The art of climbing. It’s something that pretty much every single human being has some sort of experience doing. Whether you are someone who knows their Carabiners from their Prism descenders, or you’re someone like me who was notorious as a child on the local birthday party circuit for clambering on Bouncy Castles and causing a scene, we all have some way to relate to this pastime.
So naturally, through the power of imagination and fantasy, gaming is the perfect medium to help you convert your skill in navigating a staircase after a messy night on the town into a masterful understanding of mountaineering.
Gaming has offered a few interesting forays into the world of climbing, with games like Grow Home, Mirror’s Edge, and Horizon Call of the Mountain all springing to mind.
However, I would argue that next to none have really represented an authentic climber experience quite like Jusant. A game that provides meticulously crafted mountaineering mechanics for players to master, an interesting world to uncover, and picturesque views to drink in as you clamber higher toward the summit.
It’s a game that tries to maintain an accessible and approachable pseudo-platformer format to attract casual players, while aiming to offer something profound and unique for climbing specialists, and while the limbo in between may not quite suit everyone, It’s a compelling, fresh title well worth a look. Here is Indie Game Culture’s Jusant Review, conducted on PS5.
One Foothold at a Time
For a game such as this that sets out its stall and hangs its hopes of mass sales on its gameplay mechanics, it backs me into a corner, meaning we will need to talk gameplay first.
To paint a picture for you folks, Jusant is a game much like Celeste or Journey, where you start at the bottom of a mountain, and your only goal is to reach the top. Along the way, you can collect a handful of collectibles and explore each level to learn a little more about the civilization that resided here before your arrival, but primarily, this game is climbing, and that’s about it.
You would think that this would equal a pretty one-note and dull experience, but despite this very focused gameplay format, Jusant manages to offer a pseudo-platforming experience that grows in complexity over time, teaching you the ways of the mountain and molding you into a competent climbing extraordinaire.
To boil it down, the game will have you climb using handholds, footholds, and ladders, and will use a Piton system which allows you to hook to walls and structures to abseil and swing to your heart’s content. The game has no skill tree, no unlockables, and no rewards.
All these skills are available to you from the very first moment, but due to these easy-to-understand but hard-to-master mechanics, it’ll take a few chapters before you really hit your stride.
It’s this gradual learning curve, combined with a series of well-implemented environmental hurdles to clear in the form of Wilting Flowers, Echo Plants, and large chasms to cross, that make each chapter a fresh and fun challenge.
Plus, in principle, climbing feels like more of a puzzle to solve when compared to something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where the climbing just sort of happens.
With each new hold you move to, you lose stamina; if you leap, you lose stamina; if you use too many Pitons, you’ll run out of rope, and you’ll need to use each hand individually to reach for one hold, let go of the last, reach for the next and repeat to get anywhere, meaning you’ll need to establish a steady rhythm as you climb.
I do have my gripes with this system, but before I pick at the seams, let it be known, that these are some of the finest climbing mechanics in any game to date, and even if they are flawed, you can’t take that away.
What Goes Up…
As I said, regardless of my love for the climbing mechanics present here and the big swing they represent in terms of game design, they are far from perfect.
To list off a few common issues throughout my long climb, I encountered countless moments where I was stuck in in-world set dressing. I also encountered numerous areas of the game where the camera just didn’t want to play ball at all, violently shuddering and shaking as I went.
Then, I also had a lot of issues with recovering from a failed climb. Let’s say you lack the stamina to proceed or need to remove a Piton to proceed.
You’ll need to let go of the cliff and retract your rope to return to your last Piton. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue, but if your rope is hooked around a pillar, a ledge, or something like that, you’ll basically be stuck unless you can battle against the game’s physics and force your way past.
There were other small issues, but to tie all these issues up in a neat little bow, it comes down to the fact that the physics, when not attached to a wall, feels a little ragdoll, and I just wish the level of care put into the wall-climbing mechanics could have translated to the other movement present.
I Could Do This All Day
Then to wrap up my thoughts on the overall gameplay of Jusant, I have to also reveal that when put under proper scrutiny, it’s not actually all that deep.
It’s deeper than pretty much all other climbing mechanics out there, granted, but in a bid to be accessible to the casual player base, it ends up lacking in immersive climbing hardships that dedicated real-world climbers will perhaps come in search of when playing this game.
The game boasts a system where each hand is controlled independently, and each hold chosen as you ascend matters.
However, to pierce the veil and show you the truth here, you’ll essentially just alternate between trigger buttons in a steady rhythm, and the game will do the rest. there are a handful of moments that demand more precise decision-making, but they are few and far between.
It’s a decision I understand, as it is a bid to appeal to all players, but I would combat that by asking, why not include a higher difficulty setting where stamina is at a premium, there are fewer holes to choose from, and your mastery of the mechanics is tested further.
Not to spoil anything, but the end climb, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of difficulty for this game, is laughable, as by then, you have enough climbing experience to ascend the final tower while on autopilot.
I’m not someone who craves difficulty to enjoy a game, believe me, but in this instance where more meticulous planning and problem solving would have led to a more immersive experience, then yes, I will call the game out, and on this occasion, it’s a little too easy.
We then move on to the world-building and general narrative of Jusant. To keep it vague as to avoid spoilers, Jusant has you climb a deserted mountain where former civilizations used to reside.
The tide used to rise and fall, meaning past residents would need to climb and descend regularly, but due to an extreme drought, the mountain soon turned inhospitable, and as you climb, you explore settlements and relics revealing snippets of the lives of those who used to call this place home.
On paper, it’s a pretty unique setup that has a lot of parallels with the recent nautical mystery title Saltsea Chronicles.
However, unlike that game, Jusant fails to build a world that offers more than a vessel in which to house their climbing sections. The gameplay is key in Jusant, and while the game does have a certain ominous ora about it as you explore these forgotten, desolate areas of the mountain, it all feels a little surface level.
The notes and Bianca Journals help flesh this world out a little with contextual notes to explain where you are and what was happening in the days leading up to the collapse of this civilization.
However, I would argue that the writing never does enough to hook the player, or paint a picture of the world around them beyond the obvious. Not to mention, it’s quite hard to have players form attachments to the idea of a character rather than presenting them in a cut scene or in the world itself.
This is why, despite all the efforts at worldbuilding, the relationship between the player character and Ballast, your little blue helper, is far more enthralling and touching than anything you see or read as you clamber up the mountain.
All in all, the world and the stories within won’t be the thing you stick around for, so if you hop into this one and the climbing doesn’t float your boat, don’t stick around for the narrative.
They Look Like Ants Down There
We then move on to the visuals of this game, which I think are very pretty at times, but also play it safe in a lot of ways. On the positive side, the game creates a sense of place and scale very well. Always giving the player the ability to see how far they have climbed, and how far there is to go at all times.
Then the mountain setting itself looks great for the most part, with clean visuals, and assets that have a certain Pixar quality to them, as if they have been baby-proofed to get rid of all the jagged edges.
Every new area feels distinct, and has its own story to tell, and within each chapter, you’ll find a few landmark locations that urge you to stop and drink it all in.
The only problem is that the invitation to stop and marvel isn’t always one you’ll RSVP to, as due to the rather rubbery look of the world, areas can come off as a little ‘My First Unity Game.’
I would wager that all of these moments would fall flat if it weren’t for three key saving graces throughout. The excellent lighting that comes courtesy of opting to use an Unreal 5 engine (and thank goodness they did).
Secondly, the composer Guilliame Ferran regularly digs the game out of this hole with his excellent score that breathes life into these often hollow and uninspired environments.
Then thirdly, the developer’s ability to make the mountain feel alive with swaying plants, little creatures scurrying around, and the like helps things feel less stale.
Even now, as I write this, I feel like I’m rattling a few cages by saying this, but I feel like it comes down to how many of the game’s artistic decisions you want to make allowances for as ‘cute and charming.’ I love an intentionally cozy game as much as the next person, but here, I just think they didn’t quite nail what they set out to do.
This Is My Everest
Then before we plant our flag and climb back down the mountain, I also need to speak directly to all the completionists in the room.
This is yet another game that has absolutely no respect for your time. Throughout this game, you will need to find six different varieties of collectibles, all of which are hidden rather well around each chapter aside from the last, and if you miss one, well, then I have bad news for you.
Instead, you’ll have to play full chapters all over again and hope that if you’re a little more perceptive this time around, you’ll find what you need.
Having played Cocoon recently, and seen how excellent that game’s percentage-based chapter select screen was, this was a real gut punch.
It makes clean-up for this game an arduous chore where you’ll retrace your steps again and again, hoping to spot a tiny detail you missed before. Which, by the end, will have you look back on this game, not as a meditative and satisfying climb to the summit, but as a grueling treasure hunt with no end in sight.
If you want a game that offers cool climbing mechanics like Jusant, or generally just has a similar feel and vibe, then you might want to peruse these fine alternatives below:
- Grow Home
- Horizon: Call of the Mountain
- A Short Hike
- Bread and Fred
All in all, you need to commend Jusant for presenting a game where all you do is climb from the bottom to the top of a mountain, yet provides a format that grows in complexity and remains interesting throughout.
The game gives you all the tools you will ever need at the beginning of the game. You never get any added upgrades or perks, yet as you climb, you naturally become more proficient, more daring, and get a genuine feeling that you have a mastery of these climbing mechanics.
Thanks to clever level design, multiple paths of progression, intriguing new hurdles to overcome, and fluid movement, Jusant’s climbing, for the most part, feels like a meditative and cathartic challenge from start to finish. This makes it all the more disappointing that the other aspects of the game feel quite as hollow as they do.
The in-game world’s concept seems strong initially, but even with the notes and journals you come across and the abandoned settlements you get to explore, the world doesn’t feel like a fully realized and fleshed-out one, and it makes it hard to really look at each chapter as anything more than a pretty space to test your climbing acumen.
However, the relationship between your player character and your cute companion, Ballast, does make up for the hollow storytelling throughout, making this a better experience if you simply engage with it as a silent story told through subtle environmental clues.
Some mild performance issues, a lack of difficulty for those who want it, and poor backtracking functionality also hamper this game, but when all is said and done, this game is like nothing else on the market in the best way possible, and even with its flaws, it’s still a triumph.
- Outstanding climbing mechanics
- Excellent lighting and sense of scale
- Tremendous soundtrack
- A cute companion who deserves all the hugs
- All climbing that involves swinging/wall-running feels unpolished
- Visuals are quite rubbery
- The world feels hollow and uninteresting for the most part
- Backtracking for collectibles is a painful experience
Callum played Jusant for around 11 hours, completing the game and backtracking through several chapters to find missing collectibles. He’s missing a couple of letters, and after he has recovered from the monotony of repeating sections over and over, he may hop back in to claim his platinum trophy.
Question: Is Jusant On Xbox Game Pass?
Answer: Yep, you can play Jusant on day one of its release for free, provided you have a subscription to Xbox Game Pass. The game releases on the 31st of October, 2023.
Question: Is Jusant Hard?
Answer: No, it’s a game where you will need to work to master the mechanics on offer if you want to make it to the end, but the challenges before you are all very manageable.
Question: How Long to Finish Jusant?
Answer: If you have a good understanding of the core mechanics right from the offset, you’ll be able to finish the game in around 5-6 hours. However, if you want all the collectibles too, then you’re looking at a 7-8 hour stretch.
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