Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Release Date: 9-29-15
Platforms: PC (Windows, Mac, Linux)
You know you’re in for an experience when a game begins with your character dying and entering the afterlife. You also know you’re in for an experience when the worst part of that scenario is how you died and not the fact that you’re, well, dead. In the case of Jotun, Viking warrior Thora died at sea, and only those who die in battle can enter Valhalla. That’s a problem.
Thankfully, Odin has a solution: Complete his challenges and he’ll grant you entry into Viking heaven. However, when it comes to challenges, the Allfather doesn’t mess around.
On its surface, and perhaps underneath it as well, Jotun is a fairly simple game. You as Thora have a very large axe, and you must use it to kill very large monsters called Jotun. Right click to swing, left click to smash, space to dodge, and yeah, off you go. As you travel through the Viking equivalent of Purgatory, you’ll unlock a few extra skills, but they’re fairly standard: You get a heal, an explosive trap, a strength boost, a speed boost, a shield, and a long-range attack.
It’s simple, yet not in a bad way. I’d have preferred some more upgrades, especially for Thora’s axe since there are only the two swings and not much to be said about combos, but Jotun knows what it wants to be and excels despite its limitations.
Your main goal throughout Jotun’s seven hours of gameplay is to kill the five Jotun found throughout Viking Purgatory. Levels are broken into three sections, with the first two involving exploring maps looking for keys and the third housing the boss itself. Find the two keys, some golden apples to extend your health bar, a power up or two, and then go fight a giant monster.
However, Simple is not easy. The first 2/3 of each level, while not really filled with combat, usually involve plenty of environmental hazards and some puzzle solving to succeed. Each place only has one save station—which can only be used once—meaning activating it as soon as you find it could prove problematic later on when you’re almost dead and out of healing spells. I had to restart a certain level few times because the floor is lava, and lava hurts.
Of the five levels, only three of them have monsters to kill as you proceed through, and of those three, only one of those has what I found to be enjoyable combat. For the other two, it was just easier to ignore/avoid the enemies, which weren’t particularly fast or threatening.
The Jotun are where the real combat and gameplay lie, and holy Viking Hell are they difficult. I knew I was in for a rough time when the first boss took me about twenty minutes to kill, and things never got easier. I threw myself at the thunder Jotun for a good hour and a half before killing her, and the last boss took about just as long. I say that without any exaggeration: It took me at least an hour and a half to kill the last boss of this game!
So the bad news is the game is hard, but the good news is that the Jotun are really, really fun to fight, the last boss especially. I got frustrated from time to time (dying over and over will do that), but I never wanted to stop playing. That’s a high measure of success.
That isn’t to say that the game always feels fair. Thora isn’t exactly fleet of foot, and many of the Jotun move quickly, either through teleports or simple dashes. It can be hard to keep up with them, especially one boss who thought it would be nice to turn the floor into ice so that I was even slower. I am still mad at him.
Thankfully, all the Jotun really telegraph their attacks, so if you get hit, that’s mostly on you.
Simple seems to be the running theme here, and that extends to Thora’s story as well. I’ve already given the barebones plot of Jotun, and the game doesn’t aspire to much more than that. After each level, you’re given a piece of Thora’s backstory on how she came to be the warrior woman that she is, but there’s nothing truly complicated or compelling about it. It’s really only there as a reward for killing a boss and making your way further into the game.
Honestly, what acted as a better motivation to keep playing (other than killing Jotun is fun) was all of the Norse mythology strewn about the world. Thunder Lotus Games have done some serious research here, and I really appreciate the effort.
Throughout Jotun, you’ll get to explore key lore points within Viking mythology, such as the forge where Thor’s hammer was created, the world tree Yggdrasil, the entire Norse creation myth (which was a huge highlight), an entire level on Viking constellations, and more. While most of the lore was in the forefront, complete with voice over explanations, other pieces of lore were far in the background, acting the part of little details. The statue of Loki, for example, had its lips sewn shut, which was his punishment for losing a bet to a Dwarf.
I was thrilled by what I found throughout my journey, and those seeking information on Viking mythology will want to check this game out. It doesn’t have everything of course, but it’s a good starting spot.
Though the gameplay and narrative of Jotun might be simple, its art style is absolutely not. Everything about the game is gorgeous and filled with wonderful, hand-drawn detail. The backgrounds are stunning, and any time I uncovered a vista, I’d wind up just spending time looking at it. That became a problem with the thunder level and all its constellations, which were breathtaking.
I really can’t stress enough how awesome this game looks, especially in motion.
My only complaint with the visuals is that the characters/Jotun/objects are in a slightly different style than the background. According to the creator’s, this is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli anime, though it’s a convention found in many other cartoons and anime too. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it, but it’s my first time seeing it used in a video game, and I found it to be slightly disconnecting at first.
However, as the game went on, it bothered me less and less. I’m not sure if I got used to it or if the designs of later Jotun simply worked better with the art style. Either way, it stopped being a problem after the first hour or two.
Jotun is a game I backed on Kickstarter a long time ago. It looked good then, when it was still in its early stages and Thunder Lotus Games were seeking a programmer, and it is good now. I love that the Internet has allowed projects like this to come into fruition, and I’m glad this has become another Kickstarter success story. It’s good for the industry.
But more than that, Jotun is just a good game. It’s pretty, it’s fun, it’s filled with little, loving details, and it’s worth your time.