When it comes to storytelling in video games, inspiration from real world mythology is a soft spot of mine. So when getting ready to play Jotun, a game that draws from Norse mythology created by Indie Studio, Thunder Lotus, my expectations were high. With gorgeous visuals and challenging gameplay, Jotun delighted my senses as I fought to impress the gods and earn my way into Valhalla.
The story of Jotun focuses on the Viking Thora, as she awakens in the afterlife and discovers she has been given a second chance to win the favor of the gods after her inglorious death at sea had displeased them. Tasked with defeating four Norse elementals known as Jotun, fighting her way through all her foes is the only way Thora can make it into Valhalla, the Norse equivalent of paradise. It’s a simple story, but one that is done well as you continue to learn more about the events leading up to Thora’s demise as you progress through the game.
Easily the most impressive part of Jotun is the hand drawn animations for Thora and all the enemies she encounters on her quest. While it may be hard to tell with some of the smaller enemies, the downright massive Jotun really show off the fluid animation, and this makes the bosses and enemies feel more organic with their movements. Oftentimes, I had to fight the urge to stop playing so I could watch the tiny details in each Jotun’s animation. Pair the hand drawn graphics with some atmospheric tunes and nice voice acting, and Jotun does a great job of putting you in the mood to slay some titanic beasts.
Gameplay has you guiding Thora through nine stages as you attempt to collect a rune within each stage that will earn you the right to challenge a Jotun. The levels themselves are interesting, with lush forests, Dwarven ruins, and a constellation filled sky among some of the places you’ll visit. Exploring each stage thoroughly is in your best interest as well, as Thora can find statues of Norse gods that will grant her magic, and apples from the mythical tree, Ithun, which will extend her life energy. In addition to collectibles, there are areas for you to find where the camera will pull back to show you more of the surrounding area (and some nice artwork to boot), and Thora will sometimes treat you to some of the Nordic Mythos as you play through the stages. Overall the stages do a nice job of guiding you to your goal, while also encouraging exploration. While the game does provide you a map both in-game and on the Wii U game pad, you have to mentally keep track of where you’re going because the map lacks a real-time marker for Thora, and sometimes it can be frustrating to find your way when you are lost because of this.
Combat consists of swinging your mighty axe at your foes in true Viking fashion. Tapping the Y button will quickly swing your axe for some light damage, and holding down the X button will allow you to charge a more powerful heavy attack that not only deals damage but can also move or destroy certain objects. Pressing the B button lets Thora do a quick somersault so she can dodge incoming attacks. Also available to you are magic spells granted to you by finding the statues of the gods in the game’s stages. These are all accessible to you via the touch screen, the catch is you have a limited amount of times you can use your spells, so you have to plan their use very carefully if you want to survive. You can even use spells in tandem, and I found the power boost paired with the speed increase spell lets you dish out some devastating heavy attacks much quicker than usual.
While the combat may seem simple, the Jotun boss fights are where the game’s challenge lies. Due to their sheer size, Jotun pack a serious punch, and their attacks cover a wide area which can make them difficult to dodge. Each Jotun represents and battles with a different element, and you’ll probably find yourself dying a few times before you figure out the right way to go about attacking the boss and using your magic. These battles are a mix of strategy combined with pure determination,
and the results can be pretty intense. After one particularly tough fight with Kaunan during my play through, a large clap of thunder outside made me jump out of my seat as I landed the finishing blow on the mighty Jotun. I couldn’t help but think that Thor was pleased with my efforts.
Jotun may be a bit on the short side (my play through took about eight hours), the Valhalla edition of the game on Wii U features a boss rush mode where you’ll see how quickly you can defeat each Jotun. These boss fights are much harder than their originals, and it’ll take some serious grinding in order to master each one. As of this writing, I’ve only managed to beat three of them, but perhaps you can beat my best times? This extra game mode will definitely give you some more time with the game, and makes for some nice replay value.
When all is said and done, Jotun is a short but sweet game that has some beautiful visuals, an interesting story and setting, and some downright challenging bosses. $14.99 may seem a little steep at first, but the replayability of Valhalla mode coupled with the quality of the game play and art make it a more reasonable purchase (especially if you include the %10 discount for first week purchases). If you’ve made it this far into the review and you’re still interested, you’ll most likely find yourself having a good time with the game. If the game’s shorter length or heavy focus on boss fights doesn’t really sound appealing to you, then it’s probably best to pass this one up.