Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a storybook-esque game that does a good job at exploring some of the tales from Norse Mythology. This is all while providing some epic boss fights and stunning visuals. However, there is the question as to whether Jotun succeeds as a fully-fledged game or just an interact-able storybook.
In the game, you follow the story of Thora, named after the god of thunder himself. Her story involves her attempts to impress the gods and earn her place in Valhalla. Odin has tasked her to travel the five realms branching off from Ginnungagap and find each realm’s rune(s). This will allow her to have the chance to defeat a Jotun (giant) from each realm in order to reach Valhalla. After each Jotun boss-battle, Thora will explain a snippet of her backstory which, while I don’t want to spoil it too much, involves a fair amount of family intrigue, betrayal, and good old Viking conquest. However, Thora’s story was cut short by Sedna, mistress of the ocean, when she was drowned at sea. This dishonorable death prevents her from reaching Viking heaven and, so, her tale begins.
The main bulk of the game involves exploring the beautiful scenery of Thunder Lotus Games’ Nordic vision and solving realm-specific puzzles which range from the brilliant to the simple to the irritating. The storm realm’s constellation puzzle was a highlight for me, while the dwarf’s labyrinth was a bit of a pain. This was mainly due to the unwieldy map which shows you where you encountered special objects, but not where you are. This meant that I had to spend quite a while just figuring out where I was. While this may have added to the adventurous nature of the game, it was mainly just irritating. However, it was displayed beautifully in the main hub, which is a bonus.
As well as the previously mentioned runes, each realm also contains two collectibles to enhance your abilities. One is Ithunn’s Apples which increases your max health. The other is a God Shrine that will grant you a new God Power. These God Powers grant you abilities that allow you to heal, speed up (which I most often used for traversal, I must admit), attack harder, distract enemies or shield yourself. This is all while providing you with some information on the Gods/Goddesses (from Frigg to Freya, to Loki to Heimdall) whose blessing you have just received. The final God’s blessing comes from Mimir’s Wells. These will heal both your health and ability uses (you can use each ability 2/3 times) fully. As well as these enhancements, you also gain a greater education in Nordic mythology! Huzzah!
This edutainment is granted in the form of Thora’s descriptions of the God/Goddess Shrines you encounter as well as of various landmarks from Nordic mythology such as the Yggdrasil and Brokkr’s Forge, and other characters such as the four deer from the top branches of the Yggdrasil. These little pieces of lore (including the creation myth) are a brilliant introduction to Nordic mythology and mythology in general. They are also all told in Icelandic (the closest we have to ancient Nordic today), which is brilliant. In fact, the lore also reminded me to replay Age of Mythology, one of my first introductions to mythology.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the game aren’t as good. The combat, while serviceable, is somewhat lacking, especially for a game starring a Viking. You have two moves, a quick light attack that can be chained up to three times, and a heavy attack that deals slightly more damage. However, the heavy attack is just too long and does just too little damage to be widely usable. This is unless it is combined with Thor’s God Power which makes it pretty good. Not that you’ll have to use combat outside of hacking away branches very often. In fact, besides the two levels with the dwarves, I don’t think there’re any enemies besides the bosses in the entire game. Your final combat ability is a dodge roll. This is equally suited to traveling slightly quicker and dodging the fire Jotun’s sword.
The bosses more or less make up for it, however. Each Jotun controls a certain element of the universe, and each come with their own particular challenges. The aim, I believe, was to make each boss a mini-puzzle in the vein of The Legend of Zelda or Shadow of the Colossus. If this is the case then Thunder Lotus is partially successful. Some of the bosses, namely those of nature, the earth and the ice realms, were too easy. They mainly just involve standing by their feet/vines and hitting them repetitively. However, the fire/storm realms’ bosses as well as the final boss, which I won’t spoil here, have a difficulty spike that had me smacking into the figurative wall. This may have just been my exam addled brain though.
Valhalla mode is a boss rush mode that bumps up the difficulty of each Jotun. It also challenges you to complete the boss fights as quickly as possible, with as little damage taken as possible and with as little God Power use as possible. All in all, it’s a really tough fight, but definitely adds another layer of challenge and re-playability to the game. And the main game is endlessly re-playable as well, either for each individual level or the entire game. This is great for those who prefer less of focus on challenge and more on the lore.
The game itself is gorgeous. It’s painted like a storybook and with amazing long-shots of the mythological landscape that made me just sit and stare. This is combined with an atmospheric and delightful soundtrack that serves to help build the world. The bosses, especially, are a highlight, with the fire boss, particularly, living up to the epic heights of Norse mythology. It definitely feels like a playable storybook and I think should be treated as such.
The game plays beautifully on the Switch, the handheld mode lending itself perfectly to the storybook feel. Furthermore, in TV mode, the Jotun become even more epic. However, the HUD is slightly too small for the larger screen.
In conclusion, Jotun: Valhalla Edition is a beautiful tribute to Nordic mythology with some clever gameplay decisions as well as other lackluster ones. Definitely recommended to people with an interest in mythology.
A Nintendo Switch review copy of Jotun: Valhalla Edition was provided by Thunder Lotus Games for the purpose of this review