Review: Jotun: Valhalla Edition

What a lovely looking game. It’s just so, so… lovely. BEAUTIFUL in fact.

Not since I reviewed Child of Light have I been so entranced by a game’s visuals – the hand-drawn animation here has to be seen to be believed. I’ve come away from it wishing that more games could adopt the same style – although it must take an utterly ENORMOUS amount of work to draw all of those frames by hand.

Still, between Jotun and the upcoming Cuphead, it seems that the hand-drawn look is very much the new ‘in’ thing – just as cel shading was all the rage about 15 years ago. (And speaking of cel shading, do play XIII (review here) if you get the chance. I liked it so much I ended up buying the entire set of graphic novels it’s based on.)

So yes, Jotun looks utterly lovely, but thankfully it also has the gameplay to back up its beatiful visuals. As Thora, you play a Viking warrior who has drowned at sea and must battle the Jotun – mythical giants – to earn a place in Valhalla. Thora’s story is narrated in wonderfully melodic language – I’m guessing it’s spoken in Norse, but I’m not sure – and I lapped up the game’s exploration of Viking mythology. Each level picks up on a theme from the Norse sagas, and they tend to be long treks with light puzzling, interspersed with the odd infusion of folklore. Having said that, occasionally your wandering is interrupted by some unexpected nasties – I won’t spoil them for you here.

Still, the meat of the game is the Jotun themselves. These five bosses exude character and are pretty tough to beat, but they’re such a joy to fight that I didn’t mind the many restarts it took to finish them off. The game creates such a wonderful sense of place, history and feeling of ‘the other’ that I couldn’t put it down. It may be a fairly short experience, but it’s perfectly formed.

Jotun was the first game by Thunder Lotus, and it’s a seriously impressive debut. Their next game, Sundered, promises a similar hand-drawn style to Jotun but with Metroidvania-like gameplay. Can’t wait.