DON’T NOD isn’t the first developer you think of when it comes to 3D platformers, much less those that seemingly involve constantly traversing upwards. Said titles have found a niche in video games – whether it’s Bennett Foddy’s Getting Over It or Only Up! – as players face potential emotional ruin with each fall.
Jusant, by its dictionary definition, means ebb tide, a tidal change state where the sea level falls over several hours and reveals the foreshore with its sea creatures, cliffs, beaches and more. It’s not the first name you think of when engaging with a 3D platformer, but it works, encompassing the game’s entire being like an identity, a vision.
"While the environmental message could have come across as over-the-top and hamfisted, Jusant handles it well."
If you’re looking for a platformer with frustration in mind, whether it’s the controls or having your progress reset with each failed jump, Jusant isn’t that. Instead, it’s a meditative, thoughtful and emotionally charged yet subdued adventure where the only ruin you need to contemplate is the world and your place in it. The gameplay is also pretty good, with planning and exploration being as important as coordination and execution.
Set at an unknown point in the future, the story focuses on you, a nameless climber, venturing through a desolate landscape before discovering a massive tower. It’s unassuming but eventually opens up as an outpost where people have lived and laughed before seemingly fading away.
You’ll glean all of this from letters and documents scattered throughout the structure, and while it can seem irreverent at first, these eventually give way to worrying circumstances for inhabitants. Water is running out, with residents salting their supply to make it last longer. Things like rain are thought of as myths, even by the eldest. People are leaving, while those who stay behind are unsure of the future.
While the environmental message could have come across as over-the-top and hamfisted, Jusant handles it well. This tower’s way of life in the post-apocalyptic era unfolds naturally. You already know the message – now you can see how the flow of a people’s existence is affected when water becomes scarce.
"There may as well be a sign yelling how deceptively simple it all is, but Jusant doesn’t overwhelm you with everything at once."
Condensing this into documents works all the more because of the writing, which feels natural and uncontrived. It does take some effort to keep track of all the names, never mind how they fit into the overarching series of events, but there is a separate tab for these letters and diary entries that you can revisit at any point.
Adding to this is the environmental detail. At first, you’ll come across various knick-knacks and containers, but full-fledged homes and villages begin to discern themselves. The empty containers suddenly resonate more with how bone dry they are, never mind the broken walls and dried-up crops or the desiccated trees.
There is another story running concurrently with the past – it’s the present, specifically your character’s, as they scale the tower with their companion, Ballast. How is it capable of bringing dead plants back to life? What are the strange monoliths that the two of you are lighting up? Whatever the case may be, your objective is upwards and onwards.
With all the subtext brimming in the air, the actual gameplay of Jusant is very straightforward. The Left Trigger/L2 is your left hand, and the Right Trigger/R2 is your right hand. Alternate between these to climb. There may as well be a sign yelling how deceptively simple it all is, but Jusant doesn’t overwhelm you with everything at once. Almost every time before climbing, you attach a rope to different anchor points. If you ever run out of stamina, these prevent you from falling to your death.
"While the basic gameplay sees small additions, Jusant’s biomes also provide unique mechanics that keep things fresh."
It’s also possible to attach pitons mid-climbing on different surfaces, providing nice little save points if you do run out of stamina. However, you can also rappel down from a point and swing back and forth, crossing otherwise insurmountable gaps. Over time, you learn to jump (and double jump) off walls to reach farther points, deploy your rope like a grapple, quickly rappel up it and more.
While you can recover stamina by resting at nearly any point, your maximum amount is steadily reduced, with actions like jumping accelerating the process. The only way to fully recharge it is to land on solid ground or find other anchor points while climbing. Since you have a limited number of pitons, choices must be made when deciding where to deploy one. There can be some jank when trying to rappel from one side to the other, but it’s still very manageable, and climbing feels like second nature after a brief time.
Eventually, the Ballast reveals itself to possess its abilities, particularly an echo that can revive dead plants. These grow outwards and offer tendrils or outgrowths on the wall to grab onto. However, you must be within a certain distance to activate them. Though environments grow more complex, the Ballast can showcase the current objective, providing a rough goal for where you should go.
While the basic gameplay sees small additions, Jusant’s biomes also provide unique mechanics that keep things fresh. You’ll encounter small rock-like beings to grasp on, which automatically carry you up some sections, but the longer you hold on, the slower they’ll go. Sparks also appear, which propel you higher, but you need a solid point to jump off the wall first. It’s a testament to the game’s visual language that all these elements are integrated seamlessly into each biome without feeling unnatural.
"Visually, Jusant is a gorgeous game. It has an animated style which is highly detailed and realistic, and the aesthetic makes you feel like it’s olden times (or at least a return to the Dark Ages)."
You can’t necessarily climb anywhere and everywhere in Jusant. Sure, you could attach a piton and try to rappel across in some places, clipping through certain parts of the environment. It does feel disappointing when you see something interesting in the distance and waste time trying to get to it, only to find nothing or that it’s not meant to be explored. Nevertheless, alternate paths and secrets, like altars, frescos and cairns, can be discovered and interacted with.
Visually, Jusant is a gorgeous game. It has an animated style which is highly detailed and realistic, and the aesthetic makes you feel like it’s olden times (or at least a return to the Dark Ages). The music is subtle and often lingers in the background but surges up during key moments or calls to action, and it fits very well. While it won’t compete with some of the titans of 2023 in terms of graphical fidelity or presentation, the production values are on point, even with the odd animation jank or getting briefly stuck on the environment in certain places on foot.
Jusant’s greatest strength is that there’s nothing quite like it. Other similar types of games may try to test your mental fortitude, but DON’T NOD is more interested in taking you on a journey – vertically-fashioned, sure, yet easy enough to grasp and master, while presenting a relevant environmental message. The story-telling, lore, visuals and gameplay loop combine for a solemn, relaxing experience.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Gorgeous aesthetic and visuals with a soundtrack that accentuates the atmosphere. Fun gameplay loop that remains fresh throughout. Solid biome design that introduces new mechanics at a good pace. Interesting story and lore, with environmental detail adding to the charm.
Some slight jank, especially when rappelling around or walking around normally in the environment. Not too much freedom to explore anywhere. Storytelling can take some time (and reading) to draw you in.