DON’T NOD games represent the definition of a mixed bag for me. I was introduced to the developer playing and thoroughly enjoying the Life is Strange games, as well as Tell Me Why soon thereafter, but when it comes to other titles like Vampyr or Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, I found them on the boring side despite them being more gameplay-involved than the aforementioned walking simulators.
Jusant treads more ground in a place where gameplay really shines, and I’m happy to say that while the exploration aspect didn’t grab me as much as I hoped, this was still a game I found enjoyable from start to finish.
The game puts you at the base of a high mountain, and it’s your job to climb it. The first chapter is a great precursor to the game’s main hook, its climbing gameplay. Jusant is all about climbing, with the left and right shoulder buttons acting as your hands, gripping on the handholds you see in the rocky walls. That said, while it’s a lot more involved than climbing in a game like Assassin’s Creed or even Zelda, there are enough in those games for people to know that the act of climbing won’t be so easy. The controls actually are reminiscent of DK: King of Swing for anybody that played that, except obviously way more involved.
In addition to a stamina bar which is self-explanatory, there are various factors that’ll affect your climb. Maybe not all the handholds are visible. Maybe you’ll have to drive a stake through the cliffs, so you can lower yourself down or lasso and wall run to other places for easier climbing traction, or maybe you’ve climbed so far without setting your rope that you begrudgingly have to start over when you run out of rope. A lot of exploration you’ll do in Jusant is about as rewarding as it is frustrating, as there seem to be as many collectibles as there are dead ends, and to make matters even more interesting, there’s some magic in the game as well.
In addition to being sort of a climbing physics simulator, Jusant is also about understanding your abilities and environment to keep moving forward. The game does a solid job at pacing you through the first chapter to understand everything the main character can do with his rope but at the end of that chapter, you’ll discover that your little friend has some abilities as well tied to a single button press that changes up the environment.
Later in the game, you’ll come across plants that can grow vines to give you more paths to climb, as well as plants that’ll grow handles on the walls once you’ve activated them. Still, it isn’t that simple either. If you have a wall plant chilling in the heat, even after activating them with your partner’s ability, the handholds or vines that grow out of them can disappear in the heat after a limited time, so if you don’t get to where you have to go fast enough, it’s easy to fall and end up in a “one step forward, two steps back” situation. You’ll even come across handholds that are actually moving bugs, making you think if you should really just wait there while the bugs climb, or whether you should take action into your own climb. There’ll be a bunch of times where you have to really work at it to get from point A to point B, but the sense of accomplishment you get is all the more fulfilling. Part of the joy is that while the climbing can be simple, it’s all a puzzle.
As I mentioned, the game is about getting to the top, and there’s a why to it. I’m not going to spoil that reason, but in all honesty, I don’t know what really motivates the main character to finish scaling the mountain anyway. It may not seem like it at first glance, but the world in Jusant seems to be one that post-apocalyptic. From broken ladders, to abandoned dwellings, and food just left there, the world of Jusant has its fair share of ruin. Throughout the game you’ll come across notes, letters, and chats between other characters you’ll never see about how life on the mountain used to be, and it’s all for the sake of world building. I have no doubts that the world building is excellent, because that’s something DON’T NOD is all about, but it really shouldn’t be tied to just long-winded notes you find in the game–they’re REALLY long, but fortunately everything you read can be found again at the pause menu should you be interested.
The funny thing about finding all these notes is the fact that a big part of what makes the game special is the journey as you make your way to the top. The first chapter was about teaching you how to climb, the second chapter is about teaching you how the environment and your cute friend can contribute to making your climb easier, the third chapter is about really understanding what’s at your disposal for your climb, and the latter chapters do things like take you through caves and caverns as well as dangerously windy areas to take advantage of you being there. The beauty of Jusant is it’s an easy game to just play and learn as you go, and before you know it, you’ve reached the top.
When you finish the game, in typical Life is Strange fashion, you can replay any chapter to find any of the collectibles you missed. The problem is that they aren’t divided into sections, so if you don’t really care to explore the paths you didn’t come across, you won’t get the Platinum if this is something you care about.
While it’s definitely a crowded time right now, especially being hot off the heels of the releases of games like Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, and Alan Wake 2, the charm that Jusant offers is a feeling I’d recommend to anybody looking for a chill change of pace that no other release during this period offers. The gameplay is as tight as it is soothing, you can’t die, and the game is a very reasonable five hours long depending on the amount of time you take to solve some of the game’s puzzles, but if there’s anything this game teaches you–there’s nowhere to go but up.