Game Review: Titan Souls

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Have you ever discovered a deep-seated desire within yourself for a game that takes Shadow of the Colossus, Super Meat Boy, Fez, and just a dash of Legend of Zelda, and puts them all into a game-developing blender? Now you no longer have to lose sleep, because your saving grace is here in the form of Titan Souls! It’s you versus twenty bosses with only your bow and arrow! Sounds like a match made in heaven, right?

Well, almost.

The title “Titan Souls” unfortunately comes off as a misnomer. It suggests a close affiliation with the Dark Souls games when, in actuality, Titan Souls has little to no similarities with them whatsoever. This has led several people to foster completely irrelevant expectations. The developers definitely should have come up with a name with more inflections of Shadow of the Colossus rather than Dark Souls, because this game and Shadow feature many undeniable similarities. It makes it all the more irritating when one of the achievements in the game is actually called “Shadow of the Colossus”.

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Anyways, this game comes off as a 2D “indie” version of SotC, and that relationship is what garnered my attention in the first place. Titan Souls gives you twenty bosses with no smaller enemies in between, just the world around you. It uses SotC‘s storytelling style as well. You’re given little to no information about why you’re here or why you’re killing these things. It’s left up to the player to find out what’s going on or to fabricate his/her own narrative framework. There is minimal dialogue and only a couple second-long cutscenes to speak of. The way the bosses are handled is also fairly similar to SotC. Every boss you face is a puzzle that needs to be cracked. Whether it’s how to get to a Titan’s weak spot, or where its weak spot even is, your first time defeating each of these Titans is a triumphant and unique experience. This is something that I adored in SotC and that I once again enjoy in this title. Games in this day and age are full of pop-up messages, exposition, and hand-holding tutorials. It makes sense that a game without any of the unnecessary hand-holding is refreshing and gives a valuable glimpse into what we’re missing out on when the player has little to no thinking to do for himself/herself.

The world, on the other hand, is lacking. SotC provided you with an enormous world to traverse in which only about 30% was required to advance through the game. Titan Souls is unfortunately the opposite. About 70% of the in-game map is for the bosses or getting to them, while the remaining 30% is inhabited by small little secret areas that yield little more than a small picture on a wall. They had so much potential to create a huge and expansive overworld populated with numerous little easter eggs, secrets, and lore snippets, but there is little to experience other than the twenty main bosses on offer here. The ending still gave me goosebumps, but the overworld definitely didn’t.

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Titan Souls also contains many similarities to Super Meat Boy, a smash-hit indie platformer. Titan Souls is no platformer, but its tight, responsive controls and difficulty tend to mimic Super Meat Boy‘s. Other than movement, you only have two buttons that do anything. You’ve got a roll/run button and a fire button. On first press of the roll/run button, you’ll roll. When you hold it down afterwards, you run. Simple as that. The fire button charges the strength of your bow and fires the arrow upon release. After the arrow leaves your bow, you can hold the fire button down in order to draw the arrow back toward your character, but you are left motionless in the process. The controls are simple enough to avoid getting in the way, and they are responsive enough that any death you suffer feels completely avoidable. Every titan you battle can be killed in a single blow from your arrow, but you can die just as easily. This mechanic creates a rare tension in which any second could mean the death of you or your opponent. It also gives rise to a tantalizing risk and reward system in which putting yourself in harms way just might be the key to easily defeating that seemingly impossible boss. The difficulty tends to be on the higher end of the spectrum, but a first playthrough will probably only take 2-3 hours. It is within the game’s hard mode, which unlocks after beating the game for the first time, that the difficulty and mechanics of Titan Souls truly begin to shine.

The only difference in hard mode is that each titan is more difficult. They either move faster, attack faster, or fire more projectiles at you. Your openings to attack are even smaller and your reflexes and ability to pick up on patterns will be put to the ultimate test. Because of this added difficulty, each victory feels all the more sweeter when you finally deal the single death blow to the titan you’ve been fighting for the past hour. If difficulty isn’t your thing, feel free to ignore hard mode, but I strongly recommend it. Even more so because my first playthrough of the game was barely over two hours.

Titan Souls’ visual design seems to draw most of its inspiration from Fez and the Legend of Zelda titles (particularly the 2D entries). Titan Souls looks a lot like Fez in that most of the game is presented to you from a top-down perspective in beautiful retro-style 2D sprites while every titan you encounter comes to life in 3D. It is very pretty to look at and offers some truly beautiful vistas. A lot of the visual hints, cues, and many of the titans feel reminiscent of various Zelda titles, but this is usually a good thing. Despite the feeling that you might have seen a boss a lot like this before, the subtle visual cues the game gives you in order to point you in the right direction feel smart and just subtle enough not to feel obvious.

Something that is unique to Titan Souls is its superb music. The game uses combinations of several instruments to produce a beautiful soundtrack that definitely stands on its own. There’s a bit of everything, from slow, calming music to heart-racing guitar riffs. It’s got plenty of variety with each titan having its own track and each group of titans having its own musical style. It would definitely be worth going out of your way to pick up the soundtrack.

Overall, Titan Souls is a good indie game. How much enjoyment you will get out of it will completely depend on whether or not you enjoy these types of games and whether or not the premise appeals to you. While it’s clear that the developers Acid Nerve have put a lot of work into this title, I still feel as if there could have been more. If you’re not going to continue playing the game after the credits roll, I cannot recommend picking this game up until it goes on sale for a more modest price. While the gameplay is fun, exciting, exhilarating, and inventive, the exploration and length of the initial experience left me disappointed and wanting more. While the former may be a good thing, there is no excuse for the latter in my mind.

7/11

christian