The developers of Titan Souls sure talk a big game. Being inspired by Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus means they've set their sights on two of the greatest games ever created. How in the world could any game possibly live up to that pedigree? Well, I am not going to get crazy by saying Titan Souls blows those two masterpieces out of the water (though that would have made for an attention-grabbing headline). But I don't think that comparison is out of place, either. This is an expertly designed, punishing action game in which bosses are your only foe (hello, Shadow of the Colossus) and any small mistake is cause for your immediate death (is that you Dark Souls?). But don't worry about how it stacks up to its progenitors. Instead, enjoy Titan Souls for what it is: another challenging adventure in which the thrill of victory is everything.
Things start simply enough. You play as a lone wanderer in a very foreign place. As you walk through the world, you see writing etched on the walls, streams running down mountain paths, and caves beckoning you to enter. It's almost peaceful. There are no animals to harm you or people to get in your way. It's just a lovely place to exist, reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda by way of Sword & Sorcery. The music adds to the dreamy atmosphere. A soulful melody warms your heart and calms your senses. Titan Souls would be a great place to take a vacation.
And then you enter one of those caves. The music suddenly shifts, becoming enraged and energetic, as a colossal boss rushes toward you. Isn't that always the case? You're relaxing on a beach in New Zealand when a cube creature tries to kill you. Well, you're not just going to wait to get flattened, are you? Dodge out of the way! The cube moves so fluidly you'd swear its sides were greased, and you have to run as fast as you can to keep it from squishing you. How could you even attack the darn thing when you're running for your life? And then it lunges in one direction while you dive in another, and you've bought some breathing room to mount your own attack. Aim carefully (and quickly, you have only a split second), and fire your arrow at is weak spot.
Did you land the hit? Congratulations, you just defeated your first boss. Yup, it takes only one hit. Of course, if you had been squished first, than you would have perished just as quickly. And if you had missed? Well, you can call the arrow back toward you while it's still airborne, or pick it back up once it's on the ground. So you see, even though the fights are incredibly frantic, you can't panic. Spamming your attack is going to lead to failure and frustration. Take your time, play smart, and end that monster's life like all the best hunters do.
Not every boss in this easy. Yes, once you hit any of their weak spots, you win, but sometimes you have to do a little work to get to that point. Against a gelatinous blob, every hit slices it in half. So there's a whole group of bouncy monsters trying to flatten you as you create more and more hostile threats to get to the weak point buried under layers of fat. And if you die (which you often will), the music stops on a dime. It's really a great effect. Your heart is racing as you sprint around an arena, and you're nodding your head to the infectious tunes. And then you get too close to your foe and end up dead, and everything just stops. The screen goes black, the music dies, and you're left with your own sad thoughts.
One of the most appealing things is that there's no character upgrade. Having trouble killing that barebacked yeti? You can either move on to another battle or get better. It's a great system because you know that it's your own skill that needs enhancement, so instead of looking for an easy way to victory by improving your speed or power, you're looking within to figure out how you can do better. Everyone is on the same page, all the time, so you have no one to blame for failure but yourself.
One thing that I noticed is that at the start of every fight you see an odd assortment of characters on the screen. It seemed like a foreign language announcing who your foe was, but I wasn't sure. I asked the developers if we might see a nod to Ico or Nier, in which you learn the language of your enemies on a second playthrough. They didn't want to answer, which makes me think they're cooking up something interesting for New Game Plus. But for now, I'm just anxious for my first playthrough. Titan Souls isn't coming out until early next year (like every other game!) on the PC, and slightly later on the PS4 and Vita. It's going to be a long wait for me. I love difficult games that are fair, and the mysterious premise further cements Titan Souls as a game to watch out for.