Titan Souls might not be related to From Software’s Souls series in any way beyond a striking similarity in its name, but it does manage to live up to some of the inevitable parallels that are conjured up in your mind. This is a brutally difficult game, where you must learn through trial and error just what it is that you must do in order to succeed, and then successfully act out your plan of attack.
Spawned from a Ludum Dare game jam, where the theme was ‘You only get one’, Titan Souls has come a long way since that initial hastily created prototype, and yet its core remains. The Ludum Dare theme manifests itself in a number of ways, where you have but a single hit point of health, a single magical arrow and game’s titular Titans need for you to strike their singular weak spot just once in order for you to defeat them.
There’s an inherent tension during combat as a consequence, as you know that just a single misstep will result in your death and resurrection at a glowing sigil on the ground nearby. The speed at which you can move around an arena, with a quick roll along the floor ideal for dodging an incoming attack and subsequently letting you run a little faster, is perfectly balanced between being just fast enough to avoid the incoming attacks of many of the bosses, but not too fast that you ever feel secure in being able to evade them.
Staying on the run is often relatively easy, so it is that you’re at your weakest as you prepare to let your arrow fly. Unable to move, you might be about to strike the winning blow, but the Titans are constantly and methodically hounding you, meaning that you often have the tiniest fraction of a second in which to strike.
Thankfully, your one arrow is not only indestructible, but can also be summoned back to your hand. Just be aware that this too is a point of weakness, as you are once again unable to move until you let go of the button. However, that’s another key trick up your sleeve, as you will often struggle to piece together how to defeat the latest Titan that you’re facing.
Each Titan’s weak spot is generally quite easy to see and highlighted in pink, but managing to land your arrow into that point is easier said than done. Entering an arena for the first time, the Titans slumber until you strike them with your arrow, and you have little to no idea what to truly expect from them. I would often die in a matter of seconds, but already, I will have learnt the first of its attacks and be better prepared for the next attempt.
So it is that defeating each Titan becomes an iterative learning process, as you analyse its pattern of attack, its reaction to where you are in the arena, whether firing your arrow at it affects it in any way, and so on. Just as launching an attack of your own is when you are at your most vulnerable, that is often very true of the Titans as well.
With 20 Titans within the game, each presents a fascinating and rather unique puzzle for you to unlock, whether it’s trying to draw away hands that hide and protect a gaping wound, trying to draw a ball of magma onto its own bombs or struggling to swim between ice platforms as you watch for the movements of a monster beneath the surface. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction to defeating them, and it’s something you can often do in a matter of seconds once you know what you’re doing – the game lends itself well to speed running, especially with the inclusion of a timer option in the menus.
The game’s prototype lives on in the form of the game’s introductory area and the first four bosses that you encounter, but it’s only by beating these initial Titans that you really open up the world. Suddenly there’s a large open world to explore, and the environment shifts from verdant greenery to the shimmering heat haze affected lava pits or the frozen and snowy wastes. Additionally, you’re afforded the freedom to explore and discover these Titans in any order – some are even cunningly hidden away.
Wandering this area, the similarities to Shadow of the Colossus are quite obvious. You’re not entirely sure why you’re hunting the Titans, but you are tracking down their lairs, awakening and then dispatching them as you see fit. Yet it also has that distinct feel of the classic 2D Legend of Zelda games, thanks to certain environmental puzzles and a familiar feeling viewpoint into the world, albeit with its own quite precise and refined pixel art style.
Although there’s no overt story, Titan Souls manages to conjure an atmosphere of wonder as you encounter ruins in some areas and grand carvings on floors and the walls. It’s all accompanied by a delightful score, which shifts from pan pipes in one area to full bodied orchestrations full of brass in another, but then there’s also the stark silence that follows the moment that you finally land your arrow in the right spot.
It’s really just a shame that often you only hear it for a few seconds at a time. The main issue with having just a single hit point is that you will die regularly and in the blink of an eye. Some bosses might be simplistic enough defeat on the first or second attempt, but others will continually kill you time and again, leading to a degree of frustration and quitting the game. It’s compounded by having to walk from a nearby glowing sigil for 15-20 seconds each time, which can easily be longer the the amount of time spent going toe to toe with a Titan.
One hit point, one arrow and one target; Titan Souls is an exercise in simplicity. It evokes memories of classic games, as you seek the satisfaction of striking that killing blow to a Titan. Except they are waiting for you, and though I feel there are a few bosses that are particularly difficult, this is a game that deliberately provides the kind of unforgiving challenge, and trial and error gameplay, that people will either love or hate.
Version tested: PC/Mac