Jusant describes itself as an action-puzzle climbing game with "meditative vibes", and when you combine that with the talented Life is Strange and Tell Me Why studio DON'T NOD, the concept has long sounded like a winning formula to us. But what about the execution? In a year that's been overflowing with new Xbox releases and "day one" launch titles on Xbox Game Pass, does Jusant do enough to retain your attention until the credits roll? For the most part we'd say "yes", but there are a couple of caveats you might want to be aware of.
Let's start with the really positive stuff. As mentioned, Jusant is all about climbing — the idea is that you play as a young adventurer who sets off to scale an impossibly tall tower, armed with nothing but a rope, a backpack and an adorable pet "Ballast" who assists you with special powers along the way. The mechanics involved in this are intuitive enough that you'll instantly get to grips with them, but they also contain some complexity in the form of a stamina bar, multiple ways to manipulate your rope mid-climb, and environmental tools that need to be activated by your cuddly companion.
For example, the left and right triggers are used for your left and right hands respectively, and the X button is used to hook your rope to a fixed point (or just anywhere on the wall). Then, as you climb, you need to manage your stamina to avoid running out of energy, as well as figure out how to progress to the next stage of your ascension. Sometimes that involves a daring double-jump, and sometimes it even involves hitching a ride on an insect!
As you progress through Jusant's chapters, you begin to engage with higher climbs featuring more challenging puzzles and decision-making elements, and this is really where the game shines brightest. Pulling back to the camera to reveal a daunting upward scramble actually feels like a fun prospect because of the well-designed controls, and you definitely feels a sense of achievement when you finally reach the top. That said, we wouldn't call it a "meditative" experience necessarily - in fact, it can get pretty frustrating at times, especially when your character gets stuck on scenery or an occasional camera issue causes you to miss an easy jump. The good manages to outweigh the bad though, and the more epic the climb, the more gratifying it ultimately is.
In terms of the story, it's basically told by a few cutscenes along with Letters you pick up along the way from previous inhabitants of the Tower. Over time, you begin to piece things together about the history of the structure you're ascending, but we found it quite difficult to get invested in any of this until near the game's conclusion. These Letters don't really give much obvious context at first, and therefore we can see some players wanting to skip them and just get on with the gameplay (to be honest, you don't need to read them anyway). It's a shame because the story does get a bit more intriguing towards the end, but we never found ourselves particularly invested in it.
Jusant doesn't include any voice work either, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The game features an excellent atmospheric soundtrack that serves as the backdrop to the experience, while the impressive visuals help to bring its world to life in a vibrant manner. It's obviously still an indie game, so don't expect anything mindblowing in the graphical department, but there are times when the camera pulls back to reveal some legitimately breathtaking vistas - especially in the final couple of chapters.
All in all, you're probably only looking at a max of 5-6 hours to complete Jusant depending on how long you want to explore the tower in its entirety, and that feels like a fairly decent length. It offers up a memorable experience that'll only take you a couple of nights to complete on Xbox Game Pass, and it certainly doesn't feel like it outstays its welcome.
The high point of Jusant is definitely its well-designed climbing mechanics, which are endlessly enjoyable aside from some occasional (but minor) issues. Sadly we weren't quite as taken by the game's story, but we still wanted to reach its summit regardless. It's the kind of Game Pass title we think some fans will absolutely fall in love with, while others will bounce off it pretty quickly. In any case, it's a worthy addition to Xbox's fantastic subscription service.