Jotun | Switch Review

I am into my Norse mythology at the moment. There’s usually some catalyst pop culture moment and I think that was watching the second season of American Gods. While in a real bookshop – the ones that sell books made from trees – I saw a book by Neil Gaiman called Norse Mythology. I read through in a couple of days then made a second attempt on Vikings again, then I also booted up God of War. So you could say a bit of a phase.

I bought Jotun not too long ago and had a quick go, but as I had such a backlog of games, I put it down and went to something else. I came back to it again for completion sake. Also because the theme interested me, but I can’t say as much about the game. I could see me playing this on a mobile but maybe not so on the Switch. The artwork is great but I wasn’t too keen on the animation. Or the actual gameplay.

The world map in the shape of a hexagon

By the power of the gods

The character you play, Thora – a shield maiden – dies from the outset. Her death is through drowning which is pretty horrific but does not qualify as an honourable death. What this means in Nordic mythology is she doesn’t get to go to Valhalla – a paradise for warriors. She does get a second chance, however. If she kills the jotun of the title (giants), she is awarded a seat in Valhalla. Simples. Though it’s not that straightforward – these jotuns are HUGE.

You begin in Ginnungagap which is purgatory for these warriors and have the freedom to approach whichever path you so choose. It isn’t a proper open-world as such (whatever that means) but it’s nice to have an option. Head whichever way you choose and expect to wander for some time without any signs of life. There are no new weapons or armour, no upgrades – just perks provided by some of the gods. You have the following:

  • Frigg’s healing – heals you
  • Thor’s hammer – hammers things
  • Loki’s decoy – create another version of yourself that explodes
  • Freya’s speed – a much-needed perk to moving faster
  • Odin’s spear – spears things from a distance
  • Heimdall’s shield – shield yourself from non-existing enemies
Unlocking Thor's ability

The usual moves

Thora’s moves are a quick (not so much) attack, heavy attack and a dodge, so the perks give a bit of variety but you are unlikely to use them all. You can’t collect ammo for these in the field, you just visit a large head in a pond (Mimir fact fans) and he replenishes these, gives you some health and bakes you a cake. I haven’t witnessed that yet, but a friend of a friend said he does if you press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A.

I understand from a colleague of mine that the language spoken is Icelandic. It makes sense, to me, to have a Nordic language rather than someone attempt to do an accent but not speaking much Icelandic myself, ignorance is bliss and I’m happy with the voice acting.

The first animated boss in Jotun

Epic scale on a handheld device

Portability isn’t a dealbreaker for me but I will say this isn’t great in handheld mode as Thora is just so small. You need to enjoy the graphics and be able to see them. Cuphead does this well as the gameplay is also there but looks beautiful in handheld mode. Jotun not so much. Bad North also has small characters but you can zoom in and it’s suitable for playing on a small screen. Jotun deserves to be seen on a larger screen. It’s not the lack of power of portable mode – just the physical size of the screen.

I’ve read a few reviews of Jotun and the majority of them side with this being a great game. There appears to be a consensus on the lack of enemies and that everyone loves the bosses. What I do note is the focus on the appearance of the game. Yes, it does look fantastic (the backgrounds are just as good as the characters) but you can’t play a cartoon (Cuphead excluded). Some of the comparisons of this game have been linked with Dragon’s Lair. I wouldn’t make that comparison – in terms of a similar visual style from gaming history, sure, I get the link but the closest comparison to Dragon’s Lair is the playability and stuttered movements.

Wandering the plains with lava branches underground

Short, but slow

I stopped writing about this and started playing it again to try and convince myself what I was missing but the continuous walking around without any encounters irritated me. It’s literally the opposite to Final Fantasy VII in that case. In the brief play I had, I went to the area where you jump onto a raft and navigate to smaller islands with veins of lava appearing. I actually got a little bored.

I then replayed the first boss again as the character design and introduction is awesome but swinging the axe is so slow. Not because of the physics of the axe but the animation is sluggish. I don’t hate this game – I don’t dislike this game so much either – I just find it a little too slow-paced for the wrong reasons (I have no complaints with slow-burning games – my recent comments on Type:Rider reflect that).

It’s a short game if you go by suggest play-throughs of 4-10 hours but it really depends on the player. For games like Skyrim or Witcher 3, it’s easy to get absorbed/lost in the worlds so you can easily clock up more time than others. However, while it all looks so pretty (have I mentioned that), Jotun doesn’t have you taking your time exploring as there’s not really much to see or interact with. My patience level is pretty high but I wanted to have a permanent option to use Freya’s speed perk and speed run through the empty landscapes.

Death screen - you have failed to impress the gods

We won’t be meeting in Valhalla

The Valhalla Edition side of things is for those worthy of Valhalla. It’s basically new game+ but you need to speed run and beat the bosses who are even more difficult. As I reiterate throughout, I love playing games but I’m not particularly good.

I don’t set high scores and I seldom play NG+ – aside from Dark Souls Remastered due to two factors: 1) I don’t have the time to play another game – most NG+ are already huge games (Jotun is an exception) 2) NG+ games are harder. It recently took me hours to get to NG+ in Nioh (love that game) and even then I didn’t finish all the levels. The advantage with Nioh is you can also get someone to assist you who is either overpowered or a million times better than you. Jotun is a single-player and I have to rely on myself and I’m unreliable. As I said before, Valhalla doesn’t have a space for me, that said, I don’t want to find myself wandering around aimlessly in the void. Regardless of how pretty everything is.

I’ll give Valhalla a miss for now – not that they’d have me. I play games on easy mode – I’m no warrior. Even better, I’ll go play God of War again. Or watch Vikings. Or read a book. Ok ok, Jotun isn’t that bad but it didn’t win me over. Sorry Odin, you’ll have to continue with me.