Titan Souls is about as indie as it gets. Starting life originally as a Ludum Dare entry back in 2013, the game got glowing reviews and the team subsequently went on to further polish and develop the small jam entry into the full game we have today. Releasing tomorrow (14th April) on Steam for £10.99, published by wonderful Developer Digital, Titan Souls promises to bring more of the one shot madness, beautiful pixel art environments and devilishly difficult fights that made its first incarnation a hit. Let’s take a look.
You only get one. That was the Ludum Dare theme that brought about Titan Souls and is an intrinsic part of the game. One bow, one arrow. That’s all you have to defend yourself and fight through the enchanting world around you. Titan Souls is a great of example of how to get pixel art right. It’s simple yet filled with little details and touches of flare, such as gusts of wind that will periodically blow across the screen making the environment seem alive. Pair that with the magnificent soundtrack underpinning it all, it’s undoubtedly a charming setting. Quite the juxtaposition given the fiendish battles that lie within!
On launching the game you’re greeted with a message prompting the use of a game pad. In fact, it states ‘strongly recommended’ and it isn’t kidding. Given the mechanics, which we’ll get onto soon, using a keyboard while playing Titan Souls is an exercise for the masochistic. Which is a shame because I don’t think it has to be. The current keyboard controls are arrow keys to move (no WASD or key-rebinding!) and X and C as action keys. The core mechanic is the bow, and when using keyboard controls you’re limited to 8 directions in which you can shoot. Why isn’t WASD enabled, mouse to aim the bow and LM to shoot? It’s clearly aimed at console/game controller use, and I don’t think it needed to be. Those without a gamepad will have a severely impeded experience.
Phew. That’s really my only major criticism of the game. I myself do have a gamepad and could experience Titan Souls in all its glory.
The mechanics of Titan Souls are what makes the game unique as they’re so simply. You have 1 bow, 1 arrow and 1 button to fire. That’s it! What’s brilliant is how the battles and gameplay are designed to get to the most out of these. Even though you have a single, simple attack, each battle requires totally different strategies and use of the mechanic to emerge the victor. It’s misleadingly difficult. It’s such a simple mechanic that it has to be used incredibly accurately and intelligently. That’s where the challenge lies.
Oh, one last word on the controls. WHY CAN’T I ROLL UP STAIRS!
When you approach a boss for the first time you’re going to get owned. In fact, you get owned so swift and violently that the only reaction is to laugh. Take the guy in the clip above. I walk up to him and think ‘Right sucker, you’re going down’. I draw back my bow, let of a cracking shot, and … he immediately rolls forward and squashes me like a bug. Back to the start for me. Each time you face a new enemy there’s a process of learning just what you’re dealing with. You’ll die immediately. Next time you’ll know how to avoid his initial attack and you can see how he moves. This process continues until you figure the battle out and now it’s just about having the skill to perform the required actions. Not an easy task!
I actually came across, at least in my opinion, a shortfall of the controls here. The speed at which you can roll. These guys come at you FAST, and your roll has a slight cool down period. I was running away from this big rolling bastard (I’ve died LOTS of times to him so have grown quite the resentment to the big eyed monstrosity), tapping A like a lunatic and found myself being bogged down by that cool down. Maybe it’s because I suck, but I’d like a roll on every button press. Or at least a shorter cool down.
You’re going to die a lot. No really, LOADS. Which is fine, look at Hotline Miami and Super Meat Boy. How often do you die there, and its fine because a super-quick respawn puts you right back into the action. Titan Souls doesn’t have that. Now, it’s not a 5 minute respawn, it’s still pretty quick, but with the amount of times you die it needs to be quicker. The animation that fades out takes ~2 seconds. Once you’ve died 50 times that seems like an eternity!
You also spawn at fixed spawn points, so as you venture forth, the penalty for dying becomes even greater. When you can respawn quickly the sense of urgency to complete the fight stays alive and kicking. When you have a small but definite wait and journey back, that sense of ‘I’m coming right back for you’ slowly faded for me. The will to continue fighting slowly deteriorated on resetting for another go.
What this does do however is help create an even greater sense of achievement when you finally do kill a boss. It’s absolutely heart pounding running around, firing and recollecting your 1 arrow knowing the severe punishment awaiting you should you fail. It’s a tough one. On one hand it’s a ROYAL pain the ass dying and resetting for another try, but that’s what makes the action so intense and satisfying. Maybe it’s leaning slightly towards the pain in the ass. I think spawning outside the battle is enough of a punishment as the battles are already pretty tough. I found myself tackling a boss, getting more and more frustrated to point of wanting to stop, then I’d land that crucial shot, destroy the boss and I was back on top of the world with an immense sense of satisfaction and achievement. I’ll let my man Ron Burgundy sum it up.
2 cups of tea and an hour later I made it past the first 4 battles, and wow does the world open up. Get past the initial ‘starting’ area and you find yourself in a huge world. So large in fact that it took me a while to find the next battle. Once again, a sitting duck at the mercy of an enemy that I don’t understand yet. Time to study his moves, work out a strategy and find that perfect arrow. A tough but rewarding process that sums up my experience of the game.
Titan Souls is a beautiful looking and sounding way to cause yourself distress. No, it really is a lot of fun, but not for the faint of heart. It’s requires tactics to beat bosses. You have to work out how, when and where to move, and then have the skill to pull that off. Something I’m, lacking, hence I haven’t gotten very far in! Even so, I had fun trying and I’ll be back for more no doubt.
There are issues there though. The majority I feel are things in balance such as the respawn issue (issue to me at-least, I’m sure some will be fine with it), and the rolling delay that could be patched away in no time. And they’re personal preferences, so not everyone I imagine will see them as the flaws I do. The only major flaw I have that I feel is universal among all players is with the controls. I don’t really understand why it revolves so heavily around a controller. Granted, most PC gamers I imagine will have one at hand, but it seems like keyboard controls could have been so easily included. And no WASD, or the ability to re-bind! Madness.
I don’t tend to play difficult games. I don’t really have the will to figure things out and develop strategies to win fights, but Titan Souls brought that out in me. Whether it’s the charming pixel-art aesthetics, wonderful soundtrack underpinning the experience or the simple mechanics that require masterful execution, I can’t quite put my finger on it. The spawning annoys me, I feel I run too slow and the battles make me rage. Yet I find myself wanting to give it another shot.
Tl;dr – Titan Souls is a devilishly difficult, yet incredibly simplistic, indie adventure. With a harsh penalty for death, battles are intense and immensely rewarding when, IF, completed. For those of you looking for a challenge, you’ll find a charmingly presented one in Titan Souls should you have a controller at the ready and a bucket-full of patience.
Rating – 8.5/10
Purchase – Steam £10.99