HIGH The boss battles look great.
LOW Traversal isn’t nearly as entertaining as the devs think it is.
WTF Why can’t I jump straight to the boss rush?
There are few things I enjoy less than giving a negative review to a small indie, but a not-good game is not-good game. No one gets a pass. As one might guess, this brings me to the subject of review, Jotun: Valhalla Edition, by Thunder Lotus Games.
In Jotun, the player takes the role of Thora, a female warrior chosen by the gods to kill a series of giants. I’m not familiar with Norse mythology so my grasp on the events here is a little shaky, but apparently these titans are being hunted down to impress the gods. As to what the ultimate goal of these trials is, I’m not sure.
While the developers found a wonderful voice actress to read the lines of their script (and I’m guessing it has some historical basis) I didn’t find it to be interesting or involving, so my focus fell to the gameplay. Unfortunately, it fares little better than the dry storytelling.
There are basically two parts to Jotun. The first (and most impressive) are the boss battles. Whenever Thora confronts one of the giants, it’s a spectacle. Each one is much, much larger than she is, and taking down something on that scale is neat.
That said, actually fighting them isn’t good. Thora’s attack speed is painfully slow, but it’s not the kind of slow that feels careful and deliberate, it’s just clunky. There’s also not much to the melee since she only has a weak hit, a strong hit (with an extremely long wind-up time) a dodge roll, and a handful of magic spells she picks up along the way.
Besides feeling shallow, the encounters also suffer from poor readability. The game’s hand-drawn art style makes it tough to tell where hitboxes are, and worse, the camera zooms waaaaaay out at times to accentuate the size difference between Thora and her enemy. I get that the intended effect is to feel awed, but it just makes things hard to see.
Apart from the boss battles, Jotun doesn’t have much to offer because the other half of the experience is traversal, and traversal as a mechanic is not generally interesting. That proves to be the case here.
The levels in Jotun are a little convoluted so getting to the end isn’t as simple as walking in a straight line — one has Thora sliding on tree roots, another has her pushing from island to island on a raft, and so on — but they’re essentially empty. She’s just hoofing it from point A to point B to collect a few things that open the path to the next boss.
Apart from being boring, these levels are annoying because the map doesn’t show the player’s position, and it’s easy to lose track of Thora’s current location. There’s also precious little combat, and what’s there is can be easily avoided. At one point I met some mean-looking giants throwing rocks and I braced for a scrap, but rather than being challenged, I simply walked around them and moved on – they looked foreboding, but they might as well have been cardboard standees.
Unfortunately, around the campaign’s halfway point I became too bored to continue and I wanted to jump over to the boss rush mode – according to the press release, it’s the new add enhancing the Valhalla Edition. Unfortunately, it’s not available from the start and (I assume?) is only accessed after beating the game. It’s a shame because I would’ve enjoyed going through all the bosses at least once, but getting through the core content was not desirable.
I like the concept of Jotun very much — a female Norse warrior, gigantic bosses, and a not-often-seen flavor of fantasy are all great elements, but there’s not enough to the experience and what is here isn’t very good. The team at Thunder Lotus is on the right track, but I hope their next effort focuses on adding more depth and intricacy to their work.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Thunder Lotus Games. It is currently available on PS4, XBO, WiiU. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence. The game has a fairly cartoonish look to it, and there’s no blood or gore although some of the bosses are somewhat imposing. I’d say it’s safe for little ones to look on.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no audi cues needed for play and the dialogue is subtitled. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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