The boss rush genre has become a starting point for many indies now, allowing studios to focus on tightly designed moments of awe, rather than creating a long adventure which can sag and dip throughout. Does Thunder Lotus’ Nordic quest to appease the Gods result in a tale that bards will sing about for many years to come?
In Jotun, you play Thora, a Viking warrior who dies an ignominious death, meaning that she does not reach Valhalla and get to party with all the other Vikings who died by getting a battle-axe to the temple. In order to reach the afterlife of mead and endless slaughter, she must trek through the nine Realms and slay the five jotun to please the Gods and get that seat at Odin’s feasting table. There is nothing else around that story really, you get snippets of Thora’s life and death through narration whenever you clear a themed area, as well as general explanations about the areas you explore, as all of them are based off locations from Norse mythology. So, you will be trekking up the World Tree Yggdrasil, checking out the body of the giant Ymir and saying hi to Nidhogg as you delve into the depths below. The narration is very well done, with it being read entirely in Icelandic, giving, a sense of authenticity to the adventure Thora is going on. It is just enough to keep you wanting to see more of the world, but not so much as to become grating or over-bearing. For a boss rush game where you are basically just questing between themed zones until you fight the big baddie at the finale, it provides that extra push to see you to the end of the journey.
Along with the authentic Icelandic narration, the other thing that really sticks out about Jotun is just how beautiful it is. This whimsical yet grand aesthetic that Thunder Lotus has managed to pull off with the hand drawn visuals is breathtaking at times, with some of the vistas of still, frozen lakes and the starry northern sky being just a sight to behold. The eponymous Jotun are the real stars when it comes to design, animated like the Titans from Disney’s Hercules. The cackling lightning Jotun is nothing like the raging fire Jotun with his beard of molten magma, thanks to the individual animation styles for each elemental giant. The soundtrack is a good ‘un as well, switching from wistful melodies when crossing over icy plains, to thundering drums when fighting the more malodorous Jotun.
For all these striking visuals and fitting soundtracks, the gameplay simply does not measure up to the presentation. The combat is as bare bones as they come and besides a difficulty spike with the final boss, the Jotun are an absolute joke to fight. Their attacks are so easily telegraphed and fall into a set pattern that even if you die on the first attempt, you will know exactly what attacks are coming next as soon as you run back in, axe held high. Besides the aforementioned final boss, none of the Jotun mix up their attack rotation and fall into the exact same routine each time. They feel less like giant beings of immeasurable power and more like big punching bags who occasionally fire out a bolt of lightning or chuck a massive shield at you. It at least feels more dynamic than say Titan Souls, as Thora does gain more abilities and extra health as you quest through the Void and its nine adjoining realms but it does not change just how dull the combat is.