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Titan Souls Hands-on Impressions: Soul Crushing

If it's a retro 8-bit style game, it's probably going to be tough as all hell. Another ongoing trend is: if the game title ends with the word "souls," it's going to be extremely punishing. Titan Souls, an upcoming action adventure game created by indie developer Acid Nerve, embodies these stereotypes perfectly.

Similar to its 8-bit aesthetic, the gameplay is deceptively simple and straightforward. Your hero is armed with a bow and a single magic arrow, which can be fired and recalled at the player's command. There are only two controls: firing/recalling the arrow and a dodge roll. With these skills, you enter into different crypts and confront gigantic titans.

Actually, they're pieces of a titan, which look just like giant body parts, trapped inside massive contraptions that act as both prison and guardian. The first door puts you in a room with a heart stuck inside a big blob of liquid. Shooting the blob causes it to split into two, and the same happens when you shoot any of the smaller ones. One touch from any of the blobs, including the small ones, will immediately crush you. Plus, the trail of goop each blob leaves behind will slow you down if you step through it. The idea is to try to limit your shots to the one holding the heart, freeing it, then shooting the heart before the mob of blobs overwhelm you.

While figuring out what to do might not be too difficult, actually getting it done is. You're one tiny guy, with one little arrow, essentially fighting one boss fight after another. These fights demand speed and precision, but players are given precious little of it. Titans are generally big and fast enough to cover almost 2/3rds of a room by the time you can fully pull your bow back. There's no guide or indicator to show where your arrow is aimed. You kind of have to fire and hope you hit what you want to. Skilled players can use the recall ability to get a boomerang double-hit on a titan, but the arrow returns slowly enough for it to be a big risk. Your character doesn't believe in running either, so you constantly have to dodge roll, hoping for a split second when you can fire your arrow again.

As you might already guess, repeatedly dying is a big part of the game. Titan Souls specializes in crushing you like a bug, and it's usually during that one second when you're pulling back your bow to fire--snuffing out your tiny gleam of hope. Some titans, like the brain trapped in ice, will suddenly pull out surprise moves. I thought the giant ice cube would always slide in its efforts to crush me. Then, it suddenly jumped up in the air and hovered about halfway across the room to squish me under its weight. However, the game does switch things up once in a while. For example, the eyeball inside a fast rolling box will fire a laser beam that reaches across the whole room. The trick is in shooting it in the eye before it can laser or crush you to death. It can take a long while to finally defeat a titan, and the ones I have described are just the first three.

Defeating a titan treats you to a short animation where you consume its soul, but this appears to be a strictly cosmetic event. You don't seem to move or fire any faster, nor do you gain any new abilities. The cycle goes: boss fight, die (a lot), maybe win, move on, repeat. Figuring out how to defeat a titan is just easy enough to tempt players into retrying, and the thrill of victory can be very satisfying, though short lived. However, my experience with fighting the titans quickly degenerated into a lot of cursing and controller bashing.

If that kind of intense challenge sounds like it's exactly what you need in your life, then you won't have to wait long. Titan Souls releases on April 14th for PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, and Linux.

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