Every moment of Titan Souls is a desperate scrabble for survival. With just a single arrow and a single hit point, there is absolutely no margin for error, and so you evade, you avoid and you bide your time, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. You fail, you respawn, and you try again.
Thankfully, you’re a fairly nimble chap, able to run around and roll out of the way of incoming attacks. That arrow that you can let loose just so happens to be indestructible too, and will bounce off your mortal foe. You’ll want to be careful when you do fire it though, because you have no aim reticule on screen to guide you, so it’s particularly tricky to make sure it strikes true. With a single point of health, you might only get one good opportunity to land your arrow in the right place, but if you do miss, you can either pick it back up by running or rolling over it, or summon it back to the hero. Though you can’t move whilst calling the arrow back to you, the most cunning players may be able to land a surprise blow on the enemy.
The comparison bandied about most often is that this is a cross between the string of boss fights from Shadow of the Colossus mixed with the crushing difficulty of Dark Souls, in which every mistake is punished. It’s a comparison that is made largely because each and every encounter in the game is a boss battle. As the hero wakes up, the world in front of them is seemingly abandoned. This decaying overworld, that is so reminiscent graphically of the old 2D Legend of Zelda games, features a number of doors, and behind those doors lie the titans.
Just as in Shadow of the Colossus, each titan is a unique and different challenge for you to face. One is a giant bouncing jelly that splits in half each time you shoot it, quickly able to overwhelm you with a mass of ever subdividing blobs of goop, another is a cube that rolls towards you and fires a giant laser beam from its eye every few steps, or there’s the floating hands which alternately try to crush you and protect the stationary weak spot.
Defeating a titan is all about solving the puzzle to discover its weak spot, before it can kill you. This simple task is much easier than it sounds, but from the few titans I battled against and saw played by the guy before me, it never felt too difficult to figure out what you needed to do, but rather than taking advantage of this knowledge was incredibly difficult. With the precision needed and the difficulty of aiming under pressure, landing that killing blow is brutally hard to do.
Take the subdividing blob, for example. You can only strike the heart at its centre once it is free from the gloop, but by the time that it’s freed and vulnerable, the boss has divided multiple times and you have to be constantly on the move. Similarly, the pair of stone hands protecting the eye leave it vulnerable for a fraction of a second as they switch tasks, before coming crashing down on you. You can’t get too close to the eye to help you aim, though, because it weeps a sticky substance that will slow you and almost surely signal your demise.
While the Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls comparisons are fairly apt, they’re also quite misleading. This is a game that will be able to get its claws into you, killing you every 30-60 seconds and still seeing you come back for more. It aims to perfect the kind of “one more go” gameplay that helped make the likes of Hotline Miami or OlliOlli so appealing. A single little mistake or misjudgement sees you dead and respawning back in the game’s overworld, where you can either head back to the same boss or pick another.
The initial area plays host to four bosses from the game’s twenty, but rest assured that these will be able to keep you occupied for quite some time, when the game releases on PC, PS4 and PS Vita next year. Personally, I sucked at the game, and though I got particularly close to defeating the bouncing jelly on several occasions, it would absorb me every time. I know that I would have continued playing for far longer, had I had the opportunity, so I have a feeling that when I have the full game in my hands, it’s going to be a case of either the titans’ souls or mine.