“The Gods may be gone, but they left behind their stories in the hope that we would learn from our mistakes.”

Developers love to incorporate Norse mythology into their worlds as much as many gamers love playing in them. ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree is a short adventure, puzzle, and rhythm game with an interactive story developed by Wildboy Studios. It is their first game, and they made a good first impression with their unique combination of gameplay with their story about loss, learning from our and others’ mistakes, and making amends.

The game is quick to jump into action. We arrive at the campfire of three drunken friends on the night of their village celebrating the death of a familiar, a traitor to Odin, who was put to death for loving a God. One of the friends, Thyon, roamed through the village in search of his mother, Mytrigg, to express to her his uneasiness about how they are celebrating the death of someone they once claimed to be a brother. After some much needed rest at the request of his mother, he awakes to find his fellow villagers slaughtered. He quickly rushed to save and shield his daughter, Estra, from the unknown terrors invading their land.

These unknown evil forces, known as the blue veins, have become more rampant ever since the Gods of their world, Midgard, abandoned them. Their people and the sacred Elder Tree are left exposed to harm. You, the player, must step into the boots of our spunky redheaded protagonist Estra as she traverses across Midgard in hopes of uncovering her father’s past and serving her purpose as the great leader as she carries the burden of her people. With a bright and blue pendant, her father’s axe, and a spirit in the form of a frog on her shoulders, we experience this Norse mythology-inspired story through Estra’s eyes and serve as her guide.

This game is packed with puzzles to play, riddles to solve, and trick questions to ponder for the one and only true answer. Symbols and colors play a major role in both the puzzles and the in-game world. It may take some time for the puzzles to “click” as you experiment with what works and what doesn’t, but that won’t always be an option because so is failure. Some puzzles will give you chance after chance to figure them out, while others may only give you one shot at getting them right. Failing to do so will prevent you from earning a character’s trust, receiving blessings, or unlocking hidden secrets and other parts of the story. So, as some of the cast of characters preach, take your time to consider your answers and use your head.

Every decision matters. You must also use your best judgment to help Estra differentiate between right and wrong, who to deem worthy of her trust, and whether to fight or be a peacemaker. The decisions you make on Estra’s behalf will affect the course of the story. It is up to the player to decide what role they want Estra to play. You can avoid conflict at all costs or act on emotions and trade a life for a life. To the ones who decide to take the pacifist path, sorry, but you will sometimes find yourself with no other option but to fight.

Instead of hacking and slashing through your opponents, you battle them to the beat with a song unique to each beautiful battle. There are no tutorials or test runs, so you must learn from trial and error. Once players are able to play as Estra, they are allowed to alter the difficulty at stones with a pink icon that are found scattered all throughout Midgard. Players have the choice between story, normal, or hard mode. If you are more interested in focusing on the story or want to dust off and show off your rhythmic skills by playing with four buttons instead of two, you are able to customize your experience with the game to your liking. As beautiful as the battles are, the background art for them eventually becomes monotonous. The same few animations play over and over until the end to show who came out victorious.

The art is hand-drawn in a simplistic, 2D, angular style that resembles the style of Samurai Jack. It is relaxing to journey through the many seasons of Midgard while listening to the synth soundtrack blended with calm or distorted sounds to suit the tone of each scene.

Overall, ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree is a vibrant game that tells a dark tale involving coming to terms with one’s loss, making amends, and being pushed into a place of power. It surprisingly did a great job with its unique combination of action, adventure, puzzle, rhythm, and role-playing genres blended together. It is a short game that offers replayability due to the decisions one makes changing the course of the story.

ATONE: Heart of the Elder Tree is available for purchase on the Nintendo Switch’s eShop for $14.99.