Title: Titan Souls
Platform: Steam, Windows, OSX, Linux, PS4, PSVita
Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: Action, Puzzle
Players: Single player
Written by Whistler 22nd April 2015
Arguably ever since the dawn of the arcade the balance of difficulty versus reward has long since been under intense scrutiny. Some games provide little challenge watering down that feeling of accomplishment and others throw so many challenging walls of dumbfounding height that frustration grinds down the sense of reward into an almost invisible pile of dust.
One such game that tightropes a very thin line towards the latter is three man Manchester developer, Acid Nerve’s top down action title centred around besting a series of bosses called Titan Souls.
The indie action title certainly caught my attention back at E3 2014 taking a distilled formula akin to the Playstation 2’s Shadow of the Colossus mixed with a lush pixel aesthetic. This puzzle orientated action game however boils down into a very conflicting experience summed up solely by one word, anticlimactic. You play a miniscule unnamed archer with a singular arrow (and the ability to call it back to you) whose quest resolves solely around slaying nineteen goliath sized bosses known as Titans. In between each Titan’s territory you’ll traverse various themed locales such as vast serene ruins, lush forests and snowy peaks that offer brief reprieve from time to time but ultimately end up just filling in the void between boss rooms.
Upon hitting start I found myself rather distasteful of a particular element, while others would brush this off I can’t help but take issue with the lack of a story or even a brief context. We see our little hero circle around in a dreamlike state along with his trusty bow and arrow then we are thrust into the short tutorial area before being given the choice of entering one of four separate rooms. Each contains one of the Titans which you initiate combat with upon entering or waking them up with your arrow.
There are various murals and certain bosses that give you an idea that there is a far deeper story or at least there was initially a more prominent narrative planned, but the lack of any kind of motivational drive or context just leaves me feeling underwhelmed and disconnected from the game’s world.
These initial bosses serve as a strong introduction into what to expect from Titan Souls’ routinely structured make up. Each zone will contain a handful of Titans mere strolls away from its central hub where you are free to challenge each in whichever order you please. Each boss fight is cultivated from two distinct motions. The first is the puzzle of working out their patterns then discovering the Titan’s vitals, typically located in their giant glowing eyes, protruding behinds or gaping chests. The second piece to the puzzle is execution; normally it just means timing and positioning yourself at the exact moment the Goliath reveals their core, others might involve a more complex process such as removing it’s armour à la the ice cubed brain Titan where you first must defrost the squishy beast.
In most scenarios you’ll solve the puzzle within a matter of seconds which brings me to a collection of design choices I feel that sours the experience.
Besides a shared dodge roll and run button you have the ability to shoot your abnormal arrow but you must bear in mind that charging your shot leaves you immobile as does pulling it back to your hand whilst the Titan is free to exploit your weakness.
Combating each titan also results in a lot of trial and error intertwined with an instant kill or be killed fashion, meaning the conflicts will likely be over in a few minutes if not seconds upon starting.
Sadly this means when death takes you swiftly you must make the trek from the areas hub back to the Titan’s room before you can make another attempt, while the short walk to reconsider your methods and gather yourself feels like a relatively forgiving punishment the amount of time spent walking to the same boss eventually stacks up. With walking distances ranging between five seconds to almost a minute what was once a brief reprieve amounts to almost painful levels of frustration that only seem to serve as an annoyance to the player as well as ripping me out of the immersion where a simple retry option would have sufficed.
Once you shuffle the deck, the cards line up in your favour and your arrow amongst the frustration and confusion hits its mark a great flash of white fills the screen that is then followed by a grey hue.
The music simmers down into an eerie low pitch and the Titan stands there motionless, you summon the arrow back and with it you absorb another soul in a foreboding scene. However what should be a momentous moment of triumph and self-
Too often does it does it feel like You vs a slot machine and that the only discovery to be found is in wondering what the next boss’ theme will be.
That being said within Titan Souls’ nineteen bosses there was one that I felt highlighted Acid Nerve’s potential and should have ultimately served as the example of how more of them should have been.
One particular plant Titan that offered so much more than a game of Russian roulette, while I darted around the outskirts of the arena we were confined to I could analyse the monster that practically consumed the screen whilst staying relatively safe so long as I kept moving. After wasting a few shots firing my arrow into the mouth it seemed like I needed something else but my window of opportunity would always be faulted by the 4 lengthy barbed vines that rotated around the room.
I then realized with the correct timing I could sever these deadly appendages at the cost of potentially creating some impassable terrain (seeing as the barbs would still result in death even if immobile should I make contact with them). But after a couple of heart racing minutes with rising tensions I managed to whittle down the behemoth and send my arrow into its mouth at the key moment, it continues to move I see and I pull my arrow back for another try only with a forceful tug I rip forth a giant piece of what I then realized was its armour revealing my true target.
This boss was perfect, not only was it a balance of challenge and reward, but visibly seeing damage done to the enemy coupled with having some breathing space to think during the battle elevated this boss and made it so much more epic.
It however does not detract from the issue at hand, what at first is so compelling with Titan Souls that quickly diminishes. What was once a very appealing concept withers soon after it’s beginning and loses it’s meaning by the conclusion as does the sense of reward.
Some bosses are indeed clever and creative while others are just a mass of trial and error that are certainly not worth the game’s rewards for beating the game, a hard mode and one life mode, not really the kind of thing worth playing over again.
Titan Souls is by no means perfect or a failure, it’s a flawed promising title that serves as a very strong debut from the guys at Acid Nerve, a diamond in the rough that still leaves me as conflicted as I was when I started the review.
Some clever boss battles,
Artistic minimalist visuals,
Brilliant use of music and sound.
Having to walk back to bosses adds to frustrations,
Little to no context or motivation.
Titan Souls scores an uneasy 6.5/10.