YOU HAVE FAILED THE GODS!!!
Jotun: Valhalla Edition for the Xbox One came to us thanks to the wonderful folks at Thunder Lotus Games. Be warned, Jotun is not for the faint hearted, and if you're looking for a quick action thrill that offers minor challenge, walk away now.
If you want an old-school style action adventure, with tough boss battles, puzzles, and a romp through the ancient halls of Norse Myth - welcome to the Nine Worlds! You play as Thora, a viking warrior who died a pretty inglorious death - now to earn her place in Valhalla she needs to impress the gods, and in doing so she's going to carve her way through various places connected by the World Tree.
Her aim is to cut down the mighty Jotun, Giants of legend that guard the various runes which will help her gain the favour of the Norse Pantheon once more.
Jotun is a simple game to get to grips with, there's very few controls and they're not going to hold your hand beyond the first few moments where you get to grips with what you're supposed to be doing. In fact, they're not going to hold your hand period in this game - it's one of those gloriously old-school romps where you're not given a mini-map, or a tutorial book packed with exact information.
You learn by doing in Jotun, go the wrong way to begin with and you'll find tough stuff that wants to murder you - so you go the other way and find it's a little easier. I'm drawn to another tough hand-animated game with a similar feel: Hyper Light Drifter.
Only where Hyper Light Drifter is pixel art, Jotun is like a gorgeous cartoon come to life. With shades of Dragon's Lair in the art style, mixed with a hefty wedge of Norse design. Aesthetically it's right up my alley, since I'm a big fan of the Norse myths and legends - this is like an exquisite tour through some of the Greatest Hits of the Norse realms.
Just for the art and aesthetic alone, it's magic.
The action is spot on, with a very satisfying combat system that rewards patience and tactics over mindlessly slamming buttons. In fact, button bashing in this game is going to get you to the YOU HAVE FAILED TO IMPRESS THE GODS screen pretty quickly.
I died once on the first boss because I wasn't paying attention to a particular element of the battle, you've been warned.
WHAT TO DO, WHERE TO GO?
Jotun doesn't telegraph anything, it doesn't really tell you what to do or where to explore beyond a few hints. You'll travel from world to world unlocking the runes that open up the door to the boss battle, and finding various bonuses along the way - extra powers for Thora, such as Loki's distraction ability, or golden apples that extend her health bar.
Mimir's Pools will refill your health and abilities/powers.
The Map is as mystifying as the game itself, with only a vague design to give you an idea of the level layout. It has secrets buried away if you spend time looking for them, and again, these secrets can prolong your adventure as Thora, or lead you to snippets of lore.
You'll settle into the rhythm of finding runes that unlock the boss door, and searching the vague map for various goodies fairly easily. You'll find puzzles that impede your progress now and then, solve them, move on and hopefully slay the Jotun at the end of each 'world'.
That's Jotun in a nutshell.
Jotun is one of those games, like Dragon's Lair before it, that has an incredible art style and great aesthetic. The design cuts through the whole game with various larger-than-life characters, fantastical locations, and scenes pulled right out of Norse mythology. Such as the World Serpent chewing on Yggdrasil's roots as you explore the roots of the great tree. It is however sparse, and like Thora herself, there's not a lot of world building going on with her, or around her. Unlike say, Hyper Light Drifter that's packed with all sorts of tiny details. It's a minor thing, but I'd have liked to see more detail go into the map design in some of the places.
All the dialogue that's spoken in the game is done so using Icelandic voice actors, which is apparently the closest language to that of the Old Norse/Norse the developers could get. Pretty impressive stuff, and Thora's VA is superb, bringing the character to life with her asides as you explore the various regions in the game world. it really adds to the atmosphere, and hearing the language with the translated subtitles helps pull you further into the world around Thora, deeper into her giant-slaying adventures.
The music is also good, solid, and matches the on-screen action/adventure really well.
It's an impressive effort all round.
YOU HAVE IMPRESSED THE GODS
Like the Gods once you slay a Jotun, I'm pretty impressed with the team behind this game, and the result. Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a hard but fair game, runs really well, and has a solid action-combat system which can be made even harder by the addition of Valhalla Mode, which is Boss Rush, and amps up the boss fights so they're even harder.
It's a good package, worth the money, and definitely needs to be in the collection of any dedicated action-adventure fan.