Jusant Review – Reaching The Summit
Jusant asks players to do one thing: climb. As a silent mountaineer accompanied by a cute critter, the only thing standing between you and your mysterious mission is one very tall mountain. The journey to its summit is treacherous, but thanks to an ingenious climbing system, beautiful art direction, and intriguing world-building, inching toward the top is worth the effort.
The intuitive climbing mechanics are the star of the show. Pressing the left and right shoulder buttons lets you grip handholds with the corresponding hands of the climber while you aim with the left stick. The back-and-forth rhythm of hitting both buttons to pull yourself up precarious terrain feels natural and realistic without being cumbersome. Gripping drains a stamina meter, and though managing this isn’t often difficult, it does add a nice element of thoughtfulness and tension to the ascent. Climbing excels, but simply walking can be troublesome as the character has a habit of getting stuck on even the most negligible geometry, such as small pieces of rubble, resulting in awkward jumping and spinning to break loose.
Your only tool is a retractable climbing rope that automatically anchors you to a wall, meaning you can never fall to your death (or die in general). While this contributes to the game’s relaxed, meditative atmosphere, that doesn’t mean failure isn’t a factor. Slipping sends you dangling back to where you began, which can result in having to reclimb lengthy stretches. You can prevent demoralizing setbacks by staking up to three pitons as you climb, extending your reach while creating makeshift checkpoints. I love the strategy of managing the placement of my pitons, as it gave me creative agency in how I navigated tricky sections – namely walls lacking handholds – while ensuring any lost progress was entirely my fault due to bad or infrequent piton staking. The rope also allows for performing fun maneuvers like swinging across gaps or wall-running to reach distant goals.
Ballast, the climber’s cute, water-like pet, offers another helping hand. Hitting a button makes it emit a pulse that transforms organic elements, such as making giant flower bulbs sprout climbable buds or causing vines to grow rapidly and letting you hitch a free ride on them. There’s only a small handful of these tricks, but they complement traditional climbing while adding an entertaining layer of whimsy.
These mechanics result in climbing that feels challenging in the right ways. Scaling the mountain requires enough physical effort and coordination combined with mindful planning to make hitting each elevation milestone feel like a well-earned accomplishment. Looking down over a cliff to see the entire section I just completed before looking up at the obstacles to come is satisfying and daunting. Climbing in games is often shades of being either mind-numbingly simplistic or painfully tedious. Jusant strikes a great sweet spot. The great controls made me confident and eager to tackle the well-crafted, puzzle-like climbing routes and obstacles.
Developer Don’t Nod does a great job of mixing up Jusant’s premise by introducing new environmental or platforming challenges in each of the game’s six chapters. One section has you riding powerful wind gusts to reach far-off platforms. Rock-like bugs serve as moving handholds that can carry the player along, provided you watch the path they’re on and adjust if they lead you astray. One of my favorite areas lets you scale and swing across massive stalactites in a giant, bioilluminated cave. Jusant has a relatively short run time (about six hours), but it remains fresh and engaging throughout.
Jusant’s picturesque scenery looks fantastic. Set in a world that has mysteriously lost nearly all traces of water, the mountain is situated in a dry, vast seabed. Dehydrated coral, fossilized seashells, and shipwrecked vessels provide the only evidence of the former ocean, as do numerous abandoned settlements where a lost society once called the mountain home. It may technically be a world in ruin, but the warm colors, great lighting, and sharp art design make it fun to look at.
How this calamity happened, and the plight of the people who experienced it is told through a series of sometimes lengthy but fascinating diaries. Whether it was the story of a young woman eagerly abandoning her home life to embark on an expedition to the summit or the day-to-day musings of folks who can’t fathom living on a horizontal plane, these logs are enjoyable and worthwhile reads that provide vital context to the world and your quest.
Numerous paths inside and outside the mountain hide various collectibles and interactive artifacts, such as wall paintings telling a grand legend and seashells that provide audio-only flashbacks of this lost civilization. I went out of my way to find as many of these as possible, and thankfully, the game tracks all of them. That makes revisiting chapters to locate missed items an easy and inviting proposition. Even if you can’t collect it, I was happy to find new rooms, stores, and other infrastructure to get a better idea of these people’s way of life.
Jusant is my favorite Don’t Nod title since the original Life is Strange and is one of the year’s best gems. The climbing mechanics are so smart and well-executed that I hope other games take notes. Add an inviting presentation, a pleasant soundtrack, and an alluring air of mystery and isolation reminiscent of Team Ico’s best works, and Jusant is a rewarding expedition.