On Titan Souls and how it does everything right.

Introduction

So the title may be fairly subjective and perhaps a little of an exaggeration if compared to some of the other great games out there. Titan Souls is however certainly one of my favourite games and it provides a great example of some really effective implementations of many acknowledged elements of ‘Game Feel’.

For any who are unfamiliar with Titan Souls, it’s a top-down 2D indie game and the fundamental mechanics reside around the player AND the enemies, which are more akin to bosses, each having one point of health. The concept is the result of a Ludum Dare game jam where the chosen theme was ‘You only get one’.

This post is not intended as a review or recommendation for Titan Souls and is purely a critique of the way the developers have designed many aspects of the game and made incredibly memorable and endlessly satisfying. I’d go as far to say that even if the style of this game or even the entire genre is of no interest to some people, the concepts covered here could be tailored to enhance the player experience in any game.

Audio / Visual

When done correctly these two aspects usually go hand in hand and in Titan Souls they do just that and in such a way that they help the player feel instantly connected to the world. The vibrant colour palette, trailing dust and dainty wisps of air floating by accompanied by the well crafted ambient sounds of running water, the rustling of foliage and an overall stunning soundtrack makes for an incredibly strong first impression.

Game Feel and Effects

The first thing you tend to notice is that the controls feel tight, especially the roll accompanied by a pleasing crunching sound and a plume of dust. This instantly provides a sense of mobility and a feeling of your actions having at least some small level of impact on the world around you.

The developers match this with aspects of the game such as the depth a simple set of steps holds, running up the steps sees your progress slowed to imply energy exertion, that you’re unable to roll up them and then to top it off being able to watch your character tumble all the way to the bottom if you decide to roll down them. These mechanics don’t have any impact on the game or the way you go about completing it, though it certainly left me thinking, well that’s really cool. In contrast, I know that I’ve played 3D games edging on realism which doesn’t account for such mechanics and the character will glide up a set of stairs or a hill just as easily as sliding across a pool of ice.

These types of treats are scattered throughout the game, for instance, each unique type of walkable surface provides different audio feedback such as the crushing of grass, the crunch of crisp snow underfoot. Or being able to embed your arrow into different surfaces and even leaving tracks in the snow.

Interaction with the Player meets Level Design

This ends up being a bit of a mixed section as the only real interaction the developers have with the player is through the design of the world and they’ve taken a very classic approach to doing this.

The game starts by providing you a small enclosed area which hints at safety, allowing the player to familiarise with the controls.

The next section teaches the play how to use the fire command using a nicely non-intrusive approach that resists breaking the player out of any immersion.

And then we have the first boss (Spoilers ahead if you’re one of those people) and this initial bout provides a plethora of lessons to any player unaware of this game’s mechanics. My first encounter saw me run into the room with the giant slime, get immediately crushed by the creature and therein learn my first lesson, I die really easily. My second attempt was a little better as I now knew that keeping mobile was an absolute requirement. However, after just firing shot after shot at the slime which was splitting off and replicating with each hit, I noticed that each smaller enemy this created was getting faster and more aggressive. I noticed this around about the time two or three of these smaller foes hit me. So now I’ve learned a little more about the game, these encounters may have a simple puzzle aspect to them, avoid making unnecessary enemies and I die really easily.  My third attempt was a quick success, I now knew everything I needed to know as it was clear from the first time I walked into the room that the target was the brain. After less than a minute of rolling and shooting, I was now able to take the target down quickly and efficiently and I was only able to do this due to what I’d learned during my initial attempts.

This entire process for the first boss took me about five minutes and even with the deaths that occurred due to my trial and error this entire experience proved infinitely more rewarding than any safely guided or hand-holding tutorial, unfortunately, prevalent in so many games today. Thinking back on this now, I believe that the reason for this is because at the time it felt as though I had just worked out what was needed and that I had come out on top after doing so. It’s now clear that the way in which the developers went about the overall design quite likely played the bigger part in my relatively quick success.

This ties back directly to games like the original Super Mario where parts of the level would be set out to force the player to encounter an enemy in a situation that could only result in them dying to teach them that enemies are bad. All of this was able to be done without a single line of text or the usually weird NPC interactions.

Another aspect of the level design which really caught my attention were the small inclusions of alternate routes. Often these would offer no benefits, hidden areas or secrets. Many were not even shortcuts and instead simply part of the design of the level but with the added touch of interaction. This really made me start to question, Why do more games not do this? A perfect example of this again is presented to the player early on in the game. Whilst crossing the small bridge I noticed that you could reach the top of the steps in either of two ways. The first being to simply climb the steps, I know, developers went wild again.

A Wild trip up the steps.

However, if you look just over to the right of the screen you notice a small set of vines on the wall which you’re able to swim over to and climb. This could have been left purely as a visual aspect of the level but instead, it provides a new level of interaction and once again taught me a number of things, I can swim, I can climb and it looks like it’s going to be fun looking out for additional routes in this game.

Or we can climb the vine.

Conclusion

For a 2D game with two buttons plus movement with a very simple set of rules and mechanics, I’ve found this to be one of my deepest gaming experiences. The world is inviting and charming in a way I rarely see. The mechanics are so simplistic yet refined that you get a strong sense of the practice and all of the things the game teaches truly paying off in each new encounter. One of my favourite things I took away from Titan Souls though was how oddly real the world ended up feeling due to the details which result from the implementation of so many alternate routes and the interactive elements in the world as a whole.