Jusanth asks the players to do one thing: climb. Accompanied by a cute critter as a silent climber, the only thing standing between you and your mysterious mission is a towering mountain. The journey to its summit is treacherous, but thanks to an ingenious climbing system, beautiful art direction and intriguing world-building, the effort to inch to the top is worth it.
Intuitive climbing mechanics are the star of the show. Pressing the left and right shoulder buttons allows you to grab the handholds with the climber’s corresponding hands while you aim with the left stick. The back-and-forth rhythm of hitting both buttons to traverse uncertain terrain feels natural and realistic without being clunky. The hold drains the stamina meter, and while it’s not difficult to manage, it adds a nice element of thoughtfulness and tension to the climb. Climbing is sublime, but simply walking can be troublesome as the character has a habit of getting stuck on the most insignificant geometry, such as small boulders, resulting in awkward jumping and spinning to get loose.
Your only tool is a retractable climbing rope that automatically anchors you to the wall, meaning you can never fall to your death (or die in general). While this contributes to the game’s calm, meditative atmosphere, that doesn’t mean failure isn’t a factor. Slipping sends you swinging back to where you started, which can cause long stretches to backslide. By extending your reach while creating temporary checkpoints, you can prevent frustrating setbacks by placing up to three pitons as you climb. I loved the technique of managing the placement of my pitons, as it gave me creative agency in how I navigated tricky sections – namely walls lacking handholds – ensuring that any lost progress due to bad or rare piton stacking was entirely my fault. The rope allows for fun maneuvers like swinging across gaps or wall running to reach distant targets.
Ballast, the climber’s cute, watery pet, lends another helping hand. Pressing a button causes it to emit a pulse that transforms organic elements, such as causing giant flower bulbs to sprout climbing buds, or vines to rapidly grow and allow you to free ride on them. There are only a small handful of these techniques, but they complement traditional climbing and add a layer of whimsical fun.
These mechanics lead to climbing that feels challenging on the right routes. Scaling a mountain requires a lot of physical effort and coordination, and hitting each height milestone feels like a well-earned accomplishment. It was both satisfying and daunting to look down on the cliff to see the entire section I had completed before seeing the obstacles to come. Climbing in games is often a shade of mind-blowingly simple or painfully boring. Jusanth hits a great sweet spot. Better controls made me feel confident and eager to tackle the well-crafted, puzzle-like climbing routes and obstacles.
Developer Don’t Node does a good job of mixing up Jusant’s premise by introducing new environments or platforming challenges throughout the game’s six chapters. One section has you riding a powerful wind gust to reach distant platforms. The rock-like bugs act as moving handholds that can carry the player, adjusting if you watch the path they’re taking and if they miss your way. One of my favorite areas allows you to scale and swing over massive stalactites in a giant, bioilluminated cave. Jusant has a relatively short duration (about six hours), but it remains fresh and attractive.
Jusanth’s beautiful scenery looks amazing. Located in a world that has mysteriously lost all traces of water, the mountain sits on a dry, vast seabed. Desiccated coral, fossilized seashells, and shipwrecks provide the only evidence of a past ocean, making several abandoned settlements where a lost society once called the mountain home. It may technically be a ruined world, but the warm colors, good lighting, and sharp art design make it fun to look at.
How this disaster happened and the plight of the people who experienced it are told through a series of sometimes lengthy but fascinating diaries. Whether it’s the story of a young woman enthusiastically abandoning her home life to embark on a summit expedition, or the day-to-day thoughts of a folk who can’t fathom living on a flat plane, these logs are enjoyable and worth reading that provide important context for the world and your quest.
Several paths in and out of the mountain conceal various collections and interactive artifacts, such as wall paintings that tell a grand legend and seashells that provide audio-only flashbacks to this lost civilization. I went out of my way to find as many of these as possible, and luckily, the game keeps track of them all. That makes revisiting chapters to locate missed items an easy and inviting proposition. Even if you can’t collect it, I was happy to find new rooms, shops and other infrastructure to get a better idea of the way of life of these people.
Jusanth is my favorite Don’t Knot title since the original Life is Strange and one of the best gems of the year. The climbing mechanics are so smart and well-executed that I hope other games take note. Add an inviting presentation, a pleasant soundtrack, and an alluring air of mystery and isolation reminiscent of Team Ico’s best works, and Jusant is a rewarding expedition.