By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on Sept.9th, 2016 on Xbox One, PC, PS4, and Wii U
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Lightning splits the skies. Howling winds freeze Thora to the bone. All of a sudden, a massive wave rears up and crashes into the longship, splintering its wooden frame and filling it with water. The ship breaks apart and Thora slowly sinks towards the depths of the kingdom of the Sea Goddess, to her inglorious death. For a Viking warrior, to die any other way besides in combat is a fate worse than death itself, as it means they will not be allowed to ascend to Valhalla, the massive hall located in Asgard, ruled over by Odin. This is not the end for Thora, however. She wakes up in a field, surrounded by grass and trees. She has been given one more chance to impress the gods and ascend to Valhalla. Her task is to defeat the mighty Jotun, which are elemental –based giants found in Norse mythology.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition contains two modes, the main story mode, and Valhalla Mode. In the story mode, you start off in the domain of Jera, the nature Jotun. This basically serves as a tutorial for the game and explains that you must find a rune hidden in each level to access the boss fight with the Jotun in charge of the region. Jera only has one rune to find before you can challenge her. The remaining four regions consist of two levels to explore and a boss fight once the rune in each level has been obtained. More often than not, you will be navigating treacherous and deadly obstacles as opposed to fighting enemies. Some levels don’t even have enemies to fight, so if you think this is just some pure action hack n slash, it is not. The game’s main hub is named Ginnungagap, or simply, the void. From here you access the different regions, and there is also a map of each region etched into the stone floor. This is pretty useful, as it shows points of interest, which can be a collectible of some sort or a special place. Once discovered, the point on the map lights up, allowing you to keep track of what you have collected already. Once the story is completed, Valhalla Mode is unlocked. Valhalla Mode is basically a boss rush mode, only this time, the Jotun are much stronger, and they have new tricks up their giant sleeves.
The controls are pretty easy to learn. Thora has two attacks, a quick swipe of her axe that does light damage, and a heavy attack that deals more damage but takes time to prepare. Thora can also do a roll-dodge, which is the best option for quickly getting out of harm’s way since Thora isn’t really fleet-footed enough to simply move out of the way of danger. If you want to stand a chance at defeating the Jotun you need to master the timing of these moves and know when to use them. Luckily for the player, there are a couple of things you can find to help improve your chance at impressing the gods and ascending to Valhalla! Search carefully throughout the levels to uncover golden apples, left for you by the goddess Ithunn. In Norse mythology, Ithunn is usually associated with apples and youth. Each apple that you discover gives an increase to Thora’s health bar, so it would be wise to seek them all out. Also hidden throughout the game are shrines built for the Norse gods. Finding these will give you access to special magic spells that will give you a much better chance at defeating the Jotun. The goddess Frigg provides you with a healing spell, which is pretty self-explanatory. Heimdall provides you with shield magic that blocks all incoming damage for a few seconds. Loki’s shrine provides you with the ability to make a clone that attracts enemies and then explodes. Freya’s magic gives you a speed boost, allowing a much faster movement speed for a limited time. Thor’s magic grants you the power of his hammer Mjolnir. This increases the range and damage of your heavy attack for a short time. Last but not least, Odin grants you his mighty spear Gungnir, which allows you to throw a powerful spear. You can only use a spell two times before needing to refresh it, but you can increase the number of times that you can use certain spells by finding another god shrine dedicated to them. To refresh your spell usage and recover all Thora’s health, there are fountains of Mimir scattered throughout the world.
The graphics are truly a wonder to behold. Absolutely beautiful, hand-drawn graphics combined with smooth, fluid animation make this Jotun: Valhalla Edition look like a work of art come to life. The amount of details in the art and atmosphere truly make this game a pleasure to explore. The level design is pretty impressive as well. In the Northern Sky level, you walk amongst the clouds while avoiding the dangerous lightning arcing through them, against a backdrop of the dark night filled with twinkling stars. Another prime example, and one of my favorites, is the Nine Rivers level. You must make your way across ice floes and frozen, snow covered islands while keeping an ear out for the wind. Once the wind starts howling you must take cover behind a rocky outcropping before gale force winds blow you away. Moments like this are very memorable and what make the game stand out in my mind.
There are only two issues I can find with this game. One; it’s a little on the short side. Jotun was so good that I was a little disappointed when the credits started rolling, but as they say, all good things must come to an end sometime. Two; the camera pulls the view back in an effort to make you feel the full effect of being a tiny human fighting against giant enemies. It’s a wonderful effect and it is used quite well, however, once in a while it can make you lose track of Thora during some of the crazier boss fights. But if you’re looking for a gorgeous, memorable indie action adventure game experience that won’t break the bank, look no further. Jotun impresses in many ways.
* Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purposes of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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