When I play Dark Souls, it's rare that I spend time learning how to properly counter attacks; it's easier (and because I'm supremely lazy) to dodge out of the way. And when I play fighting games, I'm usually the asshole that's spamming attacks, hoping to catch someone off guard, rather than defeating them with any semblance of strategy or skill. Way of the Passive Fist, developed by a group of hardcore fighting fans, hopes to change the minds of people like myself, by developing a brawler whose sole emphasis is on avoiding attacks, rather than constantly dishing them out.
I stumbled upon Way of the Passive Fist while roaming the floor at PAX this past weekend. I was drawn to the game's 90s-style arcade cabinet, made in the style of those classic Konami/Capcom beat 'em ups. It can be numbing to walk through a sea of indie games, many of them using a throwback aesthetic that's long since stopped being novel, but Way of the Passive Fist caught my eye because I couldn't tell what the hell was happening while someone played.
At first glance, it looks like the developers decided to take fandom of games like Captain Commando and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and make one of their own. But upon closer inspection, you realize the main character is never throwing a punch, kick, or throw. Instead, they seem to be blocking?
That's exactly what was happening, as it turned out.
In Way of the Passive Fist, when an enemy approaches, there are three options: run, dodge, counter. As with other games in this style, your primary goal is to wear down a meter, but rather than diminishing their health with a series of fireballs, you're slowly ticking down their stamina. When it's drained, the enemy wobbles, and you're able to push them over. (It's also possible, if timed correctly, to be a little more aggressive by, say, tossing a knife back.)
One of the developers told me they were inspired by Evo Moment #37, probably the most well-known match in competitive fighting game history. With only a sliver of health left, Daigo Umehara managed to come back and defeat his competitor, Justin Wong, by parrying 15 attacks in a row. The amount of concentration and skill required to pull this off is unfathomable, especially with one's back against the wall, which is why it's so revered. I'm actually managing to sell it short. It's better if you watch what happened in real-time. You can learn more about Evo Moment #37 in this great video from Kotaku:
The point a defensive-based brawler, and why Evo Moment #37 inspired them, was to show players alternative ways of playing a game.
You aren't completely without attacks in Way of the Passive Fist, however. During boss encounters, you need to defeat enough smaller enemies to build up a meter that allows you to (briefly) go on the offensive. By and large, though, you're focused on avoiding attacks. The hope is that players will keep this in mind when they move onto other games.
Though I'm not sure Way of the Passive Fist's gameplay can hold up hours on end, but it's an interesting approach for a genre in need of new ideas.