I Have Failed to Impress the Gods. Again.
noun, Scandinavian Mythology.
1. Any of a race of giants frequently in conflict with the gods.
Jotun is a beautifully hand-drawn, top-down, exploration and boss-bashing game with some puzzles thrown in for good measure. Scandinavian Mythology is not often presented so well. Unlike those fussy gods, I'm impressed.
The artwork is something Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli) would approve of. It's one thing to make a game look good. Making it feel good is something else. Immersing a player takes artistry and talent, and the folks at Thunder Lotus Games have plenty of both. I won't say I couldn't put it down, but every time I picked it up, it transported me to another world.
Jotun's audio is as thoughtful as it is soothing. I love the warm voices, and the softly rolling Old Norse language stirs something in the Norwegian half of my cold, black, critic-heart.* The music changes appropriately with the environment, and the Jotun grunt satisfyingly when you give 'em the ax.
Choosing to subtly portray the protagonist as a female rather than a male was a stroke of genius. Thora's mighty braids and antlers won me over immediately.
There is no tutorial, but I think this is due to a desire to keep the player in the story. The controls aren't difficult to figure out (check the options for key mappings), and I love that I don't have to RTFM.
Exploration rewards have been hidden around the landscape, helping to alleviate an otherwise linear progression. At first, I was disappointed to see no representation of Thora's position on the map, but after playing for a while, I began to appreciate the added challenge and immersion this provides.
The camera slowly follows over the landscape, without being obtrusive or letting the action out of frame. Some of the negative reviews I read led me to believe otherwise. From what I've seen so far, they've fixed any issues they may have had, but sometimes you still have to be in just the right spot to see everything.
Save locations are plentiful and when you've completed your primary quest and are done exploring an area, you can quickly teleport back to Ginnungagap ("yawning void"). What a great name. I think I'll write it again, Ginnungagap.
Although I haven't finished it yet, I'm estimating around five hours of play once completed. Not bad for fifteen bucks.
Spoiler alert: They have slides!
Must I smash everything with my ax? I know that's the Viking way, but it 'd be good to see a little thoughtfulness pay off. (Why did I cut that eye-flower? Why? Bravely run away!)
Speaking of the combat, it takes a little getting used to. While the hack and slash is rather limited (consisting of one quick, light attack and one slow, heavy attack) each god bust you discover unlocks a new power. I don't honestly consider this a 'con', but it did garner some player complaints.
If you return to Ginnungagap, leaving an area incomplete, you may have to redo the puzzles in that area when you go back again. This happened to me with the constellations in The Northern Sky. I accidentally took a wrong turn and left before finishing, which left me having to solve the constellation puzzle a second time to complete the area. I want my five minutes back! I coulda made a sandwich...
Overall, Jotun hits what I crave, so perhaps I'm a bit dazzled, but the Steam reviews seem to agree this is a fun game set at a reasonable price. I'm expecting great things in the future from Thunder Lotus Games. They appear to have done their research and provided one of the most authentic looks at Scandinavian lore ever set to a video game. It reminds me of my favorite teacher reading us those big, richly illustrated books in kindergarten. It deserves a Caldecott Medal. I can't wait to see what they come up with next. In the mean time, the free Valhalla Edition is set to release on September 9th, and promises, “an epic boss rush mode with even fiercer versions of the already challenging jotun.” This tells me the developer loves their game as much as I do, so I give a 9. Well done.
*It's actually Icelandic, which is perhaps the closest thing to Old Norse we have left.