The stone tower is so tall that, standing at the bottom, a human can’t see the top of it.
A figure treks across a boundless desert. At first she seems alone, but we soon discover that she’s carrying a passenger — a glowing blue creature so adorable that its inclusion may qualify as emotional manipulation. No context for this journey is offered, but I can’t imagine needing any. There is a tower, the game offers mechanics that allow me to climb it, and so it will be climbed.
Jusant, a title which refers to a receding tide, is a powerfully spare experience. There are no characters to interact with, no villains to fight. The only antagonist is the tower itself, and it’s a memorable one at that. This spire is an incredible piece of level design, telling its story not just through the occasional diary that the player can find lying around, but via the spaces the player traverses.
Starting out at the lowest levels of the tower, they’ll see hovels hewed roughly into the tower, surrounded by the small boats and fishing nets that let the player know that there was once an ocean here, and at the foot of the tower lived the workers who fed the civilization above. The higher the player climbs, the more intricate and finished the stonework becomes. Simple tool benches where items were cobbled together are replaced with intricate machinery, telling the story of class separation through the items the long-departed denizens employed.
Jusant‘s tower certainly tells a story, but who would ever learn it if the climbing mechanics weren’t magnificent?
Using the standard ‘one trigger for each hand’ system that many climbing games employ, Jusant makes it simple for players to clamber rapidly to impressive heights. A stickler for safety, the climber is careful to hook a safety line into the anchor point that marks the start of each climbing route. Then it’s just a matter of angling the controller towards a likely handhold, releasing one hand from the wall and letting the climber stretch for it. In addition to the anchor point, the player can use pinions to set what are effectively ‘continue points’ along their route in case they want a little insurance before attempting a particularly harrowing jump.
While it’s true Jusant is built around proscribed ‘climbing routes’, rather than letting the player simply clamber up whatever they want in modern Zelda-style, it feel less like a restriction, and more like the developers are curating the most breathtaking experiences.
Leaping from one handhold to another, gripping desperately to a beetle’s shell, using my last bit of stamina to grab hold of a waypoint anchor – I know the developers built the levels around these specific moments, but that doesn’t strip them of their thrill. I was especially impressed by the learning curve.
At the start I was struggling to make even the most basic leaps, and after an hour in I was sprinting in a pendulum arc along a flat wall to build enough momentum to propel myself onto a platform a dozen yards away.
With its enormous, intricate layout, constantly increasing challenge, and stunningly beautiful vistas, Jusant makes a strong case that it might well be the best third-person climbing game ever made. (Need more proof? There’s a button mapped solely for cuddling the cute monster sidekick.)
So long as the rest of the experience lives up to this amazing slice, we’re in for an unbelievable journey this October.