I’ve been an avid Xbox gamer for several years now, and I watch their showcases religiously. With the AAA games, we usually have some idea of what to expect to be announced, but the great thing about indies is that they’re nearly always a surprise.
This was definitely the case when Jusant was announced during Summer Game Fest a couple of months ago.
Among some low-budget (yet still charming) games, Jusant stood out to me for its sheer attention to detail. The production value was palpable, and there was none of that rough-around-the-edges feel that you often get from indies.
I was, however, left feeling a little confused as to what the gameplay would be like. From what I could tell, the game involved ascending a mountain with a cute creature in tow, and potentially some puzzles to solve. But I wasn’t sure what the player experience would be like.
Thankfully, I got to answer some of those questions very recently! I was lucky enough to attend the Gamescom 2023 event in Cologne, and Jusant had a playable demo in the Xbox booth. Read on to discover what you can expect from this intriguing game!
My Initial Thoughts
The Jusant demo gives a delicious taste of what to expect from the full game. The climbing mechanics are fascinating if a little complex initially, and the stamina bar adds a sense of urgency. The gorgeous visuals help make this an immersive experience, but it does get a bit repetitive towards the end.
A Dream for Climbers
Now, I will say that I am pretty heavily biased in this respect. When I’m not gaming, one of my favorite hobbies is climbing.
Although I’ve not yet had the chance to climb outside on mountains, I love attempting tricky boulders and ascending the top wall at my local gym. I always get a kick when I play games that utilize climbing, but so far, it’s always been a toned-down version.
That’s not the case with Jusant. Instead of just pressing A or moving your analog stick around to climb up, you have to focus on the nitty-gritty of your movement. You control each hand individually, releasing one as you grip with the other.
You then move the hand around on the screen and only grip once you’re confident you can make the move. The controls take a little while to get used to, but once you’ve familiarized yourself, it becomes second nature.
The benefits of this are twofold. Firstly, it’s so much more realistic this way. I can tell you from personal experience that I’ve never played a game that feels so close to the real thing.
When you climb in real life, you can’t just press a button to grab the next hold. You have to actively reach out for it, paying close attention to the balance of your body.
Secondly, by forcing you to move one hand at a time, it means you’re encouraged to think more deeply about your movement. You have to plan your route (or beta, as it’s known in climbing terminology), figuring out the most energy-efficient moves for each section.
This makes you feel much more involved as a player, increasing the immersion so you really feel like you’re the one ascending the mountain.
You can also jump, which entails launching your body in a direction of your choice. This is known as a ‘dyno’ in the climbing community. I love that the consequences of this are high risk, high reward, just like in real life.
If you attempt a jump that’s too difficult, you’ll plummet downwards, and have to start the section again. But if you succeed in grabbing the next hold, you may save yourself a lot of effort having to try and find a different route.
However, you can only jump so many times, as you may run out of stamina. Speaking of which…
Manage Your Resources Effectively!
I expect there will be more considerations in the full game, but the demo of Jusant eased you into the gameplay with just two main resources – stamina and bolts.
In the demo, you start with just 3 bolts, but I expect that you’ll be able to earn more in the full game. Stamina is a fixed bar, but again, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t earn more.
Bolts are an essential part of climbing, as these are the metal hooks that you attach to the mountain and then clip your rope into. They’re basically the only thing stopping you from plummeting to your doom if you miss a hold, so you want to think really carefully about them.
In Jusant, you clip into a pre-placed bolt at the start of each climbing section, but from there, it’s up to you to figure out how frequently to place your other bolts.
I like that bolts are limited because it adds an essence of danger and excitement. You can place them early, and ensure you have a ‘checkpoint’ of sorts if you fall, but then you may end up stuck on a really difficult move with no more bolts to place.
Conversely, you may try and save them up for a trickier jump, but end up accidentally slipping on something easy, and ending up having to go all the way back to the start. I’m really glad Jusant lets you figure this out for yourself, rather than automatically placing the bolts for you.
Stamina is the other thing you need to pay close attention to. As soon as your feet leave solid ground, your stamina starts counting down.
It’s move-based rather than time-based, so you have time to think and plan your moves to conserve as much energy as possible. You can also recuperate stamina up to a certain level by resting on vertical objects such as netting.
An Immersive Atmosphere
I won’t lie, there’s nothing impressive about the soundtrack. I genuinely can’t even remember how the tune went, and it’s only been 2 days since I played it.
However, what I do remember is that it was peaceful and atmospheric, a perfect fit for the environment. The ambient noises felt natural for a mountain, so you can focus on the climbing itself rather than the music.
However, the standout is the graphics. They didn’t go for hyper-realism, instead using stylized cartoon graphics. It evokes a feeling of semi-realism but with the charm of an indie video game.
The color palette is vibrant yet limited. There’s naturally a lot of gray, since the game’s set in a mountain, but the different shades and the contrast with the background help to create a welcoming vibe.
What I love the most, though, is the way the holds have been created. You can tell that the developers really knew what they were doing.
This isn’t just someone who’s looked at a picture of a mountain and guessed what a cartoon version of those holds might look like. It’s clearly been approached from a climbing perspective.
The holds are jagged with different shapes and sizes, and you can tell the texture just by looking at them. I could really imagine what it would feel like to climb it with my own hands.
What to Expect from the Full Game
Although I definitely appreciated the detail in the climbing aspects, I do worry that it would get a bit boring. Even after just the short demo, I found myself growing tired of the repetitive movements needed to ascend the mountain. I could see that monotony being compounded over the full game.
The trailer does somewhat appear to address this, in that it looks like you get access to new moves. There are also scenes where you interact with the environment, which I’m sure will make the game feel more exciting.
Not to mention that the presence of a cute creature companion always makes games more enjoyable.
Nevertheless, I’m hesitant. I’ll almost certainly play Jusant when it’s released, as it’s done enough to pique my interest, but I’ll temper my expectations. I’d love to be proven wrong, but I’m honestly doubtful about whether there will be enough variety to hold players’ attention.
Whilst you wait for Jusant to be released, check out these fun alternatives!
A Short Hike
I played this recently and adored it. At face value, it looks totally different to Jusant since the art style, genre, and just general vibes are different.
However, I’ve included it as an alternative since at their cores, both games are about getting to the top of a mountain.
In A Short Hike, you play as a cute pixel penguin named Claire, and you collect feathers to improve your climbing and gliding abilities. Along the way, you complete quests, discover new areas, and even do some fishing!
Planet of Lana
Almost the opposite scenario to A Short Hike, Planet of Lana doesn’t really involve much climbing, but it does have a similar vibe to Jusant.
Both games are slow-paced and immersive, and they also deliver impressive visuals. If you’re looking for a peaceful way to kill a few hours, Planet of Lana is the perfect way to do it.
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Aaand, we’re back to the climbing again. There’s so much to do in BoTW, but climbing plays a huge part in it. And, just like with Jusant, you have to keep a close eye on your stamina and plan your route accordingly.
The sequel, Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was recently released and probably has climbing that’s just as intense, but I haven’t yet played it so I’ll stick with recommending BoTW. Between the two games, there’s undoubtedly more than enough content to tide you over until Jusant is released!