Jotun: Valhalla Edition, with its amazing hand-drawn visuals, thunders onto the Nintendo Switch and runs quite beautifully as Norse mythology takes over April.
Title: Jotun: Valhalla Edition
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Version reviewed), Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: April 27, 2018
I wake up in a field, cool grass gracing my skin. I lift my head and find myself no longer choking on water, lungs afire, sinking for eternity in a watery tomb. Eternity won’t be spent in the depths and darkness of the cold ocean. I become re-acquainted with my body. Run. Roll. Swing my axe. I do these as I make my way towards a cliff and take in the massive valley and forest below. There are giant monuments hidden among the dangers of the forest, and though I’m lost, one thing is clear: the gods are not done with me. This is Jotun.
Jotun: Valhalla Edition, developed by Thunder Lotus Games, has found a new home on the Nintendo Switch. After releasing on every other major platform (as far back as 2015), the hand-drawn action exploration game brings a little Nordic flair to Nintendo’s handheld device.
In Jotun: Valhalla Edition, you play as Thora. She is a Viking warrior who suffered an inglorious demise. Rather than face death, she finds herself battling jotuns — giant Norse elementals — to prove herself to the Gods and enter Valhalla.
The game is broken up into two main components: exploration and boss fights. Most of your time will be spent exploring, as you search for runes, god shrines to earn new powers, and golden apples to increase your life. To guide you, you have access to a map. While the layout of the spaces you’ll be exploring aren’t that complicated, the map isn’t that easy to read. Navigating the terrain and learning your way around takes some getting used to, but after an hour or so you will understand the layout.
With danger also comes beauty. While you don’t have many encounters with enemies, nature is unforgiving.
The levels vary in nature: lush forests, Dwarven mines, icy landscapes with howling gusts of wind. All of them are gorgeously hand-drawn. Exploring them is very easy on the eyes, and when you reach places where the camera zooms out and you can take everything in, it’s beautiful. It’s not like Jotun requires a $4,000 PC to play, but the game’s visuals really shine on the Switch, whether on TV or in handheld mode.
That said, this world isn’t safe. With danger also comes beauty. While you don’t have many encounters with enemies, nature is unforgiving. There are poisonous sprouts, harsh gusts of icy wind, and giant serpents that break through the ice. All of them make your adventuring hazardous.
Accompanying the art style are Nordic melodies and voiceovers. All of the dialogue that you’ll hear is Icelandic, with English subtitles to help you. The soundtrack is also perfectly crafted for every landscape and encounter you have. The music emits the necessary tension for any given moment battle, and can quickly shift from beautiful strings to heavy drums.
The other portion of the gameplay is the combat. While it isn’t often you’ll be swinging your axe at random enemies, there is no other way to take down the mighty jotun than with a swing of the axe your father gave to you. Combat is quite simple, as you can only run, roll, attack and heavy attack. It’s when to do these actions that’s important.
To call these fights wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The jotuns are more like puzzles you need to solve.
In addition to your attacks, you get powers from the gods. These powers will provide buffs that will aid you in fighting the mighty jotuns. They provide boons like speed boosts, healing, shields and attack boosts. While some of these powers might seem niche, they definitely make fights easier. Loki’s Decoy, which creates a copy of you that later explodes for AOE damage, is a must have in one of the fights. The controls are responsive, as I never felt out of control with what I wanted Thora to be doing (I played primarily with the Joy-Cons attached to the Switch).
I will admit that the combat didn’t resonate with me. To call these fights wouldn’t be entirely accurate. The jotuns are more like puzzles you need to solve. They all have different stages where they increase in difficulty and different attacks. Figure out what the attacks are, use the right buff to power yourself or help deal damage, position yourself, swing the axe. I’m not saying the fights aren’t difficult, because they’re definitely tough. I just found that after beating two or three jotuns, the boss fights felt more like a chore. More combat variety in what Thora was capable of would have taken care of this problem for me.
Even the exploration, for as much as I enjoyed the scenery, following the same structure. Look at the map, find the points you need, interact with said point, go back to the hub, rinse and repeat. It made what was a six-hour game feel like 10 hours.
That said, the first couple of bosses provided a sense of accomplishment for me. After failing to beat two of them, I went and explored the regions to increase my health and gain new powers. After doing so, I returned to them and while they were still difficult, came out victorious. The freedom to attack this game, the levels and its bosses in the order that suits you is something I appreciate.
After the main playthrough, your replayability will come from Valhalla Mode, which is a boss rush mode with more difficult versions of the jotuns you already fought. The key to victory in this mode is mastery of the abilities you’ve been given. This will provide a lengthier amount of time you can spend with Jotun, so it’s a nice addition.
If you’re looking for a beautifully crafted game with a lush, hand-drawn art style, this game is for you. It’s in the same mold of Transistor and Bastion — two games I adore. That said, don’t come to Jotun expecting a Viking brawl out of the combat. You have to be in the mood to learn the bosses and fight a tedious battle with a limited arsenal of attacks.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.