Jotun first came to PC in September 2015, and gained quite the name for itself with its beautifully styled, hand-drawn graphics. The updated version; Jotun: Valhalla Edition is now available on PS4 for digital download via PSN and, last week, Pure PlayStation’s Dom O’Leary got his chance to impress the gods. Did he succeed? And was his quest one of joy or despair? Join us below to find out:
One thing is obvious from the very outset in Jotun: Valhalla Edition; namely, this game is gorgeous. Not in a photo-realistic, fancy lighting effect, big explosion kind of way, but in a quiet, hand-drawn, whimsically cartoonish way. The detail that has gone into animating these hand-drawn creations and bringing them to life as environments, enemies, and bosses, is meticulous and reminiscent of an older 80’s and 90’s Disney style (before all that new-fangled CGI and whatnot). But, why tell you when I can just show you:
This is the scene that welcomes players to the world of Jotun, after a brief introduction of your character and her death (!gasp). Thora, your lady-viking protagonist, just drowned you see; a rather pathetic death for a sea-faring, village-ransacking, marauder type. The gods, it seems, agree with this sentiment and the dead viking is challenged with ‘impressing’ said gods to avoid a trip to viking-hell. You soon find that the unfolding panorama you see above is actually the map of the game’s first area and even at this early stage it’s giving you hints at things that may help you later on.
When you reach the forest below, you start to see glimpses of how this cartoon imagery comes to life; tree roots will sprawl out to block your path, poison mushrooms burst in the marsh and even the well which replenishes your health has a somewhat pleasing animation of the water draining. Little details like this make Jotun feel special, and there are many more impressive examples of this as you work your way through the game.
The starting area serves as a tutorial of sorts. It teaches you your basic and heavy attack, dodge move, and gives you your first ‘god power’ – a special ability that, in this case, allows you to heal. There are several more of these powers to find scattered throughout the levels of Jotun – split between attacking or more defensive abilities and, though their use is limited, they help to add more variety to combat that would otherwise have been a bit too simple. Some of the shrines needed to unlock these powers and their upgrades are hidden too, which extends the enjoyment you can extract from combing the levels.
The task you are given at the start of the game may seem cryptic; impress the gods could mean all manner of things, after all. Fortunately, the good people at Thunder Lotus Games chose to simplify it for us; Collect runes in each area, then beat the centuries of dust off of the ‘Jotun’ that guard them. The game follows the Norse mythology, which we often see only vague allusions to in gaming. The dialogue is all subtitled Scandinavian, keeping true to the Nordic tone. This, the subtle lilting music and the animation all blend together well to make Jotun feel like a playable fairy tale, albeit a rather grim one – Thora’s story, revealed in bits after boss fights, is a real tragedy.
The tutorial area gives way to your first fight against one of the titular bosses. It’s in these fights that both the combat and the animations in the game really shine. Combat is used sparingly outside of these boss fights, mostly reduced to fighting grunts that are little trouble to swat aside. The game prefers to use simple puzzles and some tricky map design to make players think their way around a stage when hunting for runes. The bosses though, are no pushovers; I don’t claim to be any good at Jotun (I’m not), but some of the latter bosses had me stuck for multiple (in one case more than ten) attempts. You will need to make full use of your god powers, as well as knowing your standard moves, to take them down. The design of the boss fights is nice too; most have multiple phases, other wrinkles like spawning mobs, and even some environmental tricks that can give you an advantage.
The bosses are huge and will absolutely dwarf your character, it’s intimidating sure, but this leads me on to one of the few criticisms I would level at Jotun. The scale of the boss fights, and the additional weather and attack animations that go with them, mean your character’s representation on-screen is tiny and can sometimes be obscured in the grandeur of it all. In a game that is already challenging, this can lead to some real frustration as you miss attacks and take damage unnecessarily. I predict that this game may be the death of many a dualshock.
These frustrations, however, are balanced out by the feeling of achievement upon conquering a Jotun, as in all fine examples of the ‘difficult’ game. There are five of these giants to conquer, as well as a super-special-ultimate-final boss that lives up to the fake title I have just bestowed. (Oh, of course it can summon all the other bosses to kick my ass too, cos THAT’S FAIR – me to my TV at 1:00 AM Saturday). The boss fights are interspersed by stages which have to be navigated, typically two levels per area, to find runes, powers, and other collectibles necessary to overcome the Jotun. They are, on the whole, less exciting than the boss fights, but many have interesting scenes of their own to explore.
You can challenge the levels in any order you wish, though you can’t face an area’s guardian until you have both its runes, and it won’t take you too long to get through them all. Though this will vary wildly depending on how challenging you find the bosses, I estimate around 8-10 hours playtime in total. This is extended in the PS4 version (and in an update for all existing PC owners of the game) by the addition of ‘Valhalla mode’ a boss rush available after completing the game with even more challenging versions of the bosses. (You know, for if you really hate your gamepad).
Apart from a few graphical tweaks, which I can’t really comment on having not played the original, this is the main difference between that and Jotun:Valhalla Edition. I can say, however, that this game is beautiful in whatever form. I would recommend this game to just about anyone, there are a few issues here and there; some slow map navigation, the aforementioned visibility of your character at times, and a few instances of some questionable hit detection. But overall the interesting story and lore, the fantastic animation and the challenging bosses make Jotun a pleasant and complete experience with plenty of bang for your indie-priced buck.
Impress the gods! This time in the normal way – by using your wallet! Jotun:Valhalla Edition is available now on PSN. Let us know what you thought of the game with our user review button or in the comments below.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a PS4 digital code provided by the developer. This does not affect the content of the review or the final score. For more information, please read our Review Policy.