With Thunder Lotus Games’ Jotun being free to own this weekend, we decided to go ahead and give it a review, even though it’s been out since September of 2015. The free part makes it kind of newsworthy, right? OK, fine, so we’re just trying to clear a backlog of games and this weekend was as good a time as any.
Right off the bat, Jotun strikes you as an incredibly gorgeous game. The levels are all hand-drawn, and include an absurd amount of gorgeous detail in the background designs. The animations are deceptively simple-looking, but work in a smooth sort of coordination. Sure, things are a little less crisp now, but this is a game from 2015, so that’s pretty understandable.
The game’s story is also on the simple side — you play as a warrior named Thora who is attempting to earn the favor of the gods in order to enter the guilded halls of Valhalla as a member of the honored dead. But to earn the favor of the gods, you have to solve a variety of puzzles, which all come with not a word of explanation nor a hint. You can also pick up the apples of Ithunn as you go, which add a bit more life to your HP gauge, and you can snag some spiffy powers from gods whose totems you encounter. Once you find the glyph of each stage, you can either move on to another set of puzzles for a second glyph, or you can move on to the boss fight.
You fight a number of Jotuns, which are the evil frost giants of norse mythology, in order to earn the favor of the gods. Each Jotun has their own skills and boss mechanics, and despite being large and lumbering, they can move pretty fast. The boss fights are mostly about anticipating mechanics before they happen and dodging accordingly. Then you can go ahead and pop a super or two to quickly dps the Jotun down to being a withered husk. The boss mechanics usually pull from at least one of the stages leading up to the boss, so nothing should come as too much of a surprise for you.
But as you play through the game and defeat more Jotuns, you hear more of Thora’s story. And it is a pretty dark one, once you piece together all the information. Some may solve the riddle sooner than others, but that’s not really the main drive of Jotun.
Jotun is a single-player adventure RPG and obviously includes the usual boss fights, puzzles, and collectible items, and sure, it even has a storyline. But the main draw of the game is its use of Norse mythology to glorious affect. All of the puzzles give you small bits of mythology, delivered by Thora as she recounts the stories that she’s heard all of her life. These stories now seem to be real, as she enters the skull of Ymir, visits the forge that gave birth to the mythical artifacts Mjolnir and Gungnir.
And, let’s not lie, the other purpose of the game is just to look freaking gorgeous, which it does with aplomb. Each level has its own unique challenges, but it also has its own unique style and color palette, which makes for a really awesome experience. None of the levels feel repetitive, and the game covers a wide variety of themes with all the different level designs.
I had no trouble at all running the game on my PC, everything worked smoothly, and that appears to be the common reaction among players just going by the Steam and GOG reviews. A few minor complaints about whether the game wants to be an exploration or boss slayer title here, a pithy comment about lack of direction there. But the reviews are almost entirely down to player experience, and that’s awesome. That means the game isn’t particularly broken in ways I didn’t happen to encounter. When the biggest complaint is that the game is boring, a developer knows they’ve done something right. Maybe not everything, but something.
My only major quibble with the game is that the map is…not the greatest. The level maps are already loaded for you, so it’s not like you have to discover them as you go — but the symbols change for each level, and no key is given to you. You just sort of have to figure it out as you go. You also don’t get a player location icon, so you could be standing in front of one of the puzzle pieces you need and not know it.
It’s also a bit odd that you can solve all of your problems by smacking them with your axe, but you know what? I’ve always wanted my life to be that simple, so I’m going to take it and be happy about it, damn it.
Overall, I found Jotun to be an absolute pleasure. While some will find the game’s lack of dialogue, cutscenes, and hand-holding to be boring and directionless, I really appreciate that Thunder Lotus Games have given us Jotun as is. We can go in and get what we personally want out of the game. If that’s atmosphere and art, story and theme, or just general boss killing, Jotun has a lot to offer — as long as you’re willing to give it the time. Jotun is a broody, atmospheric treasure of a game. I didn’t want to turn away from the screen, and I’m glad I didn’t.
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