How do you improve on a classic formula? It’s a question many artists have explored over the years, and an easy answer for a lot of them seems to be “add more stuff”.
Atari’s Breakout is an immensely influential game, which subsequently begat Taito’s wonderful Arkanoid and all manner of other imitators from over the years.
French developer Titus Interactive observed that most Breakout clones over the years stuck rigidly to the “paddle at the bottom, single screen of blocks” formula. So in 1988, they set out to make something a bit different. The result was Titan, a title that has been newly resurrected for modern audiences thanks to the Interplay Collection 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming system.
The year is 2114, and you’re hanging out in Vegapolis when Professor Hybrys, apparent “genius behind all analytical conceptors”, whatever that means, invents a new “leisure axle” that has proven very popular with the audiences of the future.
Hybrys’ new sport is known as Titan, and there’s a 1,000 kronurs [sic] prize fund on offer for the winner. (At current exchange rates, this equates to approximately £5.66, assuming Vegapolis is indeed situated in Iceland.)
The sport involves bouncing a black ball through a series of 80 labyrinths using a freely movable square control unit. Your objective in each labyrinth is to get the ball to the exit if one exists, or if not, to destroy all blocks that can be destroyed.
The game plays like a combination of Breakout and a top-down puzzle adventure game. The labyrinths are made up of scrolling screens, and you can set the camera to follow either your control unit or the ball with a tap of the Select button. You can bounce the ball around by positioning your control unit appropriately, or if you move over the top of the ball, you can temporarily “trap” it before launching it in the opposite direction to the one you move away in.
Since the format of Titan lacks Breakout’s bottomless void beneath your paddle, you can’t lose the ball simply by dropping it, and indeed in the first few levels you can’t lose it at all. Instead, the game gradually introduces blocks that are fatal to the touch — some will cause you to lose a life if your control unit or the ball touches them, while others will only “kill” the ball.
Titan quickly distinguishes itself from its original inspiration with a variety of brick types and obstacles to negotiate. At its most simple level, some bricks require a few strikes from the ball to destroy, while more complex levels feature floor tiles that only the ball or the control unit can pass over, or which the control unit can only pass over a limited number of times before they become impassable walls.
It’s an interesting game but takes a bit of time to get to grips with. The physics of the ball are fairly simplistic, so your control over its trajectory is relatively limited. The levels are generally designed with this in mind, but there are a few awkward and frustrating situations here and there that require a bit more “micromanagement” of position than you might expect from a game like this.
Your control unit is also very small — only about the same size as the ball. This is presumably deliberate, in order to tie in with the limited manoeuvrability of the ball itself — if you can only bounce it off the edges and corners, it’s theoretically clear which direction it’s going to go in when it hits you — but it can sometimes be a bit tricky to chase the ball and get it to go where you want it to, particularly in stages with long corridors.
But that’s part of the point, really; Titan is a game about learning to master a very simple mechanic, and applying your mastery of that mechanic to a series of increasingly complicated situations. The version of the game on the Evercade — which is based on the Japanese Famicom version by SOFEL rather than the more well-known original home computer versions or Naxat’s PC Engine port from 1991 — provides not only the 80 labyrinths of the original game, but also a monstrously difficult “Challenge” mode for those who feel they have really mastered the techniques required for success.
The game won’t be for everyone, for sure. Its presentation is minimal and simplistic — the very limited sound effects in particular get a bit tiresome after a while — but there’s an addictive challenge to be had here, and an interesting twist on the conventions of the block-breaking genre. For those seeking something a little different that will tax both their brain and their dexterity, Titan is worth at least a little of your time, and makes a great game to have available on the go with you when you just fancy playing something for a few minutes.
And from the perspective of the Evercade’s library of games, it’s another fine example of this system giving some attention and love to games that are perhaps not the most fondly remembered — or even remembered at all for a lot of people, I’d wager — but which are, regardless, intriguing examples of developers spreading their creative wings and trying to do something a bit different.
Is it a great game? Nope. But it’s certainly an interesting one, and that’s important to acknowledge, explore and celebrate just as much as the truly influential legends of gaming history.
Tips and Tricks
- Master “trapping” the ball and moving away from it in the opposite direction to the one you wish to launch it in.
- Enter 9J08PCB0 as your password in Original mode to see the ending.
- Enter L1FEGAME as your password in Original mode to enjoy a bit of Conway’s Game of Life. Press Start to pause and add your own cells to the grid with the D-pad and A, or Select to clear the grid and start afresh.
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