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Considering the Exasperating Cuteness of ‘Titan Souls’

Acid Nerve's new 16-bit-styled adventure looks cuddly, but get your hands on it and within minutes it's trying to gnaw them off.

by Mike Diver
Apr 17 2015, 6:45pm

I've never liked mushrooms. I've tried, over the years, to come around to them—not least of all because my wife's a fully-fledged veggie, and apparently they're like "their meat," or something. Nope, not buying that, for even the most meager mouthful. They're foul, any salient fleshiness factor overpowered by a taste falling firmly into the category of repulsive. Sometimes my wife cuts them up small and stirs them into our dinner. Sometimes I eat them to be polite. Mostly, I pick them out and leave them on the side of my plate. I am 35, going on six years old. But fuck them, because they're rancid, stinking fungal bastards.

And now one of them wants to kill me.

I've only been playing Acid Nerve's Titan Souls for 40 minutes, but I've died more than 40 times (I was on 37 the last time I paid attention to the save screen's stats)—and most of those deaths have come in the company of a lethal-spores-spunking, ground-pounding mushroom thing that just won't let me stick my one good arrow into its stupid... Actually, I'm not sure where to stick it, and that's part of the problem at the moment. I'm guessing I'm supposed to shoot it at the circular purple opening on its stalk—but such is its movement, leaping and spinning, constantly coughing forth one-touch-and-you're-toast clouds of death, that lining up a kill shot has, thus far, proved impossible.

This boss can only be beaten by an arrow in the eye, the problem being that same eye's habit of shooting deadly lasers

The repugnant fungus— Obello, apparently—is one of the I'm-not-actually-sure-how-many-exactly (but more than some and south of infinite) bosses in Titan Souls, and bosses is all that the freshly released game, made by the three-man team at Manchester studio Acid Nerve, deals in. A demake-cum-tribute to Fumito Ueda's eternal Shadow of the Colossus, mixing in the lose-and-lose-and-lose-and-win gameplay of From Software's Souls series, it's a tough, 16-bit-styled, top-down RPG of sorts that pits the player character—one hit point, one retrievable projectile—against a series of titular titans. They've one hit point, too, assuming you can survive long enough to uncover it. The mushroom and me, we're yet to reach that stage in our relationship. But before it came four first-wave bosses, each of which met with a permanent end by my simple bow and arrow.

One was a blob that became more blobs when I landed a clean strike, eventually uncovering a heart that was easily enough speared into stillness and death. Next, a brain in a block of ice that required some well-timed bow work to fire a flaming bolt at its cuboid frame, melting away the protective layers. Then, another cube-shaped adversary, this time with a single, laser-blasting eye that I fall victim to a few times before sticking it good while drawing back my arrow from a distance—you can sort of "suck" it back into the clutches of your little hero. Fourth was a stone creature that pounded the earth with gigantic fists. He got maybe three or four ground-shaking blows in before I put pay to his boisterousness.

'Titan Souls' launch trailer

But then came the mushroom. Thankfully, once the first four enemies in Titan Souls are seen off, you can choose your own order for attacking the next array. So when I turn the game back on, later, I'll be able to go after something else instead. There's a butt cheek-baring yeti, I'm told, and a snake that patrols a frozen lake. There's a beastly flower with flailing tendrils of deadly thorns. One of Acid Nerve's creations has a crystal core surrounded by lava. There's great imagination on show—but make a single misstep and the encounters are over.

Which can be, effectively, instantaneously if you're not so hot with the dodge button, leading to a (mercifully short) trudge back to the relevant battle arena for a rematch. It's a good thing that the music is so delightful in these between-boss "hubs," as you'll be hearing a lot of it. I'm yet to feel that urge to propel my PS4 pad into the floor with such force that it sends its tiny sticks flying up to the ceiling, rendering the controller utterly wrecked; but much like the recently released Bloodborne, Titan Souls is a game that's going to infuriate players regularly short on patience.

It eggs you onwards with its opening quartet of easily beatable bosses before smashing your hopes to smithereens the first time you come up against one of the following beasts. It's visually cute as a button, and (to echo a just-previous point) sounds beautiful, but when it bares its teeth it's like gazing into the monstrous maw of a T-Rex from about eight inches away.

The trick with this one is to dodge his fists and stick your arrow into that purple patch he's trying so hard to shield... good luck!

Reviews for Titan Souls haven't been universally kind—I've spied a few 5/10 marks. And I can see, already, that the game's replay value is likely to be low once that final titan's fallen. But then, the same could have been said of Shadow of the Colossus, and I returned to that. People are constantly starting new game pluses on Dark Souls and its sequel, and it could be that Acid Nerve has more terrors to unveil as DLC, to prolong the game's lifetime in the way Monument Valley did with its Forgotten Shores expansion. Titan Souls' simple premise and exacting gameplay is sure to encourage competitive speedrunning—the game's demo certainly saw a rash of personal bests uploaded to YouTube. So it's far from a title to pick up only to put down, for good, an hour or two later.

Especially not if you, like me, keep getting flattened by a fucking mushroom. "We never set out to make grown men cry," programmer Mark Foster told me last month at Rezzed, where I first played Titan Souls. But cup your hand to the PlayStation Network, right now, and no doubt you'll hear the soft sobs of a handful of players lamenting the fate of their late DualShock 4, split asunder before a rock-hard risotto ingredient turned terrifically rampant.

Titan Souls is out now for PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC. It is being played by the author on PS4 using a code supplied by the game's publicist. Don't expect him to get much better at it any time soon because, if the above didn't make this clear, it's really bloody hard.

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