Titan Souls is a minimalist game. The player avatar navigates the jagged verdure and ruins as merely a handful of pixels. What you can do is captured in a wonderfully straightforward, three-button scheme—shoot and pull, run and roll, and analog movement. Even the scope of the game, which consists of fewer than twenty battles total, suggests a compact, intimate experience. Dialogue is sparse; the narrative is mostly felt rather than spelled out, both literally and figuratively.
There is one area where this isn’t the case, however. The game is colossal in its trophies.
Usually, game trophies don’t add much to the overall experience. They are typically awarded for completing parts of a game that you would have anyway, or awarded to those willing to dump countless hours into achieving a certain rank or count—think “Seriously” from Gears of War, unlocked after reaching 10,000 kills in ranked online matches. The best game trophies offer incentive to return and play in new and interesting ways.
Titan Souls’ trophies embody that almost perfectly. One called “Brain Freeze” tasks the player with having to defeat a giant brain with a flame-ignited arrow. Within a very limited time frame the player must shoot one arrow to melt the cube of ice that shields the brain, call it back and reignite the arrow before striking the titan once more. Similarly, another requires the player to split a huge gelatinous sludge into sixteen parts, with each division spawning twice as many parts that move at faster speeds. These trophies compound the original objective with something much more challenging, squeezing as much variety out of those three simple buttons as possible.
Perhaps my favorite of all is “Hard Bizkit,” which asks players to complete the game without rolling (rollin’, rollin’. Get it?). It somehow manages to add complexity by limiting the player’s agency, in a way that actually strengthens the core game. Also, it provides an opportunity to remember that silly Limp Bizkit/Swizz Beatz collaboration.
Even the standard fare gets a tweak: As could be expected, one trophy is earned after completing the game on Hard Mode, and another for finishing with just a single life. “Iron Titan,” however, is achieved by doing both, simultaneously. To give you an idea of just how overwhelming difficult this might be, consider that my first play through of the game, on normal difficulty, cost me 252 lives. Only .3% of players have accomplished this, and, according to Sony’s trophy statistics, it’s about twice as likely to have sprinted through the game in under twenty minutes.
Other trophies are unusual, but welcomed. During one battle, I was awarded a trophy after suffering through clouds of gas given off from mushroom spores that distorted the palette and blurred the screen, calling to mind effects of hallucinogens, suitably titled “Drug Trial.”
The era of my youth when I could sink the kind of time into any one particular game for the purpose of mastery has come and gone. But what makes the design of Titan Souls so great is its versatility. It’s a complete experience for the person who can leisurely play through at her own pace—destroy this titan, save; get humiliated by that titan, come back later. But the game also lends itself to the meticulous player, one who desires to become so proficient that she could demolish each titan within a minute and do this successively 11-12 times without error.
What exists here is a set of optional objectives that ultimately produce a better game. They remind me of Metro: Last Light’s “Shadow Ranger,” which transforms the game’s genre from shooter to stealth, and of Fallout: New Vegas’ “Hardcore,” that introduces a whole new axis of play, requiring constant scavenging for sustenance and supplies. Titan Souls alone channels the caliber of challenge involved in gathering the chaos emeralds in the Sonic series, and the mastery in hunting down and defeating the superboss “weapons” before you confront Sephiroth in Final Fantasy VII. But the trophies continuously beckon, asking you to let them introduce you to new and hidden challenges.