Surmount review: Reaching new heights

Quirky characters and satisfying tactile gameplay take physics-based platforming to a new level in Surmount.


When it comes to physics-based platformers, I don’t typically expect much in the way of storytelling. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised by the endearing characters, intriguing narrative, and witty dialogue in Surmount, a new mountain climbing adventure game created by indie developers Jasper Oprel and Indiana-Jonas. The game offers a blend of procedurally generated and handmade mountain climbing levels for players to overcome, along with daily challenges and replayable missions that help hone your skills. Surmount also supports local co-op for those looking to make the journey while tethered to a friend. The climbing mechanics are easy to pick up, yet difficult to master. Despite having a few technical issues, Surmount offers fun, tactile climbing and engaging challenges that kept me grasping for more.

Moving mountains

The front gate in New Tully.

Source: Surmount

Before delving into the campaign, players can spend some time in character creation to design their climber. The characters have a colorful, Nintendo-esque look to them, with globular hands and somewhat blocky features. You can customize their clothing as well as their physical appearance, from facial features to hair style and skin tone. There is a good amount of base customization items available in a wide range of colors, and more items can be unlocked as you play. Though I didn’t spend too much time in character creation initially, I was happy with the selection of customizations available and enjoyed equipping new hats and other items as I earned them throughout the game.

After character creation, players are whisked away on a tour bus to Mount Om, the highest mountain in the world. You are among the many climbers who aspire to scale to the top, hoping to succeed where others have failed. Once you become acquainted with the folks of New Tully, the town at the base of Mount Om, it becomes clear that there is more to this shifty mountain than meets the eye. 

Reaching the top of a plateau with Olimark.

Source: Surmount

While in New Tully, players will meet a quirky cast of characters, some of whom will help you out on your trek to the summit. One such character is Kenzie, a scientist who is staying in the area to study the mysteries of the mountain. Kenzie will help you get a permit to climb Mount Om in exchange for helping with her research. She also hooks you up with the KlifDex, a handheld walkie-talkie that allows you to stay in communication with Kenzie whilst out on each climb. The KlifDex includes a list of your contacts, your overall climbing stats, and even a series of minigames to pass the time between runs. The minigames consist of alternate versions of games like Snake and Tetris. My favorite was Link Five, a more freeform version of Connect Four. While I enjoyed the minigames, they only seemed to be playable while resting between runs on Mount Om. Aside from Sneakers (the alternate version of Snake), the rest of the minigames would become locked again when I returned to New Tully, which I thought was an odd choice. I probably would have played the minigames more had they been consistently available. Regardless, I can always appreciate when there are extra games within a game and I found these to be a fitting addition.

Other characters are met through side quests found on the local bulletin board, which can be found in both New Tully as well as between zones on Mount Om. These brief quests feature handcrafted levels that act as climbing tutorials to help you prepare for climbing each of Mount Om’s different zones while getting to know the locals. I enjoyed walking around New Tully and in the areas between zones to eavesdrop on conversations and get to know some of the quirky townsfolk. The quests did not overstay their welcome and offered a practical way to hone one’s climbing skills between runs.

Learning the ropes

A pair of climbers tethered together.

Source: Surmount

Mount Om is parsed into four distinct biomes with several levels within each. Unlike the bulletin board missions, the levels of Mount Om are procedurally generated and will offer a fresh layout each run. You are free to choose whatever route is available to you, as long as you make it to the campsite at the top. There are various objects in the environment throughout each level that can either help or hinder your progress. Standing on a geyser can act as a quick way to shoot up to a higher ledge, for example. There are also numerous obstacles like patches of thorns, sharp icicles, and other hazards that can slow you down.

As a physics-based platformer, your ability to scale Mount Om is determined by how well you can manage your health and stamina while swinging and grappling your way to the top. Grabbing and holding onto surfaces requires stamina, which slowly diminishes as you continue climbing with each hand. You also have the ability to spin in a circle and fling yourself in any direction, provided you have adequate space and momentum. Mastering the swinging mechanic helped shave time off my climbs and became a crucial aspect of successful runs.

A climber being shot from a canon near a geyser.

Source: Surmount

Taking a tumble or overexerting yourself can lead to injury and a reduced stamina meter. To manage this, you will have to find food, such as fruits or bugs, to replenish your stamina throughout each climb. Climbing anchors placed along your route up the mountain offer temporary respite, allowing you to regain stamina and reposition yourself while climbing.

Going off the beaten path to find crates or talk to hidden NPCs will reward you with items that will aid you during your climb. Some items such as rope have limited uses, so you will want to use them sparingly. Unfortunately, I found that whenever I launched a rope to attempt to grapple to a higher point, it often would miss entirely. I also would miss-click and shoot my rope accidentally, causing me to waste a few. I found other items like the rocket and bounce pad to be more useful, which is likely why they were rarer to come across than rope. It would have been helpful to have a separate space where you could practice using different items after discovering them without consequence to prevent unnecessarily wasting your gear items while out on a climbing run. 

Hitting a plateau

A picture taken using the camera at a campsite.

Source: Surmount

At the end of each level is a campsite where you can stop to catch your breath and chat with other climbers. Campsites allow you to save your hard-earned progress on your way up the mountain while replenishing your health and stamina. You will usually share a campsite with one or two other climbers, some of whom will offer to sell you items like rope or health packs in exchange for gems, which you earn during climbing runs and quests. Eating nearby fruits and bugs will grant bonus stamina for your next run. Aside from playing minigames on your KlifDex, there is not a whole lot you can do at camp. Though the campsites offered a welcome respite from climbing, a few more activities or ways to interact with other climbers would have been nice.

Gems collected during each run can be spent at the gift shop vending machine to obtain hats, clothes, and other cosmetic items for your character. Gems can also be spent on equippable upgrades for your character that become available after reaching the second zone. These upgrades provide improvements to stamina and your climbing capabilities that can be swapped out after they’re purchased. While I maintained a steady income of gems, I found the cannon upgrades and skill improvements to be much more valuable, so I ended up prioritizing these over the vending machine.

If you fail a climb, whether by plummeting to your demise or perishing in some other way, you will be sent back to New Tully and will have to start your trek up Mount Om over again. Kenzie will eventually grant you access to a Shortcut Cannon that allows you to launch straight to specific zones, which made journeying up the mountain much more manageable. Players who want to test their climbing skills without having to trudge up Mount Om can partake in the Daily Mountain climbing challenge, which offers a fresh climbing map for players to attempt outside of the story campaign. Though I didn’t always complete the daily challenges, they are as close as the game gets to giving you a low-commitment area to practice climbing without interrupting your progress in the main game.

Two climbers hanging from the same rope.

Source: Surmount

There are a few accessibility options available that allow players to change the grab and swing mechanics to their liking. Assist mode lets you further tweak the difficulty by offering adjustments to gravity, stamina, and invincibility for a less punishing experience. These difficulty settings turned out to be among the game's saving graces for me, as enabling certain settings allowed me to focus more on mastering the goofy mobilty and making story progress, while still earning the satisfaction of overcoming the challenges of Mount Om.

Aside from some arrows that point the way in the first few levels, there is no indication of where you are supposed to go while climbing the mountain. While the general rule is to just climb up, that is easier said than done. Part of what’s fun about venturing up Mount Om is not knowing what is immediately ahead. However, there were several instances where I could not see a feasible path forward and I felt utterly lost while climbing, especially in later levels where bushes and walls will obstruct your view. You can pan the camera up and around a bit, but ultimately can only see so far. While I don’t expect procedurally generated levels to necessarily have a map, I would have liked a way to zoom out a bit further to get a lay of the land, or perhaps some sort of optional hint system to help indicate the general direction of the campsite. While the Assist Mode settings proved useful, expanding upon these options could address this issue and would help bolster the overall experience.

While most of my time in Surmount went smoothly, it was not without its fair share of technical bumps in the road. There were times when I would load into a level in an impossible position, such as spawning suspended within a wall. The first time this happened, the game recognized that I was stuck and automatically regenerated a new level for me to start. However, this problem kept happening, and the game didn’t always recognize that I was stuck, giving me no other choice but to quit the run and start over, which also meant losing my items and progress. There were also a few times where I would find myself in an area with no climbable surfaces that I could reach and seemingly no way out. There is also no way to regenerate or restart a level without replaying from the beginning of the zone, and the Shortcut Cannon only does so much to mitigate this. The addition of some sort of level refresh button would have saved me some time and lost progress. Although they were few and far between, the game’s glitches added a layer of frustration that I could have did without.

Getting the hang of it

View from inside the gift shop in New Tully.

Source: Surmount

The climbing in Surmount is a bit wonky and takes some getting used to, but once you get a feel for it, climbing quickly becomes addicting. Reaching camp at the end of each level was met with a sigh of relief and a feeling of satisfaction that compelled me to keep making progress. The levels are challenging enough to give you a sense of accomplishment when finished. The rigorous platforming is offset by the colorful, cartoony aesthetic and charming characters. I enjoyed getting to know the locals and unraveling the mysteries of Mount Om just as much as I enjoyed trekking to the summit. Technical issues aside, Surmount offers an engaging and accessible climbing adventure that kept me coming back for more.

This review is based on a Steam code provided by the publisher. Surmount released for PC and Nintendo Switch on May 2, 2024.

Contributing Editor

Larryn is a freelance contributor who creates video game guides and reviews for Shacknews and has more than a decade of experience covering games across various outlets. When she's not gaming, Larryn can often be found watering houseplants, playing D&D, or teaching her cats new tricks.

Review for
  • Challenging yet satisfying platforming
  • Controls are easy to learn, tricky to master
  • Intriguing story
  • Cute characters
  • Helpful accessibility options
  • Plenty of replayability
  • Controls feel wonky at first
  • Glitches and technical problems hindered progress
  • Room for even more accessibility options
  • No way to refresh levels
  • Minigames not always playable
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