and every IP, were getting caught into the mix, and soon we had mutants, barbarians and even the Simpsons and TMNT all chomping to get a piece of that 25 cent pie. Even though times have changed, the side scrolling action hasn’t. Priced at $14.99, developer Household Games Inc. has tried to reinvent the glory had by all those other success stories of the past with a game called Way of the Passive Fist.

First off, if you were expecting any story of any significant value in this game, you won't find that here. Your character’s name is the Wanderer, and given the their name, they are known for simply wandering. Where do they wander? Well, on a planet named Zircon V which used to be a vibrant and populous mining colony, but now for some reason, this planet’s dying star has turned the planet into a post-apocalyptic wasteland that is overrun by characters you think were cut from the movie Mad Max. This “story” (and I use that term very loosely) is fairly shallow. I know that’s not a nice thing to say, but there is very little to no redeeming factor to it. But that’s ok, because action games generally aren’t about plot-lines and stories, they’re about the ACTION! So let’s talk about your character’s weapons.

Oh, wait, he has none. I shouldn’t say that, he has actually two, the Y button is a 'basic' punch and RB is a super punch. Now, I should take a step back and explain a unique twist on the action game genre that the developer takes. Apparently the enemies are the main attackers and all your job is to do is to parry/dodge the attacks with the X button (parry) and B (dodge), and in doing so it drains the stamina meter above your enemies’ head. Once the enemy's stamina has been depleted, they will slouch over and you, then press the Y button to punch them and they disappear. What I’ve just explained is essentially what you can expect for gameplay, to simply parry and dodge throughout the entire game. Should you parry/dodge enough attacks in a row you’ll see a blue fiery ring around your character’s feet. This is when you can use your super punch.

I think I should mention a couple of points before we press on. First, your super punch CAN disappear should your combo reset for any reason, so when you get one make sure you use it so you don’t lose it. Second, let’s say you’re parrying attacks and you're already up to 12, your enemy comes in to attack, and you press the X button and your enemy slouches over, and then you accidentally press the X button again? Well, congratulations, your combo meter has officially reset, and should you have a super punch waiting to be used, you can kiss that goodbye as well. This officially makes the game ALL about button timing and literally NOTHING ELSE.

Throughout the game's 10 stages you’ll encounter a variety of enemies, and by variety I mean what appears to be a total of about 6-7 unique enemies, and the rest are just those that are 'skinned' a little differently, have a different weapon, etc. This to me seems like a 'cut-the-corners' kind of approach that shouldn’t have happened. While it could be an issue with money, time, or whatever, many may view it as is somewhat lazy development. You could have an enemy with a blue uniform on in one scene and in the next one they wear green and attack in a slightly different way. By different though I mean they punch you, but instead of 2 or 3 punches, you will get 4. Once you start to get a feel for the enemies and how they attack, you’ll quickly be able to adapt to the slight changes in the attack patterns.

Throughout the stages your character will level up and you’ll have access to checkpoints. Based off of how you decide to structure your play, you may need one, two, or all of these checkpoints, because heaven forbid you have to start all over from the start. There is an achievement for going through any stage and not activating a single checkpoint. Let me break that down to you. Should you decide to go through Stage 1 and not activate a single checkpoint, but get to the end of the chapter and get killed by the boss, you are sent all the way back to the beginning of the stage and you get to enjoy all the excitement all over again. This is yet another way that the fun and enjoyment of this game takes a big hit.

Now, all this fun I just described above is found throughout the story mode. Once you complete this, off you go to the arcade mode! Unfortunately, this mode is exactly what you’ve been going through in story mode but with limited lives and damage tweaks. It is nothing more, nothing less. Quite honestly, I can’t find a single reason that this mode should even exist since you can already tailor your story experience how you wish (within reason), but should you trudge through the story mode, Arcade mode is your prize.

There are other annoyances as well. The biggest one of what’s left has to be, hands down, the music. It’s quite awful. I may be a hyper picky critique of audio, but I had to turn the music off as it was so annoying it gave me a headache. What was supposed to be a throwback, a homage so to speak, to some of the classic arcade music of the day turned into a metal, electric synth/guitar riff that was stuck on a loop, and that loop sounded about as good as nails across a chalkboard.

Thankfully there is a ray of light for this game. The graphics do a wonderful job in bringing back the classic arcade style that we knew and loved decades ago. Even though the enemies are done in different colors and slightly different outfits, every minute of the game brought the classic feel of an 80's arcade cabinet right into my living room, and that is an experience that I missed tremendously and done very well indeed.

Oh, one more thing. There is though something that did catch my eye, and that are the game's achievements. They are the best part of the game itself. For example, if you play through ANY chapter twice in a row you get a 20-point achievement called Double Draggin’. Should you open up a container in a level and find the secret turtle soup healing item, you unlock the Turtles in Thyme achievement. These achievements pay respect to action games that came out decades before this, and that are still far superior.

So do I think $14.99 is a good price for Way of the Passive Fist? Regrettably, no. For $14.99 you get simplistic gameplay with an action mechanic that is poorly executed and rewards your persistence with the exact same thing all over again. At the end of the day, this game may find fans out there, but the overall experience is one that you should enter with extreme caution, give the weaknesses that brings down the game's overall fun factor.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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