Titan Souls review: Zelda inspired bosses make for an indie gem

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It’s a fact that all entertainment media is inevitably judged against its peers. While it’s great for critics to be able to compare one game against another to explain its heritage and influences it can be a poisoned chalice for developers. A is like B and C with a bit of D thrown in for good measure. But what if A, in this case Titan Souls, doesn’t quite live up to B, C and D when we replace the letters with Zelda, Shadow of the Colossus and Dark Souls? When even the game’s name instantly recalls another series, separating Titan Souls’ individual quality from its mightily well-regarded forbearers is an uphill struggle.

Titan Souls is a top down puzzle-adventurer set in a picturesque, benevolent overworld that contains no casual opponents, much like Shadow of the Colossus, although the peaceful atmosphere is broken by the challenge of the game’s myriad of Zelda-esque bosses that will kill you a lot only for you to come back for another try in a style somewhat akin to Dark Souls. See?

The game’s standout trick, however, is in its gameplay. Titan Souls’ miniature protagonist faces up to the giants within, armed with only a bow and arrow - literally, you only get one arrow. If it misses its target you can either sprint over and pick it up again or call it back (Jedi style) through the character’s unexplained telekinetic powers. Doing so leaves you stationary and vulnerable to attack and being hit just once spells instant death. It’s a strategic, and in practice almost balletic combat system, which makes every victory as gratifying as the last. Pulling an arrow back from the ground into an enemy’s weak-spot ranks up there with the finest of ‘did you just see that?’ moments gaming can offer.

 

While there are a smattering of environmental puzzles in the game’s world, the real puzzles are the bosses themselves. While many can be accused of being re-skinned Zelda baddies, identifying their weakness and capitalizing on it requires skill, timing and more than a little smidge of luck. Whether it’s a bouncing, gelatinous blob that splits apart to reveal its heart, a contorting sea snake with soft tail end or even a yeti with a bright pink bottom, every ancient beast is eventually felled by just one, well-placed arrow, but the difference hitting your target and failing horribly teeters on a knife edge.

If there’s one underlying issue with the game’s satisfying David and Goliath encounters it’s the total lack of narrative context, as waking up the initially peaceful titans from their eternal slumber with a swift arrow before proceeding to murder them does seem a little cold-hearted.

The environment itself, while barren of life, is teeming with character and feels like it is aching to play a larger role in the overall experience. While there are a few hidden areas they only lead to more titans to slay and these occurrences of wandering off the obviously laid-out track are minimal. Calling Titan Souls an adventure game would be disingenuous, you’re here to hunt collosi… sorry, titans.

Titan Souls’ is relatively short and your mileage will vary depending on how quickly you adapt to its dodge-shoot-win/lose gameplay, but the beautiful score and pastel shaded pixel-art style enraptures you in its relentless war of attrition against ancient beasts.

In the end, Titan Souls is a game made out of bits and pieces of other, admittedly greater games, but by standing on the shoulders of giants it elevates itself high enough to be regarded as a modern indie gem.

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