Jotun was a Kickstarter success that launched in 2015 for the PC. Now, Thunder Lotus Games is bringing its viking adventure to the Wii U with Jotun: Valhalla Edition. The game’s main claim to fame comes from its lusciously detailed hand-drawn graphics and sweeping music. While the game is short and sometimes feels too shallow, it’s still a wonderful trip through Norse mythology.

Story

You play as Thora, a powerful viking warrior who, despite living a life of glory and battle, dies rather ingloriously by drowning at sea during a storm. Seeing that she got kind of a bad hand, the gods decide to give Thora a chance to impress them and gain entry into Valhalla. Thora then journeys out into various realms to defeat the towering giants known as the Jotun. Eventually, more is revealed about the war with the Jotun, as well as Thora’s backstory, told through voice over from Thora herself. The characters speak in Icelandic, which gives the game a sense of legitimacy in referencing something as dense as Norse mythology. Overall, the story is thin but told in a very engaging manner, and plays off like an old Viking tale.

Gameplay

The gameplay in Jotun is similar to Shadow of the Colossus, although a bit more varied. The main crux of the game is going from boss battle to boss battle. In between these fights, there are the occasional minor enemies to fight, and puzzles litter the realms. You’ll be riding down the roots of Yggdrasil one moment, riding past the Nidhogg, while other times you’ll be chopping down trees to make bridges in a swamp. The variety offered for the tasks helped avoid redundancy within gameplay. Hidden in these levels are golden apples that increase your health, as well as various spells from the gods that have different effects, like healing or enhancing your attacks. Bring all these elements together, and you’ve got an entertaining game that keeps you interested in seeing what comes next.

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The boss battles are the big draw to the game, and they definitely do not disappoint. Each one is bigger than the last, and they have huge, devastating attacks while you’re hacking away at their ankles with your axe. The bosses all have multiple phases and patterns, and this new Valhalla edition of the game even has a Valhalla Mode, which essentially consists of a boss rush with remixed boss patterns.

While the boss battles are entertaining, and the spells are fun to use, I honestly wish there was more variety in the combat. You only have two attacks: a standard swing, and a huge overhead chop that takes about two seconds to wind up. While the overhead swing has a nice hefty feel to it – and a lot of the fighting within the game is balanced around how slow it is – I would have enjoyed gaining more attacks or weapons. Once you figure out each boss’ patterns and dodge their attacks, it pretty much always comes down to chopping off their toes with your one attack. The boss battles focus more on dodging attacks and pattern recognition, but hacking through giants or hordes of dwarves would have been more satisfying if I could do more to them than stand in place and swing my axe left and right.

Presentation

To put it simply: The main draws for the game are its visual elegance and haunting music. All of the characters are hand-drawn, and, while some of the bosses have much fewer frames of animation than others, seeing just what crazy animation will play when you finally kill one of the Jotun never gets old. It really evokes a sense of enjoyment that’s rarely found in this day of computer animated movies; a well-drawn monster can still elicit a feeling of awe, and that factor alone kept me hooked.

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Jotun isn’t a non-stop looker though. Moment to moment, outside of fighting bosses, the screen is filled with about 80% flat ground, as the camera is isometric. While I don’t have a problem with the camera angle, I wish the artists added more depth to the ground’s design. The grass in the first stage of the game is overly flat and lifeless, and that plainness disappointed me until I reached the first boss.

The game’s best accomplishment is the scale. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for escalation in scale. (I love you, Wonderful 101.) Jotun’s best moments come when you’re running along a path, only to have the camera zoom out and out and out until you’re a speck on the screen, showing just how tiny you are in comparison to these gods and beasts. Boss battles carry this feat out the best, with most of them requiring you to command Thora around the screen as nothing more than a dot on the battlefield. The game also surprised me with the number of enemies it could present on screen at one time – the second level alone has hordes of dwarves attacking you. Literally hundreds swarm towards your character, swinging and throwing their hammers, as you hack away through the crowd. The game does stutter a bit when stuff gets really crazy, but nothing that was too egregious.

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As far as the sound goes, the music and voice acting are stellar. Hearing the story through its native language created a rich and beautiful experience, and the music often matches the action on-screen during boss battles, swelling when things get intense and adding little audio hits to scripted moments. The general sound effects aren’t anything special though, and the footstep noises actually grated on me some occasions. For the first hour of the game I was surprisingly distracted by how loud the footsteps were, but I was eventually able to tune out their prominence and focus more on the gameplay after a while.

Conclusion

Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a pretty short game – about four or five hours long – but it’s an enjoyable experience. It was very clearly made with a ton of love and care, and that attention shines through in the final product. While it doesn’t feel consistent all the way through, the highs are wonderful to experience, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. I would love to see what the developer could have made, perhaps, with an even bigger budget – to add more enemies, more attacks and more weapons. Still, what’s already here is a brisk, fun tale of a warrior challenging the gods to earn her place amongst them. The sweeping vistas, beautiful score, and gorgeous hand-drawn animations should not be missed.

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8.0
  • Breathtaking animation
  • Wonderful music
  • Accomplishes a sense of scale most games don’t attempt
  • Great use of voice over
  • Some frame rate dips
  • Combat is repetitive
  • Some stretches of uninteresting backgrounds

System: Wii U

Release date: September 8, 2016

Categories: Action, Adventure

Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games

Developer: Thunder Lotus Games

Written by Bryan Finch

A video editor by trade, Bryan Finch is a lifetime Nintendo fan, and he loves writing about his passions. He also spends too much time playing and watching fighting games. Bryan enjoys​​ movies, comics, cooking with his wife, and the idea of Elite Beat Agents 2.

Bryan Finch