Although boss fights always offer a high-stakes challenge and chance to put new skills, armor, and weapons to use, it is usually the hours leading up to a boss fight that are most memorable to gamers. Acid Nerve’s Titan Souls flips that idea on its head and puts boss fights front and center.
The mechanics and premise of Titan Souls are simple enough. Players are equipped with a bow and one arrow and must take down a series of bosses (nearly twenty) to reach the end of the game. Players take on the role of a nameless child protagonist who takes up very little real estate in the 2D, top-down world. The game doesn’t offer much narrative between levels, nor does it offer a series of minions to tackle on the way to the next boss. Instead, players just soak in the beautiful world around them and some gorgeous original music that does a phenomenal job building the tension leading up to each Titan battle.
Every time a player shoots the single arrow, they must either go pick it up (with the run, walk, or roll mobility options) or use a force-like ability to pull it back. The pull ability is very powerful, but it does require players to plant their feet, which leaves them sitting ducks for the Titans and the dangerous surrounding environment, either of which can usually wipe the hero out with a single blow. The high stakes fights could be compared to something like Dark Souls or I Wanna Be The Guy, but the game definitely doesn’t feel like a clone of either of those or the genres that they inspired. The focus on varied boss fights will likely remind gamers of how rewarding it was to take down a giant roaming monster in Shadow of the Colossus.
Unlike Shadow of Colossus, though, the journeys to each Titan aren’t quite as puzzling or rewarding. Titan Souls does a fantastic job of making the player feel alone and isolated in a desolate world as they make their way to the next Titan, but the journey doesn’t offer any treasures or secrets to find. The process of hunting down the next big bad is definitely entertaining enough, full of journeys across stone pathways and swims through beautiful pools, but some gamers may find themselves wishing there was a little more depth to the stretches between Titan fights.
As a result, a lot rides on the Titan fights, and luckily the battles don’t disappoint. Defeating a Titan takes a careful combination of memorization, skill, and twitch reflex. Players will usually die repeatedly at each stage of the fight and be forced to run back (usually from a very nearby checkpoint) and start again from scratch. This process may sound a little tiresome, but it is actually incredibly rewarding. Even though the Titans are only rendered in 16-bit graphics, rather than giant, highly-detailed beasts like in Bloodborne or Shadow of the Colossus, the eventual kill is still just as rewarding as in those AAA games.
Fights that seem impossible the first ten or twenty times through usually are a breeze by the final go, and players will find themselves wondering how it ever seemed so hard. This gimmick works incredibly well in short doses and the developers know just when to cut themselves off. The game wraps up after a tight four or five hours of gameplay – just as the ultra-difficult Titan battles are starting to feel a bit repetitive.
As players would hope with such a short campaign, there is some replay value to Titan Souls. The game wants players to fight through the Titans multiple times in the hopes of achieving a lower clear time or total number of deaths with each run. This challenge might not appeal to all gamers, but for leaderboard chasers that like to challenge themselves, it does offer the proper motivation to sit down with the game for another couple hours.
A few modifiers are also available to switch things up on those repeat attempts. Hard Mode, for example, turns the speed and difficulty up to eleven for players who like to torture themselves. There are a few other variations that offer unique challenges like No Roll Mode, which removes one of the main movement options, or Iron Mode, which painfully resets the game after a single death. These options all add repeat value for the hardcore gamers, but casual players are unlikely to get more than a handful of hours out of Titan Souls.
The game’s difficult fights were definitely designed with a gamepad in mind and the developers (and Game Rant) highly recommend playing the game with a controller, rather than a keyboard. We completed the game on a PC for this review and spent some time experimenting with the two different options. The game allows keyboard use, but we can’t imagine successfully downing one of the Titans without a controller in hand.
Like many other games popping up on Steam or the current-gen console stores, Titan Souls throws back to the 8- and 16- bit eras for its look and feel. The style suites the game well and may offer nostalgic value for some gamers, but the retro look is starting to lose its charm as more and more games rely on it. In the case of Titan Souls, the games mechanics and audio do not feel like as much of a throwback, which does help it stand out from the crowd of other 16-bit style games filling up the Steam store.
We did not test the game on PS4 or PS Vita, but the PS4 version should offer a nearly identical port to the PC experience with a controller. The PS Vita version on the other hand offers the bonus of mobility, but may make some of the precise mechanics needed to down each Titan a bit more challenging.
As 2015 continues to be the year of difficult games with the likes of Ori and Bloodborne stealing so much of our time, Titan Souls offers a comparably difficult, but much shorter variety of the same enjoyable torture.
Titan Souls is now available on PC, PS4, and PlayStation Vita. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.