Hey, you know which game I haven’t been waiting for for ages? Acid Nerve‘s Titan Souls. It wasn’t even Kickstarted! I know, right: what a story. In fact, I only really heard about this game when my social media started buzzing about: partially because of how notoriously hard this game is supposed to be, and partially because of the way the developers managed to tip over a certain Internet Top Hat. I mean, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t catch my attention quite handily.
And hey, side note: this upcoming Titan Souls review also has the honor of being the first one made possible thanks to our Patreon supporters! We’re still trying to get a bit of a handle on what we do and do not want to use your contributions for, but a spur-of-the-moment review game purchase based on current buzz events seemed like it fit the bill well enough. So thanks once again to every one of you on our awesome Patrons list, for making this possible. This one’s for you.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium. Mechanical, medium-high.)
(Game source: Bought (with Patreon funds).)
After a series of splash screens, Titan Souls opens on a subdued little forest scene. Two musical stings — is that a pan flute? — set the scene, but after that, a chorus of bird chirps is all that accompanies the pixel trees’ swaying in the wind. That, and the thump-thump-thump of me going over menu options.
Not that there’s a lot to choose from, here. Assuming I don’t want to quit just yet, all that really stands between me and starting the game proper is my bordering-on-the-unhealthy obsession with checking out options first. And Titan Souls has only a small set of these, so they don’t even delay me for long.
So, yeah! Minimalistic menus being what they are, I find I can’t really hide myself behind layers of obfuscation armor for too long. I’ll just have to dive in straight away, and hope for the best. I wonder if this’ll be some kind of theme in this game.
Four save slots, each with four grey icons, present a last possible barrier to entry. But even this turns out to be a mirage: selecting one save slot just kicks me into the game proper immediately.
Oh hello there, little friend! What’s your deal? What are you all about?
Suddenly, Pixel Buddy splits in threes. One part pink human, one part small bow, one part giant arrow. From the human form, a glowing white ball emerges… splits into threes as well, and infuses human, bow, and arrow each with colour and motion. The three shrink as they swirl together, closer and closer and closer still, until eventually…
Huh. Well, that was weird.
I find myself on a small square, a tiny walled-off peninsula of square motifs and rampant grass. I take in the sights for a moment as the wind blows in the background. Then I take in the sights of the wind blowing in the background. Curving white lines dashing across the screen? Classic. Too bad that subtle sort of animation doesn’t translate to screenshots well, or I’d totally show you.
I try out my (360 controller) controls. Left analogue stick moves, right analogue stick shifts the camera around the fixed position of ‘me as the center’. Nothing new there. Let’s see what else we…
Ah! The A button rolls me. Woo!
Specifically, pushing down A rolls my character in the direction I’m currently walking. Holding down A also causes me to move at a more rapid pace, jogging everywhere instead of walking.
Pressing and holding the X button, on the other hand, causes my lil’ dude to draw and charge an oversized purple-fletched arrow. In this state, the left analogue sticks serves for aiming, rather than walking. Release X, and the arrow flies, bouncing off a few walls before coming to a stop. And then… it just lies there. Lies there waiting for me to pick it up, apparently: rather than firing a second arrow, holding down X again causes my character to Force Pull the arrow back to themselves.
And… that’s it, actually! Walking, rolling/running and shooting/retrieving are my only three options. All other gamepad buttons replicate these functions. So I can roll with A, or B, or the left trigger, or the left bumper. Yeah, redundancy!
I walk up, towards the only exit. In the room right above, I find… a purple orb, a blue X inscription on the wall, and a closed door up a flight of stairs. What manner of quandary lay before me, I wonder?
I shoot the orb. The orb starts glowing. I walk up the stairs to find that the door hasn’t opened… but that a giant, moving eye has opened on the door. It tracks me as I approach. It looks uncomfortable in this situation. I can guess why.
I walk up further, through another narrow walkway. Ancient glyphs on the walls describe how to use the mystical ‘A button’ to roll and run. Thanks again, Ancient Civilization!
At the end of my run, past another eyeball door, I encounter a grey glyph on the floor. It glows white as I run over it. Save point? I’m going to say ‘save point’. And beyond that, I find…
It’s actually a little tricky to summarize. In the large room beyond, I find four eyeball doors. Three appear to lead to sealed-off inner areas. The fourth blocks access to a more open, outdoors area, containing a bunch of broken statue parts. I can see this, because I can actually run past all of it. All the way up to a giant eyeball door, The Eyeball To End All Eyeballs, blocking my progress.
Okay. Four normal eye doors, four squares in front of the giant eye door. I see what’s going on, here. Let’s see if I can’t make some sort of magic happen here. I run back down, doing little bits of platforming here and there: I can climb down vines, roll down stairs, and even swim! But eventually, all paths turn back to the the room with the four doors.
When first running up into the four-door area from the south, the first door I encountered was the lower one, straight in my path. I’m going to choose to assume that this is the challenge the game ‘wants’ you to tackle first. Which means I’m not actually going to do that, because screw you, game. Rather, I opt to enter the door on the right: all doors have strange glyphs above them, and I like that the one on the right looks a little like a brain.
I shoot the eye door open and enter the darkness. I am not prepared for what lies beyond.
Alright, that’s a giant brain frozen in a cube of ice. Sure, I’ll accept that. And I see four flame-marked buttons on the floor, none of which show even the slightest hint of reacting to my passage. What do I…
Well, you know what they say: when all you have is a bow and arrow, every problem looks like an archery target. I fire my arrow at the frozen brain.
The brain reacts, immediately, by glowing pink. And by charging its ice block mass at me. Entirely unprepared, I’m crushed to death by the frozen behemoth.
I reappear at the white ground glyph. See, I told you! Save point.
I return to the frozen brain’s chamber. Knowing what to expect, I dodge out of the ice charge this time. Hah, take that, cerebellum! And now that I’ve avoided your attack, I will…
The brain charges again. And again. And after that, it lifts itself into the air, attempting to squash me with its bulk. And then it charges again. And again. And again.
I pelt the brain ice cube with arrows, but to no avail. But what else can I do? I notice that the fire floor buttons do react to the ice cube’s passage, activating a fire grate in the center of the room. But how will that help me? I assume I’ll have to thaw the brain cube out, somehow, but the fire subsides as soon as it leaves the button. And standing on the fire myself does not imbue me with ancient magical fire powers.
I fight the brain once, twice, thrice. I have no idea what to do.
Maybe… maybe I am supposed to fight the southern boss first? Maybe beating that guy will get me new powers or abilities or something? I really hope that’s not it, because if I can’t beat this brain guy right now, why is the door accessible in the first place?
No, you know what? I’m going to leave the brain alone for now… to focus on the left door boss instead. Let’s see if that goes any better.
The left door boss is a giant cube with an eye on one side, which rolls around its chessboard floor and fires the occasional eye laser.
As with the brain, the eye cube first activates when I shoot it. And as with the brain, it quickly kills me the first time, out of sheer surprise. It is way faster than its size would lead you to believe.
The cube’s movement pattern is simple enough to deduce. Roll, roll, roll, roll, fire laser from its giant eye. Then repeat. And I’m guessing, based on my previous experiences in this world, that it won’t like being shot in the giant eye. But the cube is large enough, and fast enough, that I have real trouble finding and keeping my footing. Shit, roll away! Shit, avoid the crush! Shit, it’s backing me up in a corner!
I run and roll and rush away, desperate to stay ahead of the cube. But wait, I’m running away in a straight line! Which means the cube is following me in a straight line! And now its eye is facing directly toward me on its fourth roll, meaning I’m in for a world of laser hurt!
The eye charges up its laser. In my panic, I hit the arrow-charging button. I draw back for a fraction of a second, aim in the general direction of the eye, release, and…
The screen flashes white.
After a second, colour seeps back into the screen. Except it’s not colour, not really: apart from myself and the arrow — currently sticking out of the immobile cube eye — everything is muted black and white. Even the combat music has stopped.
I attempt to draw back my arrow. It seems to resist my command, or maybe the cube is resisting it, and the screen shakes a little as I hold the button down. One second, two seconds… then the arrow breaks free. And with it, a flow of white energy.
As all colour drains from the eye cube one last time, I am surrounded by energy. The energy forces its way into my body, causing me to glow bright white. Then, shards of light escape from my body, piercing the screen one by way, as the music works up to a screeching crescendo.
I exit the dead eye cube’s hollow. The world outside seems to have taken little notice of my victory: the water is still blue, the wind still blows, and the ever-present grass still encroaches on the ruins of ages.
And, more to the point, I’m not any different, either. Beating the eye cube has not given me any, like… skill points, or upgrades, or new powers. I beat it just by being me, in a smart way. Which means…
…Oh, of course! I understand how to beat the brain now.
With the eye and the brain dead, all the pieces have fallen into place. The trick to beating these boss monsters isn’t brute force, or grinding, it’s smarts. Each boss, each combination of monster traits and environmental factors, is a puzzle unto itself, a challenge for you to find to right way to plant your arrow right in its special magical weak spot.
I won’t pretend understanding the core concept makes the remaining two bosses any easier, mind. The southern boss — a giant heart encased in a sludge bubble — necessitates a lot of careful aiming and situational awareness to destroy. And behind the northern door, the broken statue rising from the ground is particularly clever in shielding its one weakness. Only after picking up on its subtle mental quirks do I manage to bring it down.
And then, finally, I approach the giant eye door a second time. It opens for me, now.
And through the door, through the hallway, and up the magical elevator, I am deposited in looks like a massive, open overworld. Instead of one clearly delineated path to follow, I see openings in all cardinal directions. Does this mean I’ve ‘proven my worth’? Where will I go from here on out? What will I see, what will I do, and what kinds of titanic monsters will my tiny bow bring down next?
Only one way to find out.