PC players regularly tend to see indie titles first while console gamers get their turn months or even years after the game was released. Through this, however, we lowly Xbox and PlayStation users can deliberate whether the title is for us as PC gamers give it rigorous “testing”. One such game to be recently released on Xbox One that fits this notion is Jotun: Valhalla Edition. Previously referred to only as Jotun, the console release sees a few extra features, thus a subheading is born and so we are now able to experience the game in full. Was it worth the wait for this one to arrive onto the console market?
Jotun: Valhalla Edition: PlayStation 4, Xbox One [Reviewed]
Developer:Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Release Date: 9 September 2016
Price: £11.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Jotun tells the story of Thora and ties itself heavily to Norse mythology. Named solely after Thor, the god of thunder, Thora begins her journey with an inglorious death and the Viking warrior must traverse through the void known as Ginungagap (a bit of a tongue twister, I know) to eventually reach Valhalla. As Thora reaches key points in the game, she will tell us both her own story and the creation myth. All this is done in what is presumably the Old Norse language and it really helps to add style and character to the game.
What is even more impressive with Jotun is its visual style. The game is completely hand drawn, frame by frame, and vibrant and bold colours shower across the screen. The game will regularly zoom out to show off the landscape in particular areas and it never fails to look marvellous. It feels so simple yet elegantly complex in design and it’s a nice change from the pixelated platformers that plague the market. A lot of work has obviously gone into this area of the game as it feels like there is an attention to detail in almost everything you see.
The gameplay of Jotun isn’t complicated by any means. Thora has only two forms of attack that boil down to a regular attack and a heavy swing of her axe. You will be using these two attacks throughout levels as you make your way across different locations in the game, avoiding environmental hazards and the occasional enemy that stands in your way. The levels themselves all feel unique and different, toting a different visual style each time. You’ll initially find yourself in a lush, green landscape with thorns popping up to threaten you, whereas later you’ll be sliding across a frozen lake in an attempt to avoid a gigantic eel that lurks underneath. The aim in these levels is to reach a rune which then allows you to unlock the area boss encounter. If a certain level is giving you trouble, then you can choose to tackle any of the others instead. Jotun allows you to pick and choose any level you wish after the initial area so you’re never forced into one part that potentially may give you a hard time.
As well as acquiring runes, if you search further in levels, you will find special shrines and fruit. Shrines, when activated, will grant you special powers to use in the rest of the game and these can be invaluable in boss battles. Ranging from healing yourself to gaining a burst of speed in movement and attack helps to give Thora that extra edge to overcome insurmountable odds. Grabbing Ithunn’s apples will extend your health bar and as you can imagine, this is something that you definitely want to hunt down. In fact, without these, you will have an incredibly tough time progressing as you will more than likely be faced with a brick wall when you reach the biggest threat in the game.
That threat is, of course, the bosses. As soon as you reach a boss in Jotun, you will be welcomed with an enormous giant that Thora will need to kill in order to impress the gods. Each of these bosses, along with the rest of the game, are designed very well from an aesthetic standpoint and epitomise the particular levels that they belong to. Thora will need to utilise all her skill, or rather, you will as these enemies can easily pummel you in mere seconds. Thora’s somewhat clunky nature can occasionally bring you into a spot of bother as the sheer size of these colossal beasts can cause Thora to look more puny than she already is. The sense of accomplishment is certainly heightened because of the challenge these bosses bring, but at the same time, it can be incredibly frustrating when you are overwhelmed by one attack that catches you just at the wrong time. It can sometimes feel like you’ll never make it through these obstacles, but with enough determination and skill, it’s possible.
Jotun doesn’t give you an option of difficulty upon starting the game. You are thrown straight into the action and so if you think it’s too difficult for you, you may just have to practice and then practice again. If that wasn’t enough, the game also has a “Valhalla” mode, that raises the difficulty to new heights. A simple glance at the games achievements is further proof that you aren’t likely to achieve the mode on a calm afternoon. There is always a fine line between a game being suitably difficult and then frustrating, and while Jotun can be a challenge, especially in boss battles, it can cross that line into frustrating which lets it down slightly.
Another slight issue that Jotun seemed to struggle with early on is freezing and crashing issues. This has occurred in a number of Xbox One titles and whether or not it is the console itself or the game in question causing the issues is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, the game never loses much progress, if any, but it is certainly an unwelcome interruption, especially if you’re encountering one of the more frustrating parts of the game.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a visually impressive game that shows how far indie developers have come in what they can create today. The Norse mythology that carries the game’s story is interesting to learn about and the world in which it belongs to comes to life because of it. A constant challenge is ever present while traversing levels, and bosses act as a great test of skill. While they look fantastic and are exciting to encounter for the first time, frustration can easily kick in when one wrong mistake costs you your life so be prepared to feel potentially agitated when playing. The difficulty factor is always subjective, though, so one player’s misery may be another’s joy. Overall, if the context is to your liking and you’re up for a little challenge, it may be worth checking Jotun out.