Plugged during a succession of press conferences, Microsoft’s ID@Xbox initiative functioned as a Pied Piper for indie studios, enticing Xbox One coders with the lure of two free development kits and access to technical documentation. In the seventeen months since the original announcement, the program has proven to be a measured success, with thirty-five titles released from a pool of over a hundred announced developers. Expectedly, the majority of the games have proven to be ports and updates, imparting a scant amount of new experiences to owners of competing consoles or PCs.
Although the release of Funk of Titans certainly feels like an adaptation of a mobile title, with simplified play mechanics and incentives culled from auto-run platformers such as Rayman Jungle Run, the game is the rare Xbox One original. While the four-person crew at developer A Crowd of Monsters should be commended for crafting a fresh outing, owners of the console might be a bit indifferent toward a twelve-dollar title that doesn’t flaunt the capabilities of their hardware. For those that can absolve the team of that minor transgression, Titans’ exhibits a pleasing combination of playability and polish.
While the game’s storytelling elements are largely limited to dialog and brief cinematics, players are likely familiar with Perseus, Funk of Titans’ hunky protagonist. Known for slaying the Medusa and saving Andromeda from a Cetus, the son of Zeus’ feats are one of the foundations of Greek mythology. Instead of merely retreading the acts depicted in the Clash of the Titans films, the game imagines Perseus in a world that’s far more Parliament that hackneyed old Pandora. Here, the hero is tasked with taking down the Music Titans by evading enemies and environmental hazards across a progression of stages.
Traveling across a map which breaks Perseus’ deeds into the Pop, Rap, and Rock realms, with each territory offering battles between mid-bosses known as grunts, as well as principal battles against the trio of Music Titans. Much like the rest of the game’s visual assets, everything on the overworld map is colorful and rendered in high-definition, albeit parading a constrained polygon count. Oddly, paths through each world offer branching pathways, but players must complete both sides of the fork before the can continue onward, occasionally gaining words of encouragement from Aretha, Hercules and well as your father, Zeus.
The majority of levels send Perseus through labyrinthine layouts of classical Greek architecture, with the hero either using his weapon to swat away at foes, vases, and doors or bounding off springboards and off the heads of enemies. Unlike most platformers, players don’t use a stick to control the character. Instead, Perseus careens through each level automatically, taking gamers with pressing the attack or jump button at the appropriate moment.
Fortunately, Funk of Titans isn’t fastidious about its timing. Fail to leap at the precise edge of a platform or don’t quite reach the lip of an elevated pathway, and Perseus will right himself, habitually putting the protagonist on a perfect trajectory to grab each collectable golden record with litter each route. Pleasingly, precision isn’t required during the grunt or boss battles, where Perseus monster-mangling actions are determined by QTE-styled button presses.
Although Titans is lenient about its button presses, the game is not as compassionate when Perseus misses a jump. Inadvertently touching a flame or enemy results in the character losing his costume. While he’s supposed to bounce back get a second chance, Ghosts ‘n Goblins-style, too often the hit sends the protagonist soaring through the air and into another hazard, defeating the concept of a two-hit death. As such, mastery of Funk of Titans is less about identifying and reacting to dangers in the environment, and more about the memorization of each level. This is further reinforced by one of the level goals, which tasks Perseus with gathering a hundred gold records. Although stages offers multiple routes, there’s only one method to capturing every collectable.
Obviously, the consequence of this design decision is replayability, sending players back into zones until they unlock the preferred path through each level. Two additional components also serve to recall gamers back into the realms: escaping unscathed, and finding a jet-powered Pegasus also contribute optional level objectives. The later even sends players into a bonus round, where Perseus can earn additional gold records, which contribute to the in-game currency that’s used to unlock costumes and additional weapons. Additional ambitions boosts the characters ‘hero level’, with players earning experience for feats such as completing a level without armor or defeating a designated number of enemies.
While Titans’ thematic concept is novel, there’s not always enough aesthetic funkiness to truly articulate the idea. The game’s musical selections are hummable, yet lack the type of bass-heavy, infectious grooves that players might expect from the title. Likewise, the game’s Grecian landscapes make sense, but the Pegasus bonus levels, filled with cupcakes and other types of junk food, do little to convey the context. What does work are many of the game’s animations. Although most characters and enemies remained fixed, they do dance and move in time to the game’s music. On the upside, character design is clever, with bosses evoking different musical personalities; the first major battle you’ll encounter in against a Lady Gaga-lookalike with guns protruding from her chest. Additionally, asset recycling is shrewdly masked by different lighting styles which place Perseus’ undertakings at different times of day.
Although Funk of Titans hits a number of off-key notes and isn’t exactly an ambitious composition, there is gratification to be found as gamers hop and hack their way through its procession of stages. With a bit more cohesion in its visual and aural elements, the mighty Perseus could potentially give Rayman a run for his money. As it stands, A Crowd of Monsters inaugural console offering never fully capitalizes on its promising concept.
Funk of Titans was played on the Xbox One with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Xbox One
Developer: A Crowd of Monsters
Publisher: A Crowd of Monsters
Release date: January 9th, 2015
Price: $12.49 via Xbox Games Store