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Titan Souls (Vita) artwork

Titan Souls (Vita) review

"Combines the cerebral thrill of problem-solving with the visceral thrill of killing something big and intimidating."

Titan Souls (Vita) image

In our current gaming climate, the word "souls" carries such a heavy weight that one automatically assumes a game would only be called Titan Souls its creators wanted to draw deliberate parallels between their own work and that of From Software. Had developer Acid Nerve really intended to be that transparent, though, they would've named their game Shadow of the Titan.

Titan Souls, as it turns out, does blatantly channel a certain beloved Japanese fantasy action title, just not the one we were thinking. It's a boss rush game punctuated by long, moody walks through a desolate landscape, in which a young guy is tasked with hunting down massive, lumbering creatures that weren't really bothering anyone. Shadow of the Colossus is one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time, and it's seldom been imitated in the decade since its release, so there's nothing inherently wrong with trying to recapture its appeal. And speaking as one of the very few people who weren't nuts about Shadow, I'm actually interested in seeing someone polish up the formula.

To that end, Titan Souls is a mixed success. While it's hellishly difficult, it gets a lot of mileage out of its easily-understood two-button control scheme; it's a simple, intuitive game, which I always felt Shadow wasn't. On the other hand, it lacks its inspiration's atmosphere, visual pull and undeniable sense of scope. The exploration involved in actually finding new bosses to kill is minimalism taken a bit too far, as there's so little context as to who we are, where we are and what we're doing that Titan Souls consistently feels like the tacked-on boss rush mode for a much fuller game.

When Titan Souls descends into ambiguous artsy-fartsiness during its climax, there's no punch or emotional impact because we know so little about the hero, his journey, or the world he's in. I like ambiguity, being forced to fill in the blanks for myself, but you've got to give us something.

So without much narrative appeal, Titan Souls is simply an action-adventure entirely fixated on boss battles, and as such, it lives and dies by the quality of said boss battles. I believe I faced around twenty or so. Most of them were fine, a few of them were fantastic, and a couple were absolute stinkers. But for the most part, the game's unique angle on combat carries it. Your moveset consists of one attack, a bow that fires a single arrow. When you shoot it, you've then got to retrieve it, either by manually fetching it or by telepathically pulling it back. Coupled with the fact that you need to be standing still in order to draw, the mere act of attacking in Titan Souls is a high-risk endeavor.

Titan Souls (Vita) image

To make things even more complicated, there is no health meter. When you're hit, you die, case closed. If that sounds unfair, the twist is that this same rule also applies to bosses. Each one has a glowing weak point; strike it just once and the boss is down. Yes, there's often a bit of a process to actually exposing that weakness, but many of the bosses in Titan Souls can literally be killed in a matter of seconds if you know what you're doing. There wasn't a single boss in this game that I actually managed to kill on my first try, however, so actually figuring out what you're doing is the game's perpetual puzzle.

Sometimes it's a simple matter of avoiding attacks, lining yourself up and landing a perfect shot (still easier said than done, since there's no reticle to speak of in Titan Souls, a deliberate but frustrating decision on the developers' part). In other cases, you need to find bizarre workarounds for your character's limited moveset. In one instance, you're pitted against a large, floating Tiki mask. Its vulnerable point is its entire rear side, but the mask is always facing you, without fail. To kill it, then, you've got to plant your arrow and then use your telepathic retrieval to boomerang it into the boss's backside while it's looking at you.

In one of my favorite encounters, you need to get a boss to swallow your arrow, thereby allowing you to drag the monster around the arena and into one of its own bombs, all while it's spitting fireballs at you. At its best, Titan Souls combines the cerebral thrill of problem-solving with the visceral thrill of killing something big and intimidating. There's a blinding flash whenever you land a winning shot, and you'll become programmed to breathe a heavy, satisfied sigh of relief whenever you see it.

But unfortunately, Titan Souls does have a couple of really poorly-designed bosses, and in a game centered entirely on bosses, having even a couple of lousy ones stands out. The absolute worst is an armored archer who spends entirely too much time off-screen, and when we're dealing with insta-kills, not even being able to see important cues is absolute hell. In addition, some of the bosses (particularly the final encounter before the credits) suffer from being too visually busy. When the game is already so unforgiving of mistakes, having to battle an incredibly fast enemy and also worry about four random electric spheres floating about the arena is just unnecessary cruelty.

So I did spend more of Titan Souls in flailing frustration than I would have liked, but its unique approach to combat and plethora of well-crafted bosses, easily outweighing the lousy ones, makes me wish more indie developers would mine this territory. It won't be hailed as a classic in a decade the way Shadow of the Colossus is, but that doesn't stop it from being a pretty nifty little title right now.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (April 19, 2015)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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