Ti­tan Souls

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

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