Jotun's a game that demands you impress the gods to progress. But is it impressive enough to warrant a purchase?
Jotun tells the story of Thora, a Norse warrior woman who died an inglorious death and must prove herself to the gods to enter Valhalla. Her task is a daunting one: she has to traverse five worlds of the cosmos and fight five giants known as jotun. Defeat them all and the gods will deem her worthy of her place in the afterlife. Simples, no?
Broadly speaking, Jotun's gameplay consists of two distinct halves: explorative puzzle-solving sections and boss battles. In each of the five worlds, you'll have to find two runes in the explorative areas before you can fight its respective jotun. There's a good amount of variety in the areas, both in level design and aesthetics. One has you striking nodes in the ground to draw constellations of mythological figures; whereas another requires you to figure out a maze-like sequence of raft crossings across a fiery swamp.
Unfortunately, most of these levels have one thing in common: they can be rather dull. They're usually fairly large and empty and there's not much combat. This isn't helped by the fact that Thora moves pretty slowly. Each area has a map in the menu screen but seeing as it doesn't mark your current location, it's of limited use. The only way to work out where you are is to try to match up its contours with the geography of your surroundings which requires you to repeatedly pause the game to open the menu.
As well as finding runes, you can also acquire god powers. These are magical abilities granted by different gods such as a healing spell and a Thor's hammer attack. Each one can only be used a small number of times, but they are crucial for improving your chances against the jotun, so it's a good idea to try and seek them all out. There's also a god power that gives you a speed burst, but it doesn't last long enough to stop the tedium of the exploration levels.
When you feel adequately prepared, it's time to take on one of the giants. Aside from your god powers, you have just two attacks: one light, one heavy. As you'd expect, the light one is quicker but doesn't do much damage whereas the heavy one is more powerful but takes time to charge. However, even the light attack feels rather slow and the lethargy of your movement means that you sometimes have to act well in advance to avoid an oncoming attack. You'll frequently feel like you pressed a button quickly enough but still ended up getting hit because Thora is such a sloth.
That's not to say there isn't a lot of skill required to play Jotun. There is. You'll have to learn bosses' patterns and various stages, and decide the best time to use your god powers to their maximum effect. The later battles are particularly tough; sometimes there are so many hazards onscreen that it seems almost impossible not to get hit at least a few times.
One annoyance worth mentioning is that it can take a long time to restart boss battles. When you die or want to try again, you have to wait for a loading screen, then run back to the jotun, activate it (usually by hitting it), then wait for its animation to play out before the battle starts. An instant restart button would have made things a lot more bearable, especially for trophy hunters and speedrunners.
For those wanting even more of a challenge, the Valhalla Edition comes with a new feature, Valhalla Mode. This is a boss rush mode in which you fight even more powerful versions of the jotun. There are even trophies for beating it without using god powers or without taking a hit. Now that's a feat that would really impress the gods.
One area Jotun undoubtedly excels in is its visuals and presentation. The hand-drawn cartoon graphics are beautiful and ooze character. The environments are lovingly crafted and the bosses look great, each one unique in its appearance and move set. There's also a genuine passion for Norse myth permeating the experience. You're given background information on the places you visit and the runes you collect. It's well researched and interesting to boot. Another cool aspect is that all the voiceover work is in Icelandic (with English subtitles), as it's the closest extant language to Old Norse. It's a nice detail and makes Jotun feel all the more authentic.
Jotun's undoubtedly a beautiful game but it contains a fair bit of dead time between the action. There's lots of running (slowly) around in open areas and some confusion as to where you're going (leading to more aimless running). If you're interested in the subject matter, I'd still recommend checking it out, but just be aware that you won't always be having an engaging time.
- + Beautiful hand drawn art style
- + Good amount of variation in bosses and levels
- + Nice presentation and voice acting
- - Lots of boring wandering sections through empty environments
- - Movement and attacks are slow and clunky
- - Restarting boss battles takes too long