The striking thing about Jotun on the PAX East 2015 showfloor is its hand-drawn artwork. The demo includes a single boss fight against one of the monstrous Jotun that dwarfs your character. As the Jotun tramples around the arena, crushing ice within its path and creating a freezing cyclone with its breath, the animation is what keeps my attention.
Jotun places you in the fur boots of Thora, a Norse warrior exploring her version of purgatory. To free herself, Thora must find and defeat five Jotun, huge creatures that hold immense power.
"The gameplay revolves around, on one side, the exploration aspect," explains Jotun designer William Dube. "You go through Viking territory and you find runes, when you use those runes to summon and fight the Jotun. It's a boss battle-based game."
I say "huge" because Jotun's presentation mirrors fellow boss battler Titan Souls. Thora is tiny on the screen compared to the foes she attempts to fell. Like in Titan Souls, the relative size of your character helps provide a sense of scale to the encounters.
Jotun is a very deliberate game. You have two attacks - a simple axe swing and a big overhead chop - and a single dodge roll. Thora also has some weight to her. She doesn't move very quickly and there's force behind even her basic attacks. Every move you make is measured and you have to capitalize on holes in the boss' movements. The Pax East Jotun demo is patient and measured. Rushing or trying to get in an extra hit means the Jotun will punish you.
"The gameplay is a bit slower," says Dube. "We're really finding ways to give weight to your axe. You have this huge two-handed axe and we want you to think about how you should be using it. What you should be attacking, timing, positioning."
It feels very much like a Monster Hunter game. Learn the pattern, exploit the weakness, take your time. Like MonHun, if you follow these rules you'll succeed. I die in my playthrough because I think I can get in another few attacks at the tail end of the boss' life bar. Unfortunately, the enraged Jotun is faster and stronger; my foolish rush to glory ends in my death. According to Dube, each the five Jotun "has its own challenges, moveset, style, and theme."
I ask why Jotun is a hand-drawn game. Dube simply replies, "Because I know amazing 2D artists."
"It's something that really unique," he adds after a chuckle. "Frame-by-frame animation; not even Disney does it anymore. At the same time it has a very human quality; you can see every stroke. Some games do it well, but it's not super-explored in the games medium. So we thought it was a cool place to take the game."
Cool fits the theme of the Jotun demo, but "beautiful" is the word I'd use for the art style. A game on a small computer monitor got me to stop walking through the Indie MegaBooth and give it a try. I'd say that's a success at least.
Jotun is running head-long into planned September release on Steam (Windows, Mac, Linux).