Rock climbing doesn’t normally fit into “cozy” situations. Many people are either afraid of heights, or thrill seekers desperately searching for their next adrenaline rush. Don’t Nod Entertainment found a balance between the two extremes with their new release, Jusant. While some technical frustrations and control schemes bring down the game’s heights, they can not stop this charming game from being an enjoyable experience.
Writer’s Note: We were provided a review key by Don’t Nod and completed the game in about 6-7 hours of game time.
Jusant’s French Roots are Vital as Water
The game opens with a word. Jusant. A French-term for a receding tide in certain maritime or coastal contexts. This word then becomes reality as you immediately witness beached ships in an arid desert. In that desert, a silent boy wanders until he reaches a giant natural tower.
Upon arrival, you are handed control of him as he climbs and finds the remnants of the people who lived there. Letters, a scattered personal diary, and other landmarks litter the vanished community. These paint a sad portrait of a sun that ceased its motion, causing the water to disappear and eventually, the people too.
Those letters expertly capture the human reactions to watching your home fade away. There’s anger towards the local authorities’ handling of the drought, grief in fleeing from home for better land, and much more. You can never meet these people in person, but you know exactly what went through their minds.
By the end of chapter one, you realize the boy has not been traveling alone. He carries a tiny creature called a Ballast. This Ballast gives life to the area both narratively and mechanically. Mechanically, it unlocks new climbing mechanics in each chapter and shows both hidden secrets and the next goal.
Narratively, it stimulates the environment for possibly the first time since the people left. It’s definitely the narrative justification for the game, but the game doesn’t build that relationship enough. Players can essentially “pet” the Ballast, but most relationship-building is left for the end.
Local Nature Elevates Jusant’s Gameplay
Don’t Nod bills Jusant as an action-puzzle climbing game. The core gameplay loop revolves around scaling cliff faces while managing your rope length, climbing pitons, and stamina. At face value, it makes for a relaxing puzzle game.
All that said, the controls for these core mechanics do not feel good on Xbox controllers. Players need to hold the Left and Right Trigger buttons to control each arm while also pushing the left joystick in the direction you want to go. If you need to rest, then you need to hold down on the left joystick.
These controls are unnecessarily complex and can’t be remapped. It doesn’t feel good to continually hold down trigger or bumper buttons for extended amounts of time. Even with specific accessibility features promised in a future update, people who don’t need these features should not immediately desire these options.
Core button layout aside, climbing around feels soothing if you know what you’re doing. There are times where the game slips up on direction, partially because you can’t use the Ballast’s guiding ability while you’re climbing. It’s not common but annoying regardless. There’s no “game over” screen, partially because you mostly need to anchor your rope before you start climbing.
As seen in the gameplay trailer, the Ballast can stimulate vines to grow to exceptional lengths. You can hold onto them as they grow and take a quick trip to speed up your climb.
Later levels don’t just incorporate new mechanics but also include moments that combine these mechanics together. Individually, they feel like the kind you’d build a dungeon around. Many games continually sub in these mechanics and stop using the old ones. Jusant instead opts to build upon each one for varied gameplay. That cohesion keeps Jusant’s gameplay fresh throughout.
Jusant’s Tower Packs in Diverse Sights and Sounds in a Short Time
For a game that takes place in one giant natural structure, it excels at diversifying its levels. As you climb the tower, you fluctuate between arid cliff faces, giant caverns, and more. Most chapters feel unique, and even then the two most similar have distinct differences that keep you perpetually engaged.
Each chapter’s location also highlights what was once there. One of the collectible secrets is hidden in conch shells. Like any adventurous kid, the boy will put the Conch to his ear and hear the ambient sounds from that specific area. Sound adds so much character to each location. Children playing and boats docking give you the closest you can get to firsthand experience of what the conch heard when this tower was alive.
Speaking of sound, the technical audio design is exemplary. Climbing around invites various sounds like some of the ones listed above. Everything from the gentle breeze to plants growing feels properly pronounced. Anyone with surround sound speakers or headphones will get their money’s worth from the immersion offered by the audio alone.
Final Verdict: An Enjoyable Climb through the Past
Jusant shows its best when it shows the past. As you climb through a ghost civilization, you see and hear what was left behind and why.
Don’t Nod’s biggest accomplishment revolves around water, or lack thereof. They show that water is life’s most important resource. When the water disappears, or when a jusant comes, life leaves too.
It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s still a pleasant, cozy, afternoon experience.