I have a bow and a single arrow, and that’s it for inventory. I can shoot the arrow and hold down the shot button to call it back. Finally, I can walk, do a quick dodge roll, and hold down the roll button to segue into running. How on earth is that supposed to be enough to stand up to the giants of Titan Souls?
As it turns out, those few simple abilities are just barely enough. Titan Souls is a game that, on the surface, looks to be a series of epic boss encounters but is actually an action-puzzle game. While you are small and squishy and dead in a single hit, bosses are equally defenseless if only you can sink a single arrow into their weak spots. Some bosses, at least as far as I’ve played in the preview build, take one shot to open up the weak point and a second to take advantage of it, but that’s still a very fast two-shot encounter if you know what you’re doing, have pinpoint accuracy, and have died a few hundred times practicing to the point of utter perfection. So far I’ve dispatched 14 bosses with 302 deaths. That’s not a good kill:be killed ratio in any other game, but Titan Souls? I’m feeling pretty ok with that.
Each individual encounter is deeply unfair. The titans are bigger and far more deadly than you, with a weak spot you can only discover by paying attention to their movement while dodging projectiles, stray pounding appendages, rolling attacks, fire geysers, and any other offensive move that may come your way. You’ve got an advantage that the titans can’t hope to match, however, in that they’re dispatched forever with only one shot while you just keep coming back. Each area of the expansive ruins has a tile you can walk over to activate it as a convenient respawn point only a few seconds away from a set of encounters, and it even indicates which titans you’ve dispatched so far.
As a counterpoint to the brutal titan encounters, the ruins are a peaceful place with plenty of sunny open spaces, a nice breeze blowing over the grass, and waterfalls and streams cutting through it all. It takes a while to explore everywhere, because the ruins are very big and you’re tiny on the screen, but it’s a lovely walk through a peaceful area even when you get to the snow and lava sub-sections. There’s even a hidden path or two connecting some areas, and while they’re not necessary for advancement they are fun to find. It’s a great place to go exploring, even if the goal is to find a titan who will dismember you far too many times before it goes down.
Titan Souls is a giant pixel-y epic boss rush through atmospheric, pretty ruins, and if the story takes a bit of deciphering that’s just part of the challenge. You’ve got a bow and arrow, the titans don’t like it when you shoot them with it, and survival is only accomplished by learning the lessons of your many, many deaths. Each encounter is perfectly balanced to be difficult to beat but easy to get back into, and victory is as much about figuring out how to access the titan’s weak point as it is quick reflexes. Death may cause much swearing (especially after the dozenth failure) but the next attempt is seconds away, and maybe it will go better next time with a slightly different approach to accessing the titan’s weak spot. You’ve got a bow and an arrow and a dodge roll. What on earth could possibly hope to stand up against that?