Jusant is a beautiful game.
It’s presumptuous to make such a definitive statement after only playing the game for roughly three hours. But playing through the game’s first two acts during a quiet night at home left such a strong impression on me that it’s hard to not feel anything but enthusiasm about it.
In the far-flung future of Jusant, where water is scarce, a nameless protagonist makes their way across a desert – seemingly the bottom of what was once an ocean – to arrive at a mountain that towers high into the sky. And then, they climb.
Jusant is a wordless, meditative game that revolves around scaling this sometimes treacherous, often beautiful mountain, and discovering more about the people that used to once live on it. The acts of mountain climbing, bouldering, and abseiling are central to this, of course.
In what feels like a mix of ideas from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 and Bennet Foddy’s excellent GIRP (It’s free! Play it!), the scalable surfaces of Jusant require you to pay close attention to where your next handhold is going to be, and how strong your grip is. Your controller’s shoulder triggers are used to control the grasp of the protagonist’s left and right hands, while the left analog stick is used to guide their free limbs.
A limited stamina bar creates some urgency to climbing, acting as a pertinent consideration you also need to keep in mind while searching for the best path forward – running low? Stop and take a rest before you lose your grip completely. While the preview build we played was provided for the Xbox Series X/S, I’m very eager to see how Jusant utilises the more nuanced haptic feedback of the PlayStation 5 controller.
Altogether, the system makes climbing even the smallest gaps an act that requires some thought, which is refreshing. Jusant is about the journey up the mountain, after all. In fact, you might as well characterise Jusant as Journey on a mountain, given their similar, contemplative traits.
Despite the heart-stopping heights and risky manoeuvres Jusant has you performing, you can thankfully never fall to your death. The protagonist is equipped with a kind of futuristic harness and climbing rope, which is automatically secured to an anchor point as you start a climb. Fall, and you’ll be saved by the anchored rope, allowing you to easily ascend, and start all over again. A limited number of pitons, handheld climbing anchors, can be deployed on longer climbs, which act as defacto checkpoints for the times you forget about your stamina, or are about to take on a challenging manoeuvre.
You’ll be making plenty of challenging manoeuvres, too. Not content to rest on the satisfying feeling of climbing alone, Jusant very quickly begins to throw more complex scenarios at you. Several walls have a wealth of handholds, requiring you to look ahead and forge your own path out of multiple possible options – a refreshing departure from the guided, linear routes of action exploration games. Many climbing puzzles will require big jumps, big swings, and wall runs to make it from point A to B, requiring some level of perception, planning, and dexterity.
Aspects of fantasy play a big part in building Jusant’s climbing variety, too. A short way into the game, you discover that the protagonist has a magical water creature in their backpack, which you can call upon to interact with the unique plants that grow on the mountain. You’ll need to do things like awakening large crawling vines and bulbous cacti to create clusters of new handholds – though they wither in direct sunlight, so sometimes, you’ll have to be very quick.
Colonies of little rock bugs also make up some of the most memorable moments in the game’s first few hours, as they scuttled around the mountain, creating a sheer, living wall with ever-shifting routes. And in the final moments of the Jusant preview build, there were glimpses of even larger creatures, setting up some intrigue into just how the game will continue to build on its already-interesting challenges.
Jusant’s excellent climbing system, together with satisfying puzzles, a saturated aesthetic, wordless storytelling, and a minimalist score makes for a wonderful concoction. It’s immediately compelling, and I’m very eager to discover what’s at the peak of its mountain.