There’s a taut connection between the archer and his one lonely arrow, and with it the quest of slaying a string of powerful foes seems a colossal trial. Nevertheless, this is the protagonist of Titan Souls’ trial, which must be confronted with both skill and perseverance. In this sense, and in its retro pixel art style, it matches the deathfest Super Meat Boy, but its real inspiration comes from the giant-slaying classic, Shadow of the Colossus.
Titan Souls, from the small studio Acid Nerve, lines up a gauntlet of varying giants for you to face in arena combat, and wastes little time with anything in between. In fact, you’ll just be getting to grips with the controls when you’re met with your first battle. Luckily there isn’t a large amount to learn; the tiny long-haired fellow can roll and sprint with one button, and can shoot and reel back his arrow with another. However, it’s how you use these that presents the true challenge.
Holding down the shoot button allows your arrow to fly further, but you’re left standing still and vulnerable while doing so. Reeling back the arrow leaves you with the same problem, but you can bypass this by manually picking it up (the old-fashioned way). Reeling back the arrow also allows you to place a well-timed shot in the unsuspecting foe’s back. This clever manoeuvre is encouraged to be exploited; in fact one of the Steam achievements rewards you for beating a foe while pulling the arrow back; it’s called ‘Laser Eye Surgery’.
You won’t be slaying your foes in such an unorthodox fashion right out of the gate, though. At first you’ll feel more like a mouse trapped in a box with a mountain lion. One hit is all it takes to perish our hero, but that goes for most foes as well. Fortunately, there’s always a checkpoint nearby for when that one hit sends you to your grave, which will happen a lot; I died 412 times during my first playthrough.
Each enemy is like a giant and deadly puzzle. First you must find their weakness, and then exploit it. The first foe you’re likely to face is a giant semi-transparent blob with a heart at its centre. For every shot you land the creature is broken in half, therefore if you shoot recklessly you may end up with a gang of small blobs chasing you into a corner. But by aiming precisely for the heart, the battle can be made much easier. It’s a straightforward puzzle to teach you some of the game’s mechanics.
Other foes won’t be as revealing, attacking with much deadlier force. A yeti will roll over you with breakneck speed, you’ll be fried with eye lasers, and a knight’s arrow will be planted with surprising brutality in your body many times. Each foe does have a weakness though, and upon discovering what it is they lose a large portion of their deadliness. The mountain lion becomes a cat, a cat who still hungers for mice, but one who briefly rolls over and shows the shiny X on its belly.
Speaking of adorable creatures, many of the foes here are wondrous to behold. While they are nowhere near the grandeur of SOTC, they do have their charms: the way they move, the suitable sounds they release, and the detail in their pixelated design, each in turn help create the game’s unique creatures.
Also during the battles one of the game’s strongest points reveals itself: the exquisite music. Each battle has its own unique track, and these truly add to the atmosphere. Instruments meld together the orchestral soundtrack that raises the already tense pressure. The foe’s death is punctuated with a stark silence, and this matches the moment of exultation you feel for toppling your foe.
Music also constructs the gentle world outside of battle. Unfortunately this is one of the game’s poorer sections. The world is beautiful; wind wafts across the sprawling temple-like area, pools of water can be waded through, snow builds up into balls, and torches can be lit with a skilfully placed shot. But the land is hollow, with no need for exploration. Vines offer areas to climb to, but nothing to find, there are no obstacles or platforms, and even your foes are marked by checkpoints you reached – the number of spots left unlit indicating the amount, and even direction, of foes.
What’s also lacking is a goal to aim for, ironic for an archer. Titan Souls lacks any sort of story; there are vague hints towards one made by symbols on walls, but there is no substance here. This isn’t to say the game requires a deep life-changing narrative, but a complete absence leaves both the hero and world without purpose. Even Super Meat Boy had a reason for you to push forward, and SOTC had one of the greatest stories in gaming, even though on paper it was a just a string of boss battles.
The result is a game that is short-lived. It took me roughly 5 hours to get through it, and I’ve heard of other more talented individuals whizzing through between 2 and a half, and 4 hours. The puzzle-like element to the bosses means that facing them again won’t come close to equaling that first encounter. Upon completion, new modes unlock to raise the difficulty, but these may only appeal to the savvy speed runners.
The creative achievements did cause me to return for a brief spell, perhaps because one is called ‘Shadow of the Colossus’, but I think I also returned because the gameplay and bosses are both innovative and enjoyable. There’s also something joyous about facing your foes again with their weaknesses obvious to your eye, and the music, which stands up there with some of the finest in indie titles, will last for a long time. Altogether this reminds me that this is a game that, while missing some marks, manages to hit its fair share of bullseyes. Boss rushers look no further.
Super Boy Beneath the Shadow of the Titans