Jusant Review

Goodbye, tide!

By Paul Hunter

I often admire when a developer takes risks by stepping away from their usual style to deliver an entirely new experience. That's certainly the case with Jusant from Don't Nod, a company famous for the dialogue- and narrative-heavy Life is Strange franchise. Their latest title couldn't be more opposite with it being a climbing platformer featuring minimal HUD elements, very few menus and almost no dialogue at all over its five-hour length.

Jusant is a very unique title that centres on a silent protagonist who must climb a gargantuan rock tower using only his rope, his agility and his little water buddy who aids his adventure. While climbing for hours might not sound all that interesting, the game keeps the ascents interesting by introducing new game mechanics and hazards to contend with, challenging you will ever riskier climbs and jumps, all while taking you through multiple biomes with fresh colour palettes and scenery. Let's dig deeper to see what this climb is all about, here are three things I liked about Jusant...and one I didn't.

Liked: Great Environmental Storytelling

Jusant presents a simple yet intriguing introduction showing you, playing as a mysterious unnamed boy, approaching a gigantic tower that stretches high into the clouds above. The base of the tower is decorated by dried coral and it becomes immediately apparent: You're standing in what was once the seabed. Jusant means "receding tide" in French, another hint that this is a world where the sea has receded, leaving behind a dangerously arid land devoid of life and on the verge of collapse.

With your rope being the main tool at your disposal, there's no other option than scaling the enormous solitary tower to uncover its secrets and see what lies high above at its top. Very few cutscenes punctuate the story and there's even less dialogue, so nearly all of the storytelling is told through the environment. During your hours-long ascent, you'll stumble upon homes, cafes and shops that have all been abandoned, implying that the tower was once a bustling place full of civilization but has now become an abandoned ghost town.

Beyond these deserted points of interest, you will come across the odd memo from prior inhabitants describing the dire situation with the receding tide and how individuals reacted to this life-threatening environmental change. You'll also find a series of notes from Bianca, a youth who travelled up the tower with friends sometime before your arrival. Bianca becomes the main narrative driver as you follow her exact same path up the tower and read all about her parallel life-altering journey.

In many ways, from a storytelling perspective, Jusant reminds me a lot of the minimalist approach taken in Team Ico's classics Shadow of the Colossus and Ico and Thatgamecompany's famous title Journey. Even though very little is said throughout the adventure, you'll slowly unravel the mysteries of the tower, its inhabitants and even who your own character really is. It's been years since I've played a game this focused on visual storytelling and it's a refreshing change of pace.

Liked: Climbing is More Fun Than Expected

I'll admit it, I was skeptical of the climbing at first. Minutes into the game when I looked up and realized how gigantic the tower was it immediately felt like it going to be a laborious climb. That sentiment only deepened when I discovered you can't just hold a button to climb like you can in games like Uncharted or Assassin's Creed. Instead, Jusant demands that push the left trigger to grab with your left hand and push the right trigger to grab with your right. Climbing becomes a physical exercise of pushing left-right, left-right as you scale up towards to next plateau.

To my surprise, after getting accustomed to the climbing mechanics I began to appreciate the energy required to climb upwards because the game wants you to feel the exertion, and it really makes you empathize with the protagonist. The tedium also evaporated rather quickly, too, as I found myself climbing much faster and with less effort the more I got used to the mechanics.

To give you a reprieve while climbing, you can insert up to three pitons into the wall, allowing you to recover stamina and take a breather. The pitons also serve as self-made checkpoints that you can grapple back up to should you miss a grip and take a tumble down. Your rope has a finite length so you'll need to strategically plan your climbs as well. Thankfully, on large climbs in the latter half of the game, there are wall-mounted carabiners you can latch onto to recover your full rope length.

I was really impressed with the gradual difficulty ramp up of the climbing segments which lets you learn new skills and then put them to the test. Examples of these include the risky double jump that lets you lunge upwards to grab high-up grips, or the side double jump to clear a wide horizontal space. You can also insert a piton and then wall run back and forth and take a leap of faith.

Another neat climbing aid mechanic relies on your little backpack buddy, called a Ballast, which is basically a mini whale made of pure water. Your Ballast can emit an echo that brings nearby vegetation to life, including tall vines that conveniently have grips that let you climb them. As it turns out, the plants can survive just fine in the shade but once you make it to the sunny side of the tower, the vegetation whithers after a few seconds. This makes for some of the game's most intense jumps as you need to echo to bring the plants to life, then hurriedly climb on them to reach the next safe zone.

Speaking of hazards like the extreme heat, Jusant regularly introduces new obstacles to contend with, keeping the climbing feeling fresh and testing all of your acquired skills. Another example is the harsh winds you'll encounter high up on the tower. The fast wind gusts will constantly switch direction, tasking you with correctly timing your jumps to glide with the wind. There's also a large interior climb portion where you'll meet helpful Wisps that will surround you and allow you to take one giant leap upwards to grab far-away ledges. When you combine your climbing tools, abilities and environmental hazards or assists, the climbing never got stale over the adventure.

Liked: Wonderful Presentation

Jusant has a soft, welcoming graphical aesthetic with a beautiful claymation-type appearance. The main character and your Ballast pal have a distinct visual identity that brings life to these characters. I really enjoyed the visual variety in each part of the climb, whether that was the unique flora and fauna or the rich colour palette. From the windy slopes near the peak to the tunnels lit only by bioluminescence, every zone stood out with its unique personality.

Similarly, the soundtrack by composer Guillaume Ferran is absolutely stellar with its focus on sombre tunes that perfectly reflect the lamentable state of this abandoned tower. The music is also synched to the on-screen action quite well, with tranquil tunes during the slower and easier climbs, and then dramatic upticks in the tempo and percussion as you reach riskier sections to give you equal parts anxiety and motivation. The soundtrack is memorable and I plan on revisiting it whenever I'm in the mood for relaxing and chill tunes.

Didn't Like: Geometry Collision Issues

A few times on my long ascent up the tower my character got stuck in the environmental geometry, with twice I actually got stuck inside the wall and had to restart at my last checkpoint. There were also a few times where I slipped and wasn't able to grapple back to my last piton position due to objects blocking my way, again forcing me to backtrack to the last checkpoint.

I found that venturing off the main path is where I encountered most of these issues, which is a shame since it limits the desire for experimentation. Overall, these bugs weren't too disruptive as the checkpoint system is quite forgiving, but it was still disappointing nonetheless for a game entirely focused on climbing and exploration. It's worth noting the game just launched, so hopefully patches will help smooth out the experience.

The Verdict

Jusant is an amazing adventure that has left a lasting impression on me. I hope that game is a success as I'd love to revisit this world again in a sequel or a DLC add-on. The story is impactful, the climbing mechanic is challenging and satisfying and the presentation is simply divine. In a year full of excellent games, Jusant is a standout title that should not be missed.

Final Score: 8.5/10 - Great

Jusant details

Platform: PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Developer: Don't Nod
Publisher: Don't Nod
Genre: Puzzle, Platform
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.