Boss battles almost seem to be a lost art form.
They still exist, to be sure, but most of us remember a time when there was hardly a game published without a big baddie or two with imposing abilities and health meters to match.
In Jotun, a new isometric action-adventure title from Thunder Lotus Games, the art form of the boss battle is taken very seriously.
Extensively inspired by Old Norse mythology and folklore, Jotun tells the story of Thora, a young warrior named for the god of thunder and bravery. After dying a dishonorable death at sea, she finds herself in the mysterious realm of Ginnungagap, a void that connects to the far corners of Yggdrasil, the World Tree.
To earn glory and entrance into Valhalla, Thora must impress the gods by seeking out and defeating the titular jotun, ancient and extremely powerful beings that rule over their respective domains. Players will spend the majority of their time guiding Thora through various fantasy locales such as Jormungandr’s frozen lake, the stormy clouds of the northern sky and a dwarven city in order to collect the runes necessary to confront each corresponding jotun boss.
While searching for the runes, Thora must contend with treacherous terrain and hostile creatures while solving the occasional puzzle to keep progressing. The game boasts stunning environments and character designs through the use of hand-drawn art. By combining a powerful visual element and a variety of hazards to navigate, the game is effective at creating an atmosphere of exploration that can turn into one of peril with little warning – an appreciable touch that aids player immersion.
It’s fortunate that the levels are thoughtfully built – both visually and mechanically – because exploration pays off. If she ventures slightly off the beaten path, Thora can come across health-boosting golden apples and shrines to the various gods of Asgard, including Frigg, Freyja and Thor, who bestow new abilities that aid in her adventure and help even the odds in coming battles with the jotun.
And the bosses are the most obvious strength of Jotun. From the outset of each battle, the bosses establish themselves as awe-inspiring, dangerous and beautifully-rendered opponents. Thora must make the most of her battleaxe to chip away at the monstrous foes while avoiding a plethora of environmental hazards, though each jotun gradually employs new abilities, rapidly changing the dynamic of each fight and ratcheting up the tension. Jotun does an incredible job of setting up seemingly insurmountable challenges that require patience, perseverance and creativity to overcome.
There is potential for frustrating situation and rage-quits among gamers unaccustomed to being so outgunned, but none of the boss battles in Jotun seem particularly unfair.
Jotun displays very few flaws, thanks to a clear understanding of what it sets out to accomplish. Simple controls, nerve-fraying combat, a lovingly crafted game world and a charming story add up to a tight, efficient and unique indie adventure title.