How does one even go about killing a god? A million, million tanks? A fleet of Death Stars? Weapons-grade botulism? Even an army composed of every hero in the Marvel universe couldn’t defeat the mad titan Thanos. Yet the lone hero of Titan Souls must take on more than a dozen angry demigods armed with nothing but a bow and a single arrow.
As the game begins, this nameless adventurer finds himself adrift in a strange and mysterious land. It’s a world full of quiet pools, quieter moss, strange statues, and mournful music, as if a Ganonic plague killed everyone in Hyrule. In order to proceed through this desolate purgatory, the hero must find and defeat a series of titans and absorb their essences. His only weapon in this fight is a bow and arrow. For what it’s worth, the arrow returns when called, like a pointy version of Thor’s hammer. It’s not a fleet of Death Stars, but it’s a start.
Titan Souls was originally conceived, in just a few short days, for the Ludum Dare game jam in 2013. This new version is polished and expanded, but the essentials from that first project remain intact: Walk around. Find a boss. Boss kills you. Return to boss. Boss kills you again. Grind teeth. Repeat. This process continues until you learn your enemy’s weakness and eventually exploit it. Victory usually comes down to timing and more than a little luck, as it only takes one hit to end your run.
A.V. Club contributor and man-about-town Steve Heisler wrote this in his review of the original version: “Titan Souls combines the futility of dying repeatedly in Dark Souls and the futility of being a little David staring up at the Goliaths in Shadow Of The Colossus. All this futility comes packaged as a tidy Zelda-like adventure game.” That’s a perfect distillation of Titan Souls’ DNA, but it doesn’t quite offer a complete picture. It’s true that you do die a lot, much as you do in Dark Souls. (Titan Souls’ end credits tell me I perished 195 times.) But Titan Souls is somehow an even lonelier affair. As empty and depressing as it is, Dark Souls almost feels vibrant and full of life in comparison.
The titans are the only ones here to keep you company, and they’re not inclined to be friendly. (This un-neighborly mien makes sense when you consider that you’re only there to violently vacuum out their life force.) One button shoots and magically retrieves your single arrow. Another button allows you to roll and dodge attacks. The game couldn’t be simpler to learn, and there’s little in the way of exploration or puzzle solving. A fairly straightforward forest maze leads to a homicidal mushroom monster. Tracks outside a cave on a frozen part of the map lead to a hyperactive yeti with an exposed yeti butt. A large chained and headless carcass in a fiery subterranean dungeon foreshadows the battle to come. Defeating a titan, however, is no simple task. The titans always leave you an opening, but it passes in the blink of an eye. Miss your window, and chances are, you’re already dead.
This is anti-grind incarnate. There’s no leveling up and no weapon upgrades. There aren’t hordes of minions to cut down on your way to the last guy. It’s pure old-school boss fights, with little or no static in between. In an age where an otherwise impressive game like Dragon Age: Inquisition treats your time as an unrealistically inexhaustible resource, to have something like Titan Souls cut out all the extraneous noise is not just refreshing, it’s necessary. You kill many gods in Titan Souls, including a weird brain thing that lives in an ice cube, but the game’s greatest victory is over the god of bloat. Long may he stay dead in the ground.
Developer: Acid Nerve
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Mac, PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, Linux (coming soon)
Reviewed On: Mac