Jotun was released for PC in September 2015, but this month sees the Viking indie come to PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One in the form of the Valhalla Edition. Thunder Lotus Games' game mixes puzzle solving, exploration and combat in an experience that is both reminiscent of many other titles while also bringing a lot to the table that is unique and interesting.
Jotun's story is simple but effective in the sense that there is one task requiring clearly laid-out objectives to achieve. You play as Thora who has recently died and must now fight five Norse gods in order to impress them enough to enter Valhalla. Before encountering these bosses, though, you must complete the levels within each branch of the pentagon hub world called Ginnungagap to allow entry to the boss fight. All of the narrative is spoken in Icelandic, softly carrying the player through the different avenues of mythology the game explores.
The first thing people will notice about Jotun is the hand-drawn style Thunder Lotus Games has adopted and clearly put a lot of time and effort into. The world and the characters are all lovingly detailed frame-by-frame and this really shows. Everything in the game looks gorgeous and the creative interpretations of the Norse Gods is incredibly impressive, especially since a lot of colour has been used throughout. Even the animations in the game are considered and well-crafted in a simplicity that matches the art style.
Level design is carefully considered as well. Due to the uncomplicated art style it is easy to be fooled that all of the levels are easy to navigate, but this is revealed to be incredibly deceptive when players try to reach hidden areas to access treasures. One aspect of this that was rather aggravating, however, was the fact that a map is given but this map doesn't show the location of the player. Although designed to make the game more challenging, it seemed a little obtuse and made for frustrating navigation, especially when Thora's movements can sometimes be painfully slow and jagged as well.
The navigation isn't the only part where Jotun falls short, unfortunately. Although there isn't much combat, the combat that is given is limited and annoying to use. Thora has only two attacks, a melee attack with square and a heavy axe swing with triangle, which would have been appropriate given the limited combat if it wasn't for the fact that they are slow and clunky to use. The normal attack has two swings in a combo before taking a painfully long time to reset and the axe swing's charge is often too long to hit a moving target. Basically, both attacks don't feel smooth at all and aren't a pleasure to use, which is a shame as you'd expect a far better experience from a Viking wielding an axe.
Puzzles are handled far better though. The few puzzles that are in the game are well thought out but not convoluted, being satisfying in difficulty without becoming tedious. One noteworthy example is when Thora is tasked with using scattered points to reproduce constellations which both puzzles the player while introducing them to different aspects of Norse mythology that many may not be familiar with. In fact, many of the puzzles serve to introduce different parts of Norse mythology to the player.
The highlights of Jotun are the boss battles, though, and the game is reminiscent of others like Titan Souls in the sense that they are the central focus. All things lead to the bosses and when you eventually meet them they are huge in comparison to you, although the difference between this and Titan Souls is that it isn't ingenious strategy that requires beating these but just dodging attacks while dealing damage. There's no puzzle to completing these bosses, just being good at the fighting. Each boss is varied and challenging and can be completed in any order. We, for instance, saved them all to do in one go.
Abilities can be used in both boss fights and in the other levels of the game as well, and these are found at shrines that are dotted around the levels. These abilities include Thor's Hammer as well as others like healing and spawning a clone to deceive enemies. Health boosts can also be found in the levels so exploration pays off, although none of these will dramatically change the tide of battle, especially since the abilities can only be used twice before expiring.
In the few short hours that Jotun: Valhalla Edition takes to complete, then, it offers enjoyment in the boss battles, delicate and interesting portrayals of various sections of Norse mythology and pleasant puzzles, but the combat and the movement may irritate people enough to tarnish that. There is a bit of substance lacking in the fact that Jotun is so short, but to fill an afternoon it is certainly worth a go at least.
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