Boss fights are usually a game’s worst aspect. They’re either predictably dull or crushing and unfair, an unwanted distraction from an action game’s bread-and-butter enemy encounters. Titan Souls, then, is rather brave in setting itself the particularly difficult task of being a “boss fight game”, an experience entirely focused on varied, challenging boss rooms uninterrupted by lesser henchmen or grunts. Thanks to some paired down controls and an emphasis on simplicity, Titan Souls presents some impressive boss battles, the cleverness of which just about justifies the game’s over-reliance on repetitive trial and error.
It’s been said before, but Titan Souls is essentially 2-D Shadow of the Colossus, the similarities are inescapable. As a small boy exploring snowy caverns, lava-filled caves and dense forests, you must fell immense Titans with a single fire-and-retract arrow, then collect their souls. Each boss is vastly dissimilar to the last, in terms of appearance, movement speed, abilities, projectiles etc. and you can never be certain of what new trick a Titan will pull from within its sleeve/metal face/mucus sack.
Titan fights are multi-layered and multi-faceted, in that they require two very contrasting, wholly separate mindsets in order to be beaten. At first, players must think like a puzzle solver; each Titan has a weakness that must be exploited, usually in the form of a minuscule body part or a brief moment of vulnerability. Once a Titan’s weak points have been identified, their attacks monitored, predicted and telegraphed, one must then enter the mindset of a twitch-player. Titan Souls throws its bosses at you hard and fast, with perfectly timed dodges and careful positioning being the only way to avoid a Titan’s various instant kill attacks.
The simplicity and variety of each fight proves to be Titan Souls‘ greatest strength – effectively only possessing two options in battle (dodge and shoot) means it’s surprisingly easy to stay focused through the frustration and red mist, and logically work out how to destroy seemingly unstoppable behemoths. The player’s rules always stay the same, but each Titan operates under different rules which must be learned, memorized and broken, usually after dying about 10-20 times.
It takes a very special game to make dying repeatedly feel fun, and it can be rather difficult to stay mad at Titan Souls for too long. This is, in part, because the game actually has a habit of making player deaths somewhat comical; you might charge into an arena, fire your arrow at the hulking golem in its centre, then feel a rush of adrenaline as a triumphant heavy metal solo uproariously kicks into action, only to be instantly crushed by a large fist, and watch as your corpse is mashed up repeatedly in complete silence. Of course this deadpan effect wares off after the first five or six times, but by then you should have gotten the hang of that Titan’s particular quirks, habits and/or weakness, at least sufficiently enough to be able to foster some feeling of progress.
The only times Titan Souls starts to become laborious are in the moments between fights. Each tentative “hub-world” contains a checkpoint platform as well as several Titans. Though initially, a platform usually leads to several Titan rooms in close proximity to one another, the later moments of the game are home to checkpoints that are spaced too far away from their corresponding boss rooms. They don’t take more than ten or so seconds to reach, but they’re far enough away to provide unhelpful respite, and only succeed in piling on the frustration.
These long waits, while not deal breakers of any sort, end up making Titan Souls unplayable in long stretches. Battles are extremely difficult, but they’re compelling enough to keep you coming back, and felling a Titan provokes the kind of mad, celebratory dances reserved only for truly challenging fights. But having to repeatedly return to the same area to fight bosses becomes infuriating, particularly when checkpoints could have been placed within boss rooms in order to keep respawn turnaround quick and exciting a la Super Meat Boy. Like Vlambeer’s LUFTRAUSERS before it, Titan Souls is a game best played in short bursts, a few bosses at a time. That way you can get your Titan fighting fix, and still avoid the mounting annoyance of repetitive backtracking.
Titan Souls‘ fairly muted visual style pales in comparison to its genuinely magnificent score. Each area comes with its own theme, as does each boss – some pieces are cheesy, symphonic metal, others are lilting and melodic woodwind numbers, but each piece is perfectly suited to its corresponding Titan. Though there’s nothing inherently bad about the way the game looks, and the Titans are all fine feats of enemy design, a lot of Titan Souls‘ environments feel a little dull, particularly when compared to the action that’s taking place on screen.
The game’s supposed reason for existing/persevering is similarly something of a misfire. Though a game that is effectively a sequence of gruelling fights can cope perfectly well without getting bogged down in exposition or heavy narrative elements, it would be nice if Titan Souls dripped the odd bit of intrigue and mystery into its world. As it is, this world feels a little empty and lacking in atmosphere, a series of doors to rooms filled with weird monsters.
Though it boasts some impressively designed boss fights, and is a pleasant enough game to play in short sessions, Titan Souls is ultimately a one note experience. It’s a very well played and great sounding note, but one that doesn’t amount to more than some confident, solidly executed ideas. Titan Souls serves as a very capable vignette of boss fights – a flawed but pleasing anomaly that comes and goes without outstaying its welcome.