PC, PS4, Vita
Credit where it’s due: it’s an intriguing concept.
Titan Souls came into being during a Ludum Dare game jam with the theme ‘you only get one’, and it fits the bill. It puts the player in a succession of boss fights armed with only a single hitpoint and just one arrow. One mistake means death. A missed shot means either a detour or a Jedi mind trick to draw the arrow to you, the trade-off being that the process takes ages, and you can’t move while performing it. As a concept piece, it’s marvellous. As a full release, it’s a disappointment.
Which is not to say that developer Acid Nerve has failed to follow through on its vision. It holds true to its mechanical conceit throughout, its bosses are varied and handsome, and the solutions to beat them are often deviously designed. And once you best the four bosses in the small starting area, the game opens up, dropping you in a large, open, lifeless world that ticks all the 2D RPG boxes – a forest, an underground cavern with rivers of pixellated lava, a snowy mountainside – and hides its boss battles along secret paths obscured by buildings or waterfalls. Since there’s no progression, at least in the modern sense, there will never be more hit points or more arrows in your quiver, so these bosses can be tackled in any order you choose.
The main problem lies with the fights themselves. With one hit meaning death, both for you and your foes – though many will require you to first expose a weak point – battles are over quickly. You might die a dozen times before you even begin to understand what needs to be done. A boss fight should be a steady learning curve, not a succession of brick walls. The result is that when you do triumph after a long run of deaths, you are left with a sense not of satisfaction, but simply relief that you don’t have to do it again. Fights lack tension and rhythm; there is no momentum when both parties spawn with only a pixel of health, no scope for dramatic comebacks when one mistake or lucky strike is enough to send one of you slumping lifeless to the floor.
It has a knock-on effect on the world itself. Pretty and set to a winsome, ethereal soundtrack, it has been clearly built in further homage to this game’s most obvious touchstone, Shadow Of The Colossus. Yet it lacks that game’s sense of adventure: Team Ico’s barren world worked because you knew that somewhere over the next hill lay a set-piece of epic drama, not a fight that ends a heartbeat after it has begun. Admirable as it is to see a developer confident enough in its vision to see it through to the end, Titan Souls proves that what works as a prototype does not necessarily translate to a final product, that austerity only goes so far, and that some pitches are best left in the elevator.
Defeating this foe means dodging its tendrils and shooting an eye-adorned petal, which then falls open to reveal the monster’s weak spot. A good shot will take it down, though you’ll also need to evade clouds of poisonous gas