Titan Souls rolls some of the greatest games into one

Where Link to the Past, Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus meet.

Hit the enemy's glowing weak spot! Learn its attack patterns, and dodge those dancing fists! They're commandments etched into video game lore, but some take those ancient edicts and turn them into something approaching poetry.

Team Ico's Shadow of the Colossus is built around the boss battle at its most explicitly lyrical, while Dark Souls turns its deadly encounters into taut, brutal verse. Titan Souls, a new action game from three-man developer Acid Nerve being brought to PS4, Vita and PC early next year by Devolver, boasts a more minimal brand of poetry.

Part of that minimalism is simply in Titan Souls' DNA. The original was the result of last year's Ludum Dare game jam, with its theme of 'You Only Get One'. Acid Nerve - that being Mark Foster, designer of the brilliant Chroma, musician David Fenn and artist Andrew Gleeson - came upon an artful approach, a boss rush in which you only get one hit-point, and you only get one arrow.

Such is the strength of the premise and the team that the Titan Souls which entered Ludum Dare after three short days of development feels like a finished article. You can play it for free right now - though you should excuse some of the rough edges - and you'll get a fair impression of the fundamentals of the fully-fledged game.

You'll notice some of A Link to the Past in the presentation, though the temple you explore in order to find each of the bosses is touched with a more direct melancholy. The waters are a little murkier, the moss a little denser, and there's a sense of being alone as you unravel a fantastical place, with the titans you encounter beyond creaking stone doors as your only company. It's a sense of isolation and enigma obviously indebted to Team Ico.

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If you're wondering about the game formerly known as Chroma - I certainly was, after helping name it our game of the show at last year's EGX - Mark Foster will be returning to it once Titan Souls has wrapped.

Once you go toe to toe with a titan, you'll notice small debts to other games too. The combat is savage, thanks in part to your paltry single point of health and also to the devilish attack patterns of enemies. Unlocking how they work, often while rolling furiously around the small, self-contained arenas, is a puzzle that distils the essence of Dark Souls. The thrill of downing a titan, too, is the same intoxicating shot of the tonic that gives Dark Souls so much of its appeal.

But to only talk about Titan Souls through the filter of other games does it a disservice, as Acid Nerve has created something with a spirit very much its own. Its combat is elegantly refined - you have one arrow, which in the final game can be fired out in eight directions rather than the four available in the Ludum Dare version. Once released, holding down the attack button can summon it back. You're stationary and therefore vulnerable whilst summoning, but you can also use the returning arrow to strike a titan in its path.

Facing down titans becomes an exercise in quick wits and even quicker movement. Skilful players will be rewarded with an even tougher New Game Plus mode once the 20 or so enemies have been dispatched, while lesser mortals will simply be satisfied by the challenge presented by the first playthrough. The titans in the demo are certainly a tough bunch. There's an ice bastard that noisily scrapes across the floor, and a block bastard who chases you down aggressively, only fleetingly exposing its weak point. Finally there's a stone-man bastard whose fists come crashing down in a mossy courtyard.

In the 20 minutes I spent playing Titan Souls I failed to kill a single titan, though that didn't matter one jot. This is one of those games where you learn to enjoy your many deaths. And it's one of those games where teetering on the brink between survival and oblivion has been elevated to an art.

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