Written by Thomas G.J. Sharpe
I give certain favour to games that start as Ludum Dare entries (a video-game creation time-challenge) as I know from first-hand experience the environment where they are fostered. Developers who get into LD are ones who at the core want to make games and know the power of simplicity and originality. Just having a browse over the mass of titles made in the competition over the years, you will find some true gems, most outstripping mainstream games by miles in the design stakes, however crunchy the execution. I cannot claim that my efforts as a part of an LD team have been anything more than music and art assets, but I see the value.
Titan Souls is one of these gems that glittered a little brighter than the rest in LD #28, winning overall, audio and mood catergories. I include this historical information not only to show off my thorough researching abilities (and constant strive for review style that reads more like a Victorian old-man-of-letters), but these accolades serve as a three word springboard.
Set in a charmingly realised 2D-top-down-pixel-art world, you play a lone archer who has a lone arrow to let loose at nineteen different titans. The mood is silent and still, but sadly never reaches a deeper level for me. Waterfalls, lava, forests, ancient ruins are all great, but for all of the great art work, charming is all it ever is. Not ever foreboding nor beautiful, just... nice. The titans take various forms and usually have one-hit deaths, like your own character. This is the central conceit; enter boss arena, work out weak point, make your shot.
The difficulty arises in the arrow mechanic. You can charge your shot to get more distance, but you must remain still when shooting. Further, you have to retrieve your arrow physically or use a “call-back” style spell, which again, renders you still. The only other skill you have is a roll-dodge and run, bound to the same key. This simplicity is what makes this game so appealing to me. In practice, however, I found the play to be more about pin-point accuracy, perfectly timed dodging and, most of all, a lot... far too much... excessive... walking. When you die in Titan Souls, you return to the most local hub, which varies in distance from the boss areas. I have not found one that is close enough for me not to get frustrated. Truly, the opposite of Hotline Miami and it's psychopathically flippant restart mashes; back in the game, back in the game, back in the game. No, in a game breaking choice (for me), the developers force you to walk back through the charming, yet empty, environments again and again. As for on the most part, the bosses are tough, although repetitive, in their attacks and require large amounts of poise.
A lot of titans require you to see a full couple of attack patterns before you figure it out. Of course, guess at an angle of attack wrong and you could waste ten minutes on two or three tries, walking included. This is not a case of “yeah, brutal gameplay!” or “you ain't good enough”, it is simply inaccessible for me, through no fault of my own. In Dark Souls (Titan Souls clearly doing a bit of a nod) where you plan your attacks, develop strategy and die a lot, you don't ever feel cheated. It was always your fault. Titan Souls shouts “think fast!” and hurls a basketball at your genitals. So, to even get to the point of figuring it out, let alone practicing executing a strategy, requires so much walking that I really, really struggled to keep on playing.
I very much enjoy this game, and it is perhaps my impatience, but I want to be fighting, dying, figuring it out much faster, then having a little explore through the great world. The music is fantastic, by the way, as are the grunts and growls of the bosses. At its centre, however, lurks this ugly design issue that leaves me out in the cold, when all I want to do is swallow boss spirits and enjoy the atmosphere.
Second opinion from Gareth
I agree with pretty much everything that Tom has said here. However, the walking issue was much less of a problem for me. It really would have been a useful addition to put a save point before the entrance to each guardian as they do have a tendency to kill you in seconds. That said, Most of them are set within a few screens of the save point. It is a strange design choice but not something that I would say brings the experience down that much.
It also has to be said that the Vita stick isn’t quite up to the job for the level of precision that is needed for a game like this. It gives it a good go but I would recommend sticking to the PS4 or PC version for taking out the super tricky beasties.
The design of the world and the individual Titans is strong and defeating one certainly brings about the same feeling of achievement as found in games like Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus - two games which have clearly influenced its design. I would certainly recommend this to anyone who likes a challenge as there’s some clever design at play and an interesting world to explore.
Tom’s Score 6/10
Gareth’s Score 7/10