There’s a lot to be said about a game that revels in its own simplicity. In the case of Titan Souls, much of what can be said will contain more than a few expletives and curse words. As much as we all enjoy a good challenge, this relatively basic action-adventure game developed by Acid Nerve gets inside your head, certainly testing your patience over and over again. But if you’re willing to put the hard work in, pick yourself up and dust off your knees then Titan Souls makes for a unique and rewarding experience.
Not so much inspired by Shadow of the Colossus, Titan Souls is instead a swooning 16-bit love letter to Fumito Ueda’s critically acclaimed masterpiece. Set in an open, mystical landscape of beautiful vistas and unusual dungeons, you take on the role of a young, unnamed protagonist in search of purpose. What that purpose is becomes clear very soon when you stumble upon the first of the game’s nineteen titans - strange creatures that stand between you and fulfilling your destiny.
There aren’t any cutscenes, no characters to talk you through the mythology, not even any other bad guys roaming the plains of this world. Just nineteen boss fights between you and completing the game. It sounds like a relatively simple task but simple doesn’t necessarily mean easy. While there aren’t any signposts or clues to assist on your journey, the only inevitability is death which will happen far more often than you think and is actually the most important part of the gameplay mechanics.
Each boss is like a mini puzzle in itself. After awakening them from an eternal slumber, you’ll have to stay alive long enough to figure out each titan’s behaviour and where their Achilles heel lies. You’ll probably be dead within seconds of entering the arena for the first time. The same thing will probably happen on your second, third, even your tenth attempt. But for each time you go mano a mano with a titan, you’ll learn something more about them. Know your enemy is the philosophy of Titan Souls, and that means putting yourself in harm’s way time and time again to the point where you know their movement patterns inside out along with discovering whereabouts their weak spot is.
Armed with a trusty bow, you have just one arrow in your quiver with which to attack. Timing is critical and with each boss, there’s a rhythm to their behaviour. You just have to learn when it’s your time to strike. Running and rolling around make for the only defense you have. To make things even more challenging, you cannot move while lining up your shot, meaning your attack window is incredibly small, particularly when there’s a roaring yeti or an unrelenting stone golem trying to crush you. If you miss, you can magically pull the arrow back to you and try again, but staying alive takes priority, and sometimes getting your one and only weapon back can add further struggles.
While some battles can be relatively straightforward, others require a little extra attention and a lot more persistence in order to defeat them. Hitting an exposed weak spot might not be as easy as it sounds for many of the titans. In some cases, the arena itself will play a part in your victory, while in others, the magical properties of your arrow will also come into play. Sometimes disarming a titan will occur in stages, where multiple hits are required in order to put them to rest. But a word of caution, there are no power-ups or new weaponry to unlock. Your bow, arrow and limited assortment of dodging tactics will see you through from start to finish. It’s rather daunting at first but it also makes winning that much sweeter. After spending hours trying to defeat one particular titan, landing that kill shot and watching the screen light up in a blaze is an emotional experience - one that will have you breathing a sigh of relief and feeling invigorated and ready for the next challenge.
Aside from one or two environmental puzzles, there’s very little else to distract you while on your quest. After defeating the opening four bosses, the game opens up into a fascinating 2D world complete with forests, waterfalls, old ruins, icy peaks and fiery depths. Each area has its own spawn point with a very rough indication as to where your next foe awaits. And that’s all the help you’ll pretty much get. Stylistically, the game may take a lot from the 16-bit Legend of Zelda range, but don’t expect to find gems, potions, or treasure chests hiding in the bushes. The music may make you think everything is fine and dandy, but what it’s really doing is lulling you into a false sense of security before the next fight begins. Your sense of wonder will be the only thing to guide you around the map while your intuition and quick reflexes keep you alive.
The titan creations themselves are marvelously designed, even if at times they aren’t wholly original. Bouncing globules and slithering leviathans could have been teleported straight from an old school role-playing game while skeletal knights and molten rock monsters tick all the boxes to complete the fantasy genre line-up. To divulge the entire roster of villains would be to give away most of the game’s surprises, but there are some truly unique creatures to discover and challenge scattered across the world of Titans Souls. What makes them even more outstanding is just how much they stand out against the 2D backdrop. Given a lot more depth and colour then the rest of the game’s environment makes for some purely dazzling visuals, even if they are designed to distract you while you get turned into monster food.
Joining the ranks of other unrelenting games, such as Dark Souls and Hotline Miami, Titan Souls lures you into a false sense of security with its elegant graphics and ambiguous fantasy lore, only to obliterate you multiple times within the first five minutes. The frustrating trial-and-error nature of Titan Souls is both completely off-putting and totally satisfying. If the definition of insanity is to repeat things over and over again and expect differing results, then Titan Souls has been put on this earth to drive us all mad. And perhaps, that’s what makes it so utterly charming and mesmerizing.