PAX Prime 2014: Titan Souls is Addiction in a Pixelated Package

When one hears the word “disappointment,” he or she usually thinks of failed expectations, missed opportunities, and wishes for something better. It’s a term that carries a negative sentiment, as disappointment can be one of the most saddening emotions known to man. After spending roughly thirty minutes with Titan Souls, Acid Nerve’s punishing upcoming title, I found myself unquestionably disappointed. I walked away from the booth feeling disparaged and heartbroken in the worst way for one very clear reason:

I was disappointed that I was unable to play for hours on end.

blob heart
Titan Souls 
is, without a doubt, the most addictive game I spent time with at PAX Prime. The simplest description one could make is that this is 2D, pixelated Shadow of the Colossus with an increased level of punishment. Players take the role of a young hero, armed with only a single arrow and one health point. The player character travels through a gorgeous pixelated ruin, taking on a number of unique bosses, each with a single weak point. The only actions available are moving, rolling, shooting the arrow, and retrieving the arrow (fun note: every one of these actions can be performed with a single hand). The minimalist mechanics add a high level of tension to every battle, as one has to rely on his or her wits to defeat, and absorb the soul of, any of Titan Souls‘ bosses.

In the PAX Prime demo, players had access to four Titans: a splitting goo blob, a cube with a laser-eye, an ice block with a brain inside, and the famous two-fisted stone statue seen in Titan Souls‘ trailers and logo. Each of these bosses has a trick that allows players to get the advantage in battle; for instance, each time one shoots the giant blob, it splits into smaller and smaller pieces, eventually revealing an exposed heart.The weak spot might be available right away: the glowing pink center of the two-fisted statue taunting the player from moment one. The flame that the ice block reveals upon hitting one of four pressure-switches demonstrates how even the environment can come into play. Titan Souls has a brilliantly simple concept, but its gameplay becomes infinitely more challenging due to the set of tools at the player’s disposal.

cube eye
When one hears that he or she only has a single arrow, the first thought that comes to mind is that the battle ends after shooting once. I wondered myself how it would be possible to create frantic battles with only a single piece of ammunition. Thankfully, being able to summon the arrow back to the hero creates a surprising level of depth. Movement is disabled during the summoning animation, so careful planning is of utmost importance. I often found myself running around without the arrow, dodging attacks while desperately searching for a safe place to retrieve my only weapon. Butterflies arose in my stomach as each fight went on, as the always-looming instant-death mechanic makes every action critical.

Because there is no set amount of lives at the player’s disposal, Titan Souls is able to ingeniously create the urge to keep trying to defeat Titans over and over. Obviously I wanted to see every Titan in the demo for the sake of this preview, but a part of me wanted to fight the same boss over and over until I was victorious. My thirty minutes with Titan Souls felt more like five, as the level of immersion is absolutely off the charts. Every mistake one makes is blatantly obvious and correctable; every death gives players the opportunity to learn. This is a title that will make you think, sit on the edge of your seat, and pump your fist each time you’re victorious. It’ll eat your afternoons and keep you up at night far longer than you’d like.

big door titan souls
Titan Souls
also boasts some of the most beautiful pixel-art the industry has seen in years. Just like in Fez and Super Time Force, there’s a real sense that every pixel has been placed with the utmost care. Every object looks clean and polished, and every animation works perfectly. Obviously it will look brilliant on the big-screen, but the fact that we’re getting Titan Souls on the Vita is undoubtedly exciting. The Vita’s outstanding screen has a way of making every color pop, and its size compacts pixels to the point where the image seems far more unified. If the handheld port is done correctly, Titan Souls has the potential to be one of the best looking Vita titles from the moment it hits the PlayStation Store.

Yes, my time with Titan Souls was extremely disappointing, but in the best way possible. I was saddened I couldn’t spend more time with Acid Nerve’s brilliant 2015 title, it was simply that good. The sheer number of hours that I’m going to lose in this world is already frightening, but it’s hard not to be excited to give that time away. Titan Souls isn’t just one of the most fun titles at PAX Prime, it’s one of the best games set for a 2015 release, period.