As with many of the games I review on this site, I’ve been meaning to play Jotun for a while. It always intrigued me on the Steam store, and even peaked my interest when I saw that the whole game was hand-drawn. Alas, many years after purchasing the game, I finally decided to sit down one afternoon and put the game through its paces. Join me as we investigate what kind of game Jotun is, and whether it has much past it’s hand drawn art style.
First up, lets get the basics out of the way. Jotun is a top-down action/boss-rush game where you play as Thora – a female viking tribe-leader who was sent to her grave in an undignified manner. Upon coming to the afterlife, she wants to seek vengeance on her terrible death, and vows to impress the gods enough to be let into Valhalla. To do so, she must collect old runes guarded by all manner of puzzles and creatures, and proceed to use these runes to kill Jotuns – massive giants that stand in her way of Valhalla.
Where Jotun stands out from other games in this tried and tested formula though is in those aforementioned graphics. From start to finish everything you see in Jotun is hand-drawn, with lovingly detailed environments and fluid animations all looking absolutely stellar throughout the main campaign. Jotuns animate with expressive styles, and even the environment stands out, especially when the camera pans out to show you the immense scale of the world Thora inhabits – a testament to how well the art stands up even when there’s loads of screen at once.
It should be noted though that there are a few inconsistencies when it comes to the hand drawn art-style. For the most part, everything is lovingly detailed, but occasionally, multiple frames in an enemies attack pattern will have them looking like a 5 year olds drawing. This stands out far more than it should, especially considering how detailed and flawless the rest of the art on display is.
Within the first hour of playing Jotun you’ll the core gameplay loop which you’ll need to participate in for the next 4 hours. Pop into a level (it’s up to you which ones you take on first – something I found to my detriment when getting slaughtered by overpowered foes early on), explore until you find power-ups, grab the rune, and proceed to go back to the hub world to take on the boss. It may sound repetitive, but was actually alright – should you get annoyed at a boss taking you down, just head off to another level and get more power-ups until you’re powered up enough to take them on again.
From the offset you realise how little control you actually have over Thora’s actions. Her basic attack (done by pressing X) is slow, and oh so weak. Her next attack, the strong attack, takes so long to wind up that it’s rare you’ll actually use it in a fight. Pressing B activates her powerups, and A allows Thora to do a dodge-roll (one which doesn’t make her invincible whilst rolling – like other games). For players familiar with action/boss rush games, you’ll note how limited this is, and how much of an issue it can be in later, harder battles.
Thankfully, for the most part, each stage is fairly easy to beat, with most of them simply being massive areas to explore. Without many hazards, this can get a little boring, but there’s a reason each stage is like this: to flesh out the world Thora inhabits. Each stage is varied in art style, and all centred around a different god – some even let you see mythological creatures in the distance should you explore enough. Each time a new art-style would be presented I’d be stunned at the amount of attention to detail the developers put into it – especially given the variety on display. Who’d have thought a team was capable of showing all different seasons/elements, especially with the same great hand-drawn art style and animations. It’s fantastic to say the least.
Hidden throughout each stage are powers for Thora herself. Some are simple, like an apple that extends you health meter, with others being full-on new abilities. These come in handy when taking on bosses, as Thora’s standard moves are either weak, or awfully slow. Each power earned is varied; one helps Thora’s speed, another fires an arrow, whilst another just heals her. They each serve their purpose, and in due time you’ll find you’ll rely on some powers more than others in boss fights – I know I relied far too heavily on the strength power-up, much to my own detriment when I ran out of uses for it.
Even with all of these abilities on hand, some of the later bosses can certainly be difficult. I found myself getting to the last 2 bosses within 3 hours, but still took another hour/ hour and a half to actually beat the game. This came as a surprise to me, and definitely got a bit irritating towards the end – the rest of the game was just so simple that this spike in difficultly felt unfair – a feeling you never want the player to experience when creating a game.
If has to also be said the narration deployed throughout is simply sublime. Whenever Thora describes a myth or her own history to the player, she does so in her native tongue – a fantastic design decision which makes the stories of this world feel all the more authentic.
Soundtrack wise, there isn’t much to talk about. I cannot for the life of me say I recall any of the music on offer in Jotun, and as such, can’t say you would either. The sound effects were alright, with some animals or Jotuns sounding ferocious, but overall you’re not here for the music.
Overall, I’m glad I picked Jotun up and finally gave it a go. Whilst it can be a bit inconsistent in the art department, and the difficulty can spike at one point, I thoroughly enjoyed my time overall, and would recommend anyone who likes the look of the art to give it a go; you won’t be left disappointed.