Way of the Passive Fist—an upcoming brawler from Household Games—is rad for a number of reasons. It’s a stylish, 16-bit-esque beat-em up that emphasizes defensive moves over the usual punches and kicks. Your character, the Wanderer, uses blocks, feints, and dodges to do damage against the enemy, transferring their energy against them. Successful parries build up a meter, when that meter is full, you can unleash a massive punch.
It’s a brilliant inversion to the usual, aggressive formula, with appreciable enemy variety, and an emphasis on reading animation and sound design to know when to parry or dodge. I’m having a lot of fun with an early build, which is treating my severely lapsed (we’re talking, like, Mortal Kombat II-era) fighting game skills with a lot of care.
In fact, that’s one of the game’s coolest features: its accessibility. Upon setting up a new game, you are able to adjust difficulty across a number of sliders: enemy health (from strongest to weakest), enemy swarm size, how forgiving the combo meter is, and how often you come across power-ups and checkpoints across the story.
As a lapsed brawler, I’m making enemies slightly weaker, and definitely going for a more forgiving option for checkpoints. But I’m keeping the defaults for big enemy groups and stricter parry timing—you know, keeping some challenge in there.
I respect—and really, really appreciate—when games allow me to tailor difficulty. It’s a feature I adored in Bastion, using idols to make play faster or stricter in some ways, more permissive in others. And like Bastion, the core gameplay in Way of the Passive Fist works well for me, so the tailoring simply helps me have the best possible experience.
It’s a feature I would love in a Soulslike. As much as folks like to argue for the difficulty being a core part of the experience, having the ability to adjust how the game is difficult would’ve been an incredible help.
I’m ok with strict rules, with very concrete criteria for success: say, the way timing works for staggering a Church Giant in Bloodborne, with their obvious stomp attack. But—even though I made my way through Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3—I would’ve loved some way of making the experience work with me and my abilities. In essence, I’d love a way to “tune” the combat experience.
Something to adjust for enemy timing. A “training wheels” mode. A safe room where I could encounter various enemies and get used to their timing and attacks, before going out and risking my souls. Hell, even an ability to adjust how obvious enemy “tell” animations are could go a very long way in making a game in that style much more accessible, without “watering down” the gameplay.
Since Way of the Passive Fist is, in part, a game about teaching players to appreciate the ability of higher-level fighting game players to read animation, it does make sense that it’s a game built around accessibility in this way. Really, all games are teachers, and it makes sense that certain kinds of players will just jibe better with one teaching style or another. I prefer Passive Fist’s willingness to meet me where I am, to tailor its lessons to the material (and allow the student to grasp things better). More games should do this, especially if they want players to “get good” at the kind of challenges they’re celebrating.