Jotun – What We Think:
Jotun, the first game from Montreal, Quebec studio Thunder Lotus Games, is a beautifully hand-drawn boss-killer game with plenty of room in between for lonely exploration — think Banner Saga meets Shadow of the Colussus. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the game has just entered beta, with a projected release date of this coming autumn.
As recently deceased Viking warrior Thora, your goal in the game is to fight your way through various realms in the underworld of Norse mythology, gathering runes to summon and then dispatch the Jotuns (fierce giants and enemies to the gods). Should you succeed, you’ll hopefully impress the gods enough to enter Valhalla.
The developers have done a fantastic job with the mythology, hewing close enough to the original sagas and poems of the Viking age to keep purists happy while playing fast and loose enough to keep things interesting for the action RPG format. The bombastic orchestral score helps, of course, but the real star is the art. Hand-drawn and traditionally animated, it’s reminiscent of the early ’80s fantasy films of Rankin/Bass Productions, like The Last Unicorn and their adaptation of Tolkien’s The Return of the King.
Shadows of Giants
It’s also more than a bit reminiscent of Banner Saga, what with the gorgeous animation and moody, Norse-infused storyline. The gameplay is quite different, however. Instead of Choose Your Own Adventure plot lines broken up by turn-based strategy, Jotun is a lot more like Playstation 2 favorite Shadow of the Colossus: lots of wandering through empty wastelands coupled with fights against seemingly insurmountable bosses.
Even in its beta state, which only provides access to two out of an eventual five realms, the game has its basic feel nailed down. The exploration is just time-consuming enough to feel like part of the game itself, instead of a mere preamble to the boss fights.
In addition to finding various statues of the gods, which provide bonus powers like extra speed and strength for the combat portions, the exploratory sections also see Thora dodging various obstacles, like ice storms, falling stalactites and a massive serpent that swims beneath an icy lake, periodically bursting upward as you attempt to cross. There’s even a bit of combat thrown in, which is a handy way to get a feel for her massive ax.
Almost Ready for Valhalla
The game does still have a few kinks to work out. For starters, there’s no camera zoom, which can be annoying for a game with an isometric view (to its credit, the automatic zoom works fairly well, and presumably, the developers will add camera controls as the game gets closer to release). The controls can feel slow to respond, too, especially in comparison to other action games. Part of this, however, might just be a matter of learning technique; Jotun is definitely a game in the Dark Souls vein in that you’ll learn its fighting techniques via lots of repetition and lots of deaths. Even if it’s frustrating at times, you get the sense that it’s supposed to be.
In any case, there’s more to love about Jotun than to complain about. The backgrounds are stunning, the character animations even moreso. Thora feels like a real Viking warrior, all strength and grunts as she swings her massive ax (for Game of Thrones fans, think Brienne of Tarth, not Daenerys Targaryen). Yet once a massive Jotun is in frame, she seems tiny and insubstantial, highlighting the seeming impossibility of the boss fights.
Either way, you’ll find the plucky heroine a boon companion as you explore the game’s icy expanses and delightfully dreary caverns. I’m already looking forward to exploring the other realms the Jotuns rule…and helping Thora finally win favor from the gods.
Watch the trailer for Jotun below: