It turns out that gamers don’t have to wait for God of War’s upcoming release to get their fix of Norse mythology action – Jotun: Valhalla Edition’s recent release packs plenty of punch with its visuals and gameplay, whilst there’s also an additional mode that wasn’t included in the game’s release last year for returning players to sink their teeth into.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition casts you as Thora, a Shield Maiden who met her demise whilst venturing the seas with her Viking brethren. This wasn’t considered an honourable death by the Norse Gods though, thus her entry into Valhalla was denied. Armed with just her mighty axe, Thora must slay gigantic elemental creatures known as the ‘Jotun’ in order to prove her worth and finally rest alongside the Gods in Valhalla.
It’s a fairly straight forward narrative, though the game does expand upon it by providing a back-story for Thora that’s narrated throughout the adventure. There’s full voice acting for this narration too, though it’s in the Viking tongue of Icelandic so you’ll be depending on the subtitles if you want to learn about Thora’s tragic yet adventurous tales. The foreign language adds a real sense of authenticity to the game, though in honesty I wouldn’t have minded it being in English either.
The most standout feature of Jotun: Valhalla Edition is the visual design, something which could easily be described as Disney-esque thanks to its beautiful, colourful hand-drawn style. It looks fantastic and developers Thunder Lotus Games deserve a lot of credit for the great job they’ve done.
Character and enemy animations are slick, with attacks and manoeuvres looking superb in the game’s cartoon style. There’s an ‘old-school cartoon’ feel to some of the game’s animations too, with certain attacks almost looking like some frames had been cut out; this isn’t a bad thing by any means, with the effect actually looking pretty neat in-game and feeling almost nostalgic to the old style of cartoons.
The same visual quality can be seen in the game’s environments, which are absolutely oozing with style and colour. There’s a real sense of wonder and depth to your surroundings – Thora is often dwarfed by everything around her, which is especially impressive given the game’s visual style and fixed camera angle. Whether you’re walking through the Dwarven Mines, venturing across a cliff and staring down on an impressive forest, or even sliding down the roots of the mythical tree Ygradassil, you’ll be in awe of the visual spectacle Jotun: Valhalla Edition provides.
Much like Shadow of the Colossus and indie gem Titan Souls, Jotun: Valhalla Edition challenges you to take down a series of bosses in epic encounters. Unlike those two games though, there are often smaller enemies that you’ll have to take down along the way too. Sure, it’s not always the case, though locations like the Dwarven Mines proved to me that there are certainly more than seven Dwarves to be aware of – the screen would fill with what felt like hundreds of minion Dwarves, all out for Thora’s blood. The presence of smaller enemies added to the adventure, even if they did cause me plenty of deaths.
I’ve always been a big fan of games that focus on boss battles, so Jotun: Valhalla Edition naturally appealed to me from the get go. The encounters themselves are pretty impressive, with each boss carefully crafted with a sense of grandeur that is only matched by their impressive design. There wasn’t a single boss encounter that didn’t wow me, though I did find some a lot easier than others. Take the giant (and ugly) tree boss and her poisonous roots for example – I managed to beat her with ease thanks to my axe’s charged attack. The giant Dwarf (quite ironic) and his never-ending army of underlings on the other hand caused me a lot of problems. I’m sure it’ll change between players, though the game certainly provides plenty of challenge. It’s a good kind of challenge though, with the game taking an almost Dark Soul’s like approach by forcing you to learn enemy’s attack patterns and… well… ‘get good’.
Thankfully, Thora does receive some help along the way with the Norse Gods providing her with varying abilities that’ll help with taking down the Jotun. The goddess Frigg provides you with the ability to heal, Freya’s speed allows Thora to move at a faster pace, Thor’s hammer makes your attacks pack more punch, Loki’s decoy creates a fake Thora that will attract enemy attacks and explode, Odin’s spear provides Thora with a powerful ranged attack, whilst Heimdall’s shield makes Thora immune for a short period of time. You won’t have all of these abilities unlocked from the get go, but it won’t take you long to unlock them in-game. Of course, you can always rely on your axe attacks to dish out damage. The game’s controls are simple and intuitive too, so smashing at enemies with force is fairly straight forward.
There’s quite a journey between each boss of the game, with plenty of exploration and simple puzzles to solve along the way. There’s nothing too perplexing (in fact it’s mostly a case of hitting levers) but it at least adds a sense of variety to the exploration and makes you work a little. It’s actually quite gratifying, especially given that some of the environments can take a while to trek between. You can appreciate the impressive visuals along the way, but sometimes just getting from point A to B could be a bit of a drag. There’s a lot of unvaried backtracking too, something which is never fun in any kind of game.
The new edition of the game comes with an additional mode that can be accessed upon completion – ‘Boss Rush’. Boss Rush consists of taking on a more challenging version of each boss one after the other, testing players on their Jotun-slaying skills. It’s a neat addition, but there wasn’t a huge incentive for me to take it on – I’d rather just play through the game again, especially since it isn’t that big coming in at around four hours. It’s actually a lot smaller than other similar titles, with only five Jotun to take down in the game. I wished the experience could’ve lasted longer, especially since I was enjoying it so much.
I didn’t play Jotun upon its initial release, so it was great to play through its beautifully crafted world on console. Whilst I’ll admit that I’ve never been a massive fan of Norse mythology, taking down the Jotun was mighty satisfying. The game looks fantastic too, which is always a plus.
I’ll admit that I would’ve preferred a bit more content to work through and that the backtracking could be a pain, but Jotun: Valhalla Edition still managed to impress me. Whilst it isn’t perfect, Thora’s quest to enter Valhalla was enjoyable from start to finish and there’s certainly a ton more to like about the game than dislike.
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Release Date: 09/09/2016
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux