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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (384)

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Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5
Evoland Legendary Editi... 4.5/5
Evoland 2 4.5/5
Burokku Girls 2/5
Finding Paradise 4.5/5
To the Moon 4/5
Marvel: Ultimate Allian... 2.5/5
Valley 4/5
Satellite Reign 3/5
The Fall of Gods 3.5/5
Even the Ocean 3.5/5
Asterix & Obelix XXL 2:... 3/5
Valkyria Chronicles 4 5/5
Ninja Gaiden ( Shadow W... 1/5
Super Mario Land 2.5/5
The Messenger 3.5/5
Super Mario Land 2: 6 G... 2/5
Super Mario Maker 2 3/5
Pillars of Eternity II:... 4/5

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Jotun   PC (Steam) 

Four Hours Never Felt So Long    2/5 stars

“Jotun” is the inaugural effort by Montreal, Canada-based Indie developer, Thunder Lotus Games. First announced in early 2015 and released later that same year, “Jotun” was the result of meager crowdfunding combined with an endowment from Canada’s government (a government that actually appreciates the arts, unlike ‘Murrica’s). When I first laid eyes on “Jotun,” I immediately wanted to play it, what with its striking presentation and promise of giving Norse mythology the same treatment “Apotheon” gave to Greek mythology. Unfortunately, looks are frequently deceiving, and no matter how gorgeous or authentic it may be, “Jotun” is ultimately a downer of an experience.

“Jotun” is a gloriously hand-drawn 2D game with a fairly standard top-down camera. Every single aspect of the game’s visuals, from environments to backdrops to character animation positively oozes ‘80s animation charm, from a time when cartoons were created from individual flat cells run in sequence rather than 3D models. “Jotun’s” visuals even feature one of the things I always chuckled about regarding animation as a kid, in that interactive objects and objects that move are a slightly different color from the static art surrounding them.

Accompanying the hand-drawn goodness of the game’s visuals is an excellent soundtrack and a thoroughly authentic narrative voiceover spoken in Icelandic (the closest thing to Old Norse going).

Technically, “Jotun” is a solid, bug-free experience. It also supports Xinput out of the box, is DRM-free, and is feature complete at the time of purchase.

“Jotun” tells the tale of Thora, a Viking shieldmaiden who died ingloriously in a shipwreck, and is thus denied entry into Valhalla, the Viking afterlife which is reserved for those who die in battle. Because Thora was born on the night of a thunderstorm, though, she is considered to have the blood of Thor (her namesake), the God of Thunder, in her veins. Thus, her soul is given a second chance by the Norse gods: Defeat the giants – the titular Jotun – and impress the gods in order to gain entrance to the halls of glory.

There are 5 Jotun in the game, and as Thora explores each Jotun’s domain, she recites a bit of what she knows about the mythology behind the area. This kind of mythological dump isn’t as well-conceived as the citations from primary sources employed in “Apotheon,” which addresses Greek mythology in the same way. It would have been nice to know exactly from which Icelandic snorra or edda the mythological ‘facts’ presented in “Jotun” originated.

Interspersed with the mythology lessons are the piecemeal story of Thora’s life and how she ended up dying as ignobly as she did. This is spoiler territory, but suffice to say, her backstory isn’t particularly original.

Perhaps the biggest flaw in “Jotun’s” ‘fluffy’ bits is the fact that the entire game can be completed in 4 hours, or even less, depending on the player’s skill. For a $15 game, that’s pretty damned short.

Where “Jotun” really fails to impress, however, is in its gameplay. What at first looks like a 2D ‘Zelda’ clone is in, reality, a 2D “Shadow of the Colossus” clone. Each of the 5 Jotun domains the player must guide Thora through are, by and large, empty. Only one two of them have minor enemies to kill, while the rest are populated solely by brain-dead puzzles. It also doesn’t help that the Jotun domains are also overly large, leading to lots of tedious walking. It seems that the oversized nature of the individual stages is partially, if not entirely, the fault of the game’s narrative structure, in which the player is expected to read subtitled Icelandic narration in order to understand what’s going on, and dealing with trash mob combat during these segments would prove distracting.

Once the player makes their way through each of the Jotuns’ domains, and collected all of the rune fragments awaiting them at the end, they are free to confront the Jotun who lives there at their leisure. Or not. The Jotun boss battles are really the only form of gameplay in “Jotun,” and they’re ultimately rather annoying. Each giant boss plods around the battlefield rather slowly before performing one of their stable of telegraphed attacks. It’s up to the player to trial-and-error their way through these things, figuring out how to avoid each attack while also chipping away at the boss’ giant health meter.

The boss battles in “Jotun” are, actually, reasonably well-designed. My gripe with them boils down to just how horrible “Jotun’s” entire combat engine is. Thora starts out with a miserable stable of three moves: A slow, clunky light attack that barely does any damage; a REALLY slow, clunky heavy attack that literally takes 3+ seconds to complete its animation (it’s so bad, bosses will just stroll leisurely out of range while Thora’s winding it up); and a dodge-roll evasion ability that doesn’t offer any invincibility (i-frames), doesn’t move her nearly far enough, and has an annoying 1-second pause between dodges. In essence, I hate “Jotun’s” combat for all the same reasons I hate ‘Souls’ combat, though, thankfully, “Jotun” isn’t actually a punishing game, with universal pre-boss checkpoints and no real punishment for dying.

As shallow and poorly executed as the basic combat is, “Jotun” also features a minor layer of Action/Adventure trappings. In each Jotun domain, Thora can find a golden apple that increases her health meter. Likewise, each domain hides one or more altars to the Norse gods, which will grant Thora limited access to 6 different divine powers. These powers take the form of spells the player can cast whenever they want, but with highly limited numbers of charges. Each god power can be used twice when discovered, and thrice after being upgraded at the second altar of the same god. In general, the god powers come across as gimmicky more than anything else. A cooldown system would have been a much better approach than the Vancian system the game actually uses.

Ultimately, the only thing “Jotun” has going for it from a gameplay perspective is its appeal to H.A.R.D. Heads – those masochistic gamers who can’t enjoy themselves unless their teeth are grinding and they’ve broken half a dozen controllers. In the “Valhalla Edition” of “Jotun,” which was given as a free upgrade to all “Jotun” owners on PC and is the only version available on consoles, Thunder Lotus added a Hard Mode Boss Rush. Moreover, “Jotun” features a number of achievements for H.A.R.D. Heads to chase, such as no-damage runs and no-god-power runs against each Jotun boss. I guess that’s one way to make a 4-hour game last longer… but it’s a really BAD way.

“Jotun” may be an incredibly short, incredibly beautiful game, but I managed to stretch it out over nearly a month simply because I would look for any excuse not to play it. The boring, empty stages and horrifically-clunky combat can’t be brushed aside by the game’s appeal to my specific artistic and narrative sensibilities. Avoid this one unless you’re a H.A.R.D. Head whose e-peen grows by being on a leaderboard.

Presentation: 5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 1/5
Overall (not an average): 2/5



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