Jusant, from Life is Strange creators Don’t Nod, answers the question “What if the climbing from games like Uncharted, Breath of the Wild, and Horizon: Forbidden West, was the central mechanic a full game?” It’s due to release on October 31st on PS5, Xbox Series and Steam.
Roughly pronounced joos-zon in French, Jusant is a maritime word referring to a receding tide. As we’ll see as we explore the game more, this is a very central theme to the story and history of this world.
Ooh, Aah, Jusant A Little Bit
Our story begins as the nameless protagonist is walking across an arid desert. The landscape is littered with the decaying carcasses of dozens of sea vessels. We understand immediately that at some point, this was a vast ocean, now somehow reduced to bone-dry seabed.
After a title card, we are treated to our first up-close look at the monolithic tower and some of the structures it contains. We also get a peek at a small creature the player character is carrying in their backpack. Then, we’re transported a short way up the tower, and our climb begins.
The core climbing mechanic in Jusant is very similar to that found in Astro’s Playroom monkey sections. You use the triggers on the controller as your left and right-hand grips, using the left stick to aim your free arm toward the next hand-hold. Additional abilities are gradually introduced as you progress. Some of these included a jump, double jump, extra pitons and the ability to lower/raise yourself from a dangling rope and swing.
Further into the climb, your companion begins to assist in certain ways. The Ballast, a small blue blob-like creature, can produce an echo. Over a short distance, this echo can activate climbing vines, bulbs that produce a small section of grip points, and tiny flying insects that can carry you upwards a short distance.
Whilst there is a stamina meter in play when climbing, I think there were only a handful of times when I felt I was close to this ending my current climb. You can rest at any point by using L3 to regain some spent stamina, although jumps deplete sections of your gauge until you’re back on solid ground.
While Jusant is described as a climbing-puzzle-action game, I felt like its biggest focus was on climbing, followed by storytelling, with any kind of puzzle scenarios being very limited. I don’t think this is a bad thing as the game excels in the 2 former elements.
The climbing is a particularly relaxing experience. It’s never difficult to tell where to explore next. Even mid-climb, you’ll not need to search wildly for your next jump, hand-hold or target platform. The game doesn’t use the climbing mechanics as a rope to hang you by, pardon the pun. You’ll never be overly punished for a fall either. In fact, once you’re on a platform, if you de-couple your anchor, it’s impossible to fall off a ledge.
Having no deaths, no fall-damage and no fail-states means you are free to just relax and enjoy the journey.
Letters and Logs
Containing no spoken dialogue, Jusant relies on environmental story-telling and an assortment of written letters and journals to deliver its story. Throughout the climb, these articles can be found lying around various settlements.
One set contains brief glimpses into communications between several tower dwellers, often bemoaning their situation as the water recedes and they either choose to leave or double down and stick it out. The other set is a series of logs left behind by one adventurer, Bianca, as she leaves her lighthouse in Low Tide and climbs towards the tower summit in search of the legendary ballast creatures. For me, these journals were the highlight of the storytelling.
Another collectible that can be found are sea-shells. When listening to these shells, a small cinematic is played showing various elements of your immediate surroundings. During this time you will hear sounds of the past activities that would have taken place whenever you are. The clink-clank of some construction or repair work, the gushing of water, light chatter from a crowd, etc. These were really nice breaks from the rest of the gameplay and helped to break up the climb.
Without giving too much away, the story is essentially one of humans attempting to survive a changing climate and finding ways to have their stubbornness make the worst of a bad situation.
Graphics & Audio
The art direction in Jusant mostly reminds me of Claymation. You’ll see in some of the screenshots here how beautiful the environments look, how well they are lit, and the amount of detail included. Additionally, there’s good variation in the biomes, especially in the second half of the game where we leave behind the desert-like lower tower sections for 3 very different locations.
I appreciate too that the entire game isn’t plastered with yellow paint to highlight climbable paths. We often see this in action-adventure-platform games where the player is shown exactly where the interaction points are on walls and cliff faces. Jusant manages to convey this information in a more subtle way, without making it difficult to know where to go.
Sound design is another strong area in Jusant’s arsenal. I enjoyed the way the music would sometimes just fade away into silence as I climbed, just leaving behind the sounds of the breeze and the scuffles of the character’s hands and feet.
When there is music, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the situation. Either a relaxing, low-tempo number as you explore and ascend, or a dramatic piece playing as you cling for dear life in the wind.
I completed a playthrough of Jusant in around 6 hours. I didn’t rush through and was making a conscious effort to take in the scenery of each biome as well as gather as many collectibles as I could. Subsequently, once I’d completed the story and unlocked the chapter select, I only had a handful of items to go back for. These were mainly at the end of Chapter 3 when I accidently chose to explore the critical path first and progressed passed a point of no return.
In terms of collectibles, along with the earlier mentioned letters and journals, you’ll also be hunting for cairns, alters and shells. To assist with locating some of these, your ballast companion can use an ability to highlight the general direction of the closest ones.
Upon release, I’m interested to see what the speed-running community can do with Jusant. I can imagine there’ll be some insanely quick times posted before too long.
If you’re looking for a short, relaxing exploration game to wind down from a difficult day or week, or a palette cleanser between more intense games, I can wholeheartedly recommend Jusant. If you’re generally a fan of Don’t Nod’s work, you also can’t go wrong picking this up. It’s a short and sweet experience that can be taken at whatever pace you’d like. I do wish there was a bit more of it as I was sad for it to come to an end, but I will be going back in soon to finish up the collectibles anyway.
Slowly piecing together the story, and history of The Tower and the civilisation that lived there previously, was my favourite part of the game. Always excitedly climbing and searching for the next set of clues. I think speed-running a climb once I’ve finished up the collectibles is next on my list of things to do!
Jusant receives a Thumb Culture Gold Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.