Jotun: Valhalla Edition is hands down the most gorgeous game I’ve played this year.
That may seem like hyperbole, but it’s not. The game really is that pretty. The completely hand-drawn visuals make every aspect of it shine with a charming cartoon glow. It’s rare to see a title so crisp and refined that it’s obvious how much effort was put into each moment of it, but Jotun is one of those games.
No matter where I travelled in Jotun‘s mythological world, I always had a good time because each area is unique and teeming with personality. There’s a world with a never-ending snowstorm and when I walked into it for the first time I took one look and I stopped moving my controller – it was stunning. The way the snow fell slowly and gracefully down my screen was mesmerizing and soundtrack was perfectly composed to accompany it. It honestly feels like a treat to play such an endearing game.
Jotun isn’t just a breathtaking audio and visual adventure. It delves deep into a commonly used concept and uses its assets to emphasize it to the maximum level. The underdog trope. A character has all of the odds stacked against them, fights enemies that outclass them in every way, ends up in the worst situations, yet somehow prevails in the end. That’s Jotun in a nutshell.
You play as a warrior named Thora who died an inglorious death and is stuck in purgatory until you slay all of the Jotun (the really big guys) to impress the gods. Purgatory is big – no – it is humongous. It gives you an overwhelming feeling of futileness throughout Jotun. Everything around you is giant and you’re almost unreasonably small in comparison. It makes you feel minuscule and weak while you fight off plant roots, giant hawks, and other ridiculously large enemies (reminded me a lot of Honey I Shrunk the Kids but with Norse mythology). Every fight is an uphill battle that gets you wondering if it’s even possible to win, and with the unchangeable difficulty setting you can see why Jotun is a true underdog experience.
Since you’re playing a game in a world where the scales are never tipped in your favour you’d think that there would be a lot of different weapons or health packs to help you on your journey.There aren’t – well, not really anyhow. You have two main methods of support: “God Powers” and “Mimir”. Finding God Powers grants you the ability to do things like control electricity or create an explosive clone of yourself, and Mimirs are these weird dudes that reside in wells that you can find once every level to replenish your health and charges for your God Powers. Fortunately, there are just enough for you to survive in the unforgiving world of Jotun, but the scarcity of resources force you to come up with a strong game plan before fighting any enemy or solving a dangerous puzzle.
Games are getting easier and I’m not against that, but with the exception of a few select titles you’re never forced to actually be good at the game you’re playing. I don’t consider myself to be a good gamer, in fact, I’d say I’m bad at games. I usually prefer narrative-based experiences but playing Jotun, a game that won’t hold your hand at any point, is refreshing. It’s challenging, but you get so much out of it. After facing the same foe over 30 times, learning the ins and outs of their attack patterns, finally landing that killing blow felt so satisfying – I felt like I earned each victory.
Jotun was originally created for PC, which is weird to me because it feels more at home on console. The newly added “Valhalla Mode” for consoles lets you take it up a notch and fight even harder versions of the Jotun in a boss rush mode. It was too hard for me – I could barely beat the main game – but it’s good that this mode is available for the more hardcore players.
While the excellent underdog combat is the essence of Jotun, there are still many other parts that are just as compelling. There are some remarkable ideas and mechanics applied to both the enemies and puzzles – concepts I’ve never even imagined could be in a game. The Gnomes were some of the coolest foes I fought. If you were walking up to one of them it would run away, but if you chased it far enough you would eventually end up at a giant group of gnomes who would then charge right back at you in a what looked like a massive wave of lawn furniture. It was kinda scary.
One of the earlier puzzles involved a bunch of green mushrooms that would spray out poisonous spores every once in awhile, and if you got caught in one of the sprays you’d take damage over time until you found a blue plant. Sometimes the blue plants were so far away from the mushroom field, so if you got caught, it was already over. I really liked the plant one because it wasn’t particularly obvious. The game never explicitly explained that feature so I had to run around and try a bunch of different things to try to get the poison off of me, which was pretty cool. Weird things like that happen in Jotun all the time It’s overwhelming, but it doesn’t feel out of place in the atmosphere Jotun has created.
Jotun is spectacular. It delivers in every single way. It takes the old trope of the underdog and breathes new life into it, while also being rich from both an audio and visual standpoint. It’s a game I think everyone should pick up and try, no matter their skill level. It’s demanding but equally rewarding, it provides a satisfaction I haven’t gotten from a game in a while, and it forces the player to get better at the game if they want to advance. There isn’t a better game than the awe-inspiring Jotun to close off the summer gaming season.