The best games, in addition to being fun, also tend to drive a fundamental theme or ask a fundamental question. Games, like the rest of our entertainment, illustrate how we interact with the world around us. This weekend, I played Titan Souls for the first time, a game that asked me one pertinent question: Are you any good at video games?
Apparently, the answer for me is "no".
Titan Souls is the result of Ludum Dare 28 game jam back in 2013. The theme for the jam was "You Only Get One" and the developers at what became Acid Nerve took the prompt seriously.
The easiest way to understand Titan Souls is to imagine a particularly hard Legend of Zelda game with all the exploration and puzzles stripped out. You have one weapon, your trusty bow with a single arrow; as far as I can tell, I don't think that weapon will ever be upgraded. Your only special move is the ability to call your single arrow back to you after you've shot it. You can dodge roll and run slightly faster. That's it. The game is all meat, no fat.
What Titan Souls does have is painfully-hard bosses. Like the games of old, every boss has a specific pattern you have to exploit to beat them. The patterns aren't even that hard to figure out for the four bosses I attempted. No, what Titan Souls asks for is execution. It's one thing to know what to do, it's another to have the skills and reflexes to pull it off.
The game drops you in the middle of ruin. A bit of exploration uncovers a glowing sigil on the floor, one whose purpose remains shrouded in mystery at this point. Don't worry, you'll find out what that is soon. Further exploration uncovers a series of doors. Each door leads to a boss and you can tackle them in any order. This choice is the most leisurely and measured you'll have during you entire time in Titan Souls.
Choosing the most-immediate door will lead you to you first boss: a giant heart inside an even-bigger slime mold. It leaps slowly about the room and if you shoot it, it splits into two smaller slimes that jump just a bit faster. If it touches you, you die. (Oh, did I mention there's no life bar or armor? Everything here is a one-hit kill.) When you die, you're teleported back out to the glowing sigil. Titan Souls has no lives, only endless waves of death.
You can choose a different boss, but why not go with the devil you know?
So you head back in. When the boss splits after taking damage, the heart ends up in one of the smaller slimes and they begin to move independently. Shooting the non-heart side works against you; that only creates smaller, faster slimes to hunt you down. That means you have to focus only on damaging the slime that has the heart in it. Eventually, you'll be left with a heart flopping around and one hit with your arrow will win the day. Easier said than done. Again, Titan Souls is about execution.
That's only the first boss. There's another that's a cube that rolls around the arena on its faces. One of the faces is an eye that shoots lasers. That battle is about timing it so that you're facing the eye when pops up, but you're not directly in the path of the laser. There's a stone statue that covers its vulnerable heart with one hand while it tries to kill you with the other; that fight is about hitting the heart in the small window between when the hands switch positions. Or the disembodied brain that slides around the battlefield inside an ice cube. Occasionally while it's sliding in your direction, it'll depress one of four buttons, which activates a flame in the center of the level. You have to get it to press the button and shoot an arrow through the flame to hurt the boss.
Describing these encounters doesn't bring across how painfully tight the timing is. The last fight I described? The flame is only lit in the brief time when the boss is sliding across the button. Finishing the fight is a matter of planning, timing, and sheer reflexes.
These are only the first few bosses in Titan Souls.
Out of the bosses, I only finished the slime. When I finally finished the fight, I pumped my fist in personal glory and moved on to fight the next boss, full of misplaced confidence. In that moment I could almost see the mountaintop that Dark Souls players like Bob aim for on a regular basis. I'm not sure it's a journey I'm willing to take on, but I can understand why it might be exciting to some. There's a difficulty threshold and Titan Souls crosses it at times.
If that's exciting to you, Titan Souls may be your thing. (I mean Bloodborne will only last you so long.) And if you want, you can get a taste of Titan Souls by trying the game jam version online now.