It’s Mother’s Day. I have a plan. I’ve bought a thoughtful gift, planned our lunch, found the biggest card in the shop and written an amusing note about needing things in large print these days. When I wake up (a little later than planned, having taken the opportunity to catch up with some old friends the night before) I discover the house is empty. I call my mum. She’s decided to visit my brother for the day.
This may seem to have little to do with Titan Souls, but aside from being the event that precipitated my decision to play the game, you’d be surprised by how much they have in common – both involve the best intentions being met with crushing disappointment at the hands of a hideous monster (actually scratch that last part – I think my mum reads these reviews sometimes).
Titan Souls is a 2D action-adventure game where you, a young hero armed with a single arrow, must defeat a series of titans. I’m not actually sure what else to say because it’s basically just boss fight after boss fight and with only one hit point you end up dying again, and again, and again.
There are some games that feel like they were designed expressly for me. The third Broken Sword game is a good example of this (heaven knows somebody had to like it). Titan Souls is not one of those games. To be fully honest, I’ve never played arcade games that are structured like this one: basically one boss fight after another. In fact I’ve never even looked at any of the games this one supposedly draws its inspiration from. I picked this one up to challenge myself, step a little outside of my comfort zone, and because the art style reminded me of Pokémon.
This game is nothing like Pokémon.
Still, I was determined to complete the challenge I had set myself. After about an hour of play I managed to defeat the first boss. One down, untold numbers to go. The game does say that using a game pad is strongly recommended, so I waited until I saw the boyfriend before I tried again. He of the many consoles had a knock-off 360 controller with a USB port that made the game marginally less difficult.
The downside of playing Titan Souls in the presence of my boyfriend was that every time I died he asked me if he could have a go. These kind of games are his forte. I knew as soon as he got his mitts on my laptop (a significant downgrade from his home-built gaming rig) he would breeze through the fights that were taking me an eon to complete. One of the most frustrating parts of Titan Souls was that I worked out the puzzles almost instantly, I just lacked the manual dexterity to actually complete them. Coming from a genre where working out the puzzles was the hard part, this did not sit right with me at all.
“I don’t get it!” I cried. “It’s boring! It’s pointless! There’s no story!” The last part wasn’t exactly fair, but while Titan Souls does ostensibly have a story, it’s never a key part of the game. I can’t even remember what it is, and with a game structured like this one, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no narrative or progression or emotional investment – unless you count barely clinging to your own sanity as you’re murdered for the hundredth time an emotion. Unable to stand my failure any more, my boyfriend took over. He killed the boss I’d been struggling with in about thirty seconds. I haven’t let him play again.
The satisfaction of defeating a boss in Titan Souls is akin to opening a stiff jar all by yourself. You feel a fleeting sense of pride, but mostly your hand kind of hurts and you wish you could have used the time on something more enjoyable. At least when you open a jar you get to make yourself a tasty sandwich. With Titan Souls there are no sandwiches, only more jars, each one screwed closed by someone more ham-fisted than the last.
Reviewing the game for IGN, Brandin Tyrell praised Titan Souls’ “Spartan style”. To me, wanting your games to have a ‘Spartan style’ makes about as much sense as wanting your showers to be reminiscent of caged death matches. These are not two things that belong together. The happiest I was while playing Titan Souls was when I discovered I could climb the vines and swim in the water in the area outside the boss fights. If Acid Nerve want to develop a game with that as the primary mechanic I would love to get my hands on it. Just let me kill this boss first. I’ve definitely got it this time.