Many would suggest that their haven’t been enough video games based upon the ever-likeable, if somewhat murderous Vikings. I however am of the opinion that they are more prominently underrated than overlooked. Now, I’m probably in the minority here, but I genuinely loved the criminally under appreciated, Viking: Battle of Asgard and the, well, largely disdained, Too Human. Too Human in particular, while not without its faults, remains one of my favourite gaming experiences of the last generation (as I said – in the minority).
The thing is, as much as I enjoyed both of those Nordic-themed video games, I understand why they didn’t do so well, why many weren’t as enamoured with them as I was. Jotun though? Thunder Lotus’ utterly charming and genuinely gorgeous adventure, no, this is an unequivocally and objectively brilliant video game, one that deserves to do extremely well.
Already out for a year on PC, it has now found its way to Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U, and while the Wii U does have some very minor technical issues, the console ported Valhalla Edition remains a genuinely exceptional experience regardless of the platform on which it is being played. Essentially the same game as it was 12 months ago, the Valhalla Edition includes an all new boss rush mode with significantly tougher enemies. It doesn’t add a huge amount to the experience, but given that the core story is only 3 to 4 hours long, I’m sure fans of the game will appreciate an excuse to return to this unforgiving but ultimately fair adventure.
Despite taking inspiration from a number of prominent video games with the most obvious being Zelda, Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus (there are certainly worse game from which to take inspiration), Jotun remains a surprisingly distinctive experience. With an art style that falls somewhere between A Link to the Past and a Studio Ghibli movie, a simplistic but effective combat system, and above all else, a distinct tone that sets it apart from its peers, Jotun: Valhalla Edition represents one of the finer ‘indie’ releases of the year, and while it has largely gone under the radar to this point, it will hopefully find a willing audience now that it is available on home consoles.
As the brilliantly named and recently deceased shield maiden, Thora, you are given a second chance to reach Valhalla if you can rid the afterlife of the troublesome and somewhat gigantic Jotun. Armed with your trusty, if initially underpowered axe, the Gods sets you off on an adventure across a host of gorgeous if decidedly uninhabited world. While its hand painted visuals ensure that it is consistently beautiful to look at, the relatively desolate environments and emphasis on boss battles certainly evokes Shadow of the Colossus. It’s never quite as moody or thought-provoking as Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation 2 classic, but it still does a great job of establishing a sense of place while having plenty of confidence in its many quieter moments.
Of course, if you commit to what is essentially a selection of boss battles, the boss battles themselves need to be of a consistently exceptional standard. Lucily, those here, while far from breaking the boss battle mould, are all universally exciting, challenging and undeniably rewarding encounters. Again, they are not imbued with that sense of melancholy that elevated Shadow of the Colossus’s finest battles, but these are technically and visually impressive affairs that provide plenty of challenge without ever feeling unfair or unduly brutal.
Beyond learning the attack patterns, a big part of each battle is making the best use of the items available to you. There are a host of relatively simple puzzles that you will encounter on your travels, and there are even a very small number of minor enemies scattered about the place, but the primary challenge is built around the boss battles, and for these, you will need to take advantage of the shrines of the Gods. These shrines allow you to upgrade your abilities, your health, and can even provide you with additional weaponry. The standard mechanics remain basic (albeit very effective), but these powers do at least add a bit of variety and depth to what is an otherwise simplistic combat system.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition might be a little on the short side, there is arguably too much back tracking (especially for a game this short), and the Wii U version does have a handful of minor technical issues, but despite these problems, Thunder Lotus’ utterly charming and really rather brilliant Icelandic adventure remains one of the finest indie releases of the year. The hand drawn art design is spectacular, the boss battles are memorable and the sense of place is fantastic. It borrows ideas from a number of classic video games, but somehow, this small team from Canada have managed to created something surprisingly unique.
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