Titan Souls is a Tragic Contradiction

Elegant. Fascinating. Brutal.

Empty. Frustrating. Boring.

Titan Souls is a lot of things, but more than anything, it’s a tragic contradiction.

Although the name immediately evokes Dark Souls; and although its premise is ripped right out of Shadow of the Colossus; Titan Souls’ biggest debt is to The Legend of Zelda. Set out into a mostly open fantasy world, it’s up to you to slay a parade of fearsome monsters, each sporting its own unique design. Just like all the good 2D Zelda bosses, these 20 foes will blast you, smash you and shock you until you recognize their patterns and uncover their hidden weaknesses. The difference? Well, in Titan Souls, you’ve only got one weapon, one defense and one chance

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Forget traditional progression – you won’t find any new heart containers or fancy items here. Instead, you’re armed with a single arrow, which you’ll need to retrieve each time you fire it. You can draw it back to your hand, but shooting and retrieving can only happen when you’re standing still, which in these fights is the last thing you’ll want to do. One hit and you’re back outside, but get your shot right, and you’ve won within moments. The game is literally do or die – a design choice that turns out to be both a strength and a weakness. The tension of combat is palpable; a tight rope of two outcomes, with only your agility and your wits to save you. Few victories in gaming are as satisfying as your first victories here, as the action halts and you realize what you’ve accomplished.

But what have you accomplished? This is the question you’ll ponder as you slowly cross the vast landscape to the next fight, over and over again. The indie-retro stylings of Titan Souls are pretty, sure, but they’re neither as atmospheric nor as mysterious as all those games that inspired it. Sections that break from the bland forest-ice-fire mold hardly echo the intelligence of Zelda‘s environmental puzzles or Dark Souls‘ architectural lore, and the lack of small enemies, other characters or collectibles means there’s no real gameplay beyond the bosses themselves.

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That said, with 20 of the things to take down, there’s definitely enough to do in Titan Souls, but thanks to your character never changing, it can get repetitive. To developer AcidNerve’s credit, they cover every conceivable boss idea within their limitations. You’ve got your standard flashy weak spots on the back, your flashy weak spots behind a protective layer you need to negate, and your flashy weak spots you just have to wait to become exposed. If you really enjoy this sort of thing, Titan Souls is a buffet of awesome, but it’s not going to be to everyone’s taste.

There will be times in Titan Souls when you feel like you’re slamming your head against three different walls in quick succession. The instant-deaths you’ll experience can make the game feel impossible – and with no way to build up strength or even just take a break from boss fights, your only option is to try, try, try again. Difficulty is its own reward of course, but with only ever one path to victory, there’s not really any strategy to keep the experience compelling. Add to this the long gaps between every attempt, and the desire to just give up entirely can start to overwhelm.

Elegant. Fascinating. Brutal.
Empty. Frustrating. Boring.

It’s these contradictions that define Titan Souls; a game that somehow manages to be less than the sum of its parts. Those parts are borrowed from some of the greatest games of all time though, meaning that when Titan Souls works, it’s almost a masterpiece. It’s a skeleton of a game – admirably constructed, familiar to behold; beautiful, in its way. But the longer you admire it, the more you may find it lifeless – or worse; soulless.

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