It wasn't that long ago when Don't Nod, the former Dontnod Entertainment, expressed a desire to branch out from the story-based formula that helped put it on the map. It's not that the team didn't love Life is Strange, but the time eventually came to try something new and different. Jusant certainly falls in that category. Don't Nod manages to put together a unique, engaging, and relaxing experience, though there are a few instances where it can't help but look down.
Nowhere to go but up
Jusant tells the story of an unnamed main character who sets out to climb a frighteningly tall tower. While the game's early moments give the impression that he's doing this mostly for kicks, the dialogue-free cutscenes that ensue reveal that he's escorting a small, blob-like creature to what's presumably its home at the tower's peak. The rest of the plot is left mainly to the player's imagination, where they can fill in the blanks by collecting journal entries and discarded pages along their path upwards.
Jusant's main component is mountain climbing, and it is an elegant mechanic. Controllers are recommended for this experience because players use the shoulder triggers to represent each hand. Attachment points along every climbable wall are used to attach a rope, at which point the player must safely ascend to the next stopping point. The process of reaching one hand out after the other is as simple as it is satisfying, especially with the piton mechanic allowing players to climb for even longer stretches.
There's nothing overly complex about climbing to start, but new mechanics are gradually introduced over time, mainly stemming from the user's companion. The companion can interact with nearby plants, which will cause them to grow vines and create new climbing points. Sometimes, they'll be there permanently, other times they'll only be there for a limited period before the weather dissolves them, and other times they'll only reach just far enough that players will have to make a leap of faith. Navigating the most efficient path and managing stamina is a big part of the game's challenge, and getting through a particularly tough stretch can feel sweet.
Finding your way
If Jusant was a straightforward climb with a clear path forward, it would be one of my favorite indie titles of the year. While I did enjoy it, it loses a lot because it can be easy to lose your way. The companion can use an echo system to point the way forward, but the visual cue can be confusing, especially when there are other objects in the way. That results in players needing to guess where to go next, which can quickly lead to running around in circles. At that point, one might want to know where they came from, but without a map system or any other way to reveal where the player has already explored, they can go down a path that's previously been traveled. Worse yet, players can sometimes find themselves at odds with the game's camera, which can have a mind of its own and make it even more difficult to tell where they're going. All of this wouldn't be such a big deal, but Jusant is coined as a relaxing experience. Feeling lost and frantically searching for a way to go isn't what's normally classified as relaxing.
Of course, it's worth noting that in the process of getting lost, players can also find delightful side paths, collectibles, and various hidden goodies that help fill out the story. These secrets help flesh out Jusant's world while still leaving most of the narrative to the player's imagination. Granted, I didn't always know what every interactable object actually did, but finding it still felt rewarding nonetheless. The only downside here is that after a while, one starts to explore every nook and cranny in search of a secret. This can lead to sometimes getting stuck in a corner or floating texture.
Rising to the top
Jusant gets the most it can out of a simple formula. It tells a memorable tale, one that goes to some unexpected places by the final chapter. The game uses a central gameplay mechanic that anybody can grasp. Plus, it's beautiful to behold, taking that idea of climbing a picturesque tower and using it to craft some awe-inspiring landscapes.
The climb to the top of Jusant isn't a long one, but it makes the most of every moment. If this is an example of what happens when Don't Nod decides to get experimental, I can't wait to see how much bolder the team can go.
This review is based on a PlayStation code provided by the publisher. Jusant is available now on PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S for $24.99 USD. The game is rated E.
- Elegantly simple concept
- Beautiful landscapes
- Adorable characters
- Numerous secrets
- Direction forward isn't always clear
- Camera can sometimes be wonky