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You have to try these two climbing game demos during Steam Next Fest

There are currently a ton of great game demos to try in the wake of this month’s plethora of gaming showcases, but there are two specific titles that should be on your list right now during Steam Next Fest: Jusant and Surmount. While these two titles come from different developers, they share a premise. Both games are about climbing. The basics of their controls are similar, asking players to use the triggers or bumpers to grab surfaces, emulating the feeling of clamping down a hand.

Despite those high-level similarities, the games are almost entirely different in execution. Jusant is a slow-paced, atmospheric, and realistic 3D climbing game, while Surmount focuses on its cartoonish aesthetics, co-op play, and wacky physics that let players swing and fling themselves around from a 2D perspective. I’m not here to recommend one over the other; no, playing both of these demos reaffirmed my appreciation for more creative games from smaller development teams, which tend to find the most creative ways to extrapolate on the simplest of ideas.

How to climb

Jusant — which was revealed during the Xbox Games Showcase — is developed and published by Don’t Nod, the French studio behind the Life is Strange series and the recently released Harmony: The Fall of Reverie. It’s a bit bigger than a true indie studio, but this is still shaping up to be a smaller, more experimental project for the company. If you know Don’t Nod, you also won’t be surprised to hear that Jusant is more of a lore-heavy, contemplative adventure. It takes place in a world almost devoid of water, where a young boy has found a water-like creature called Ballast and is trying to take it to the top of a gigantic tower, rising into the sky from what was once a sea floor.

The main character climbs up a structure in Jusant.
Don't Nod

The demo starts in Jusant‘s earliest moments, and with no dialogue manages to introduce us to the characters and the overwhelming nature of the tower. This part of the game is also designed for approachability so players can familiarize themselves with its controls. I use the triggers to grab rocks above me, but I also have ropes and other climbing tools at my disposal that allow me to do a bit of swinging and wall-running to get where I need to go.

While the main character’s strength to climb like this is superhuman, it still approaches the concept from a more grounded and simulation-like game. Its involved controls make every action feel precise, and scaling higher and higher increases the sense of stress and loneliness in this waterless world. At the same time, it lets me appreciate the meditative nature of climbing and going on a personal journey.

Meanwhile, Surmount — which appeared during this year’s Wholesome Direct — is a much more lighthearted experience. The project is a collaboration between two developers, Jasper Oprel and Indiana-Jonas, who are working remotely together from the Netherlands and France. From the moment I booted the demo up, I noticed that it was going to be a much more lighthearted affair with cute, customizable characters and NPCs that speak in Animal Crossing-like gibberish as players attempt to climb to the top of Mount Om.

Its gameplay is very distinct from Jusant. Certain walls and parts of the mountain are grabbable, and players will swing themselves back and forth as they climb with each hand. Some gaps are too far away to grab, though; when this happens, it’s time to fling yourself. There’s a primal joy to a good, simple physics-based platformer, and Surmount taps into that style of game and energy quite well so far. Then, even within this demo, Surmount starts to build upon that idea in fun ways with other physics-based objects like a wheel. And while I didn’t try it, I’m sure all these things are accentuated in co-op play.

Climbing in Surmount
Jasper & Jonas

Where Jusant takes inspiration from Journey and Uncharted, Surmount pulls ideas from DK: King of Swing and Getting Over It with Bennet Foddy. And I love that about both games. The existence of both of these titles speaks to the creativity of game developers; they can start with a very similar idea but explore it in widely different ways. While Jusant is a climbing game that focuses on ambiance and utilizing tools in the right way, Surmount chooses to tap into the pure physics-based joy that comes with flinging your character up a mountain.

There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to coming up with a game concept, and these teams’ creativity is even more on show here because this isn’t the kind of game dominating the AAA scene or sales charts. From the moment these games decided how they wanted players to climb, they were destined to be wildly different from each other.

I play many games for this job, and sometimes I can get lost in the weeds of critiquing games or breaking down and analyzing each announcement from a game company. Demos like these remind me why I love gaming in the first place during such a busy season.

Jusant will release for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S this fall, while Surmount is slated to launch for PC sometime this year. Both games have demos available to the public now on Steam.

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Tomas Franzese
Gaming Staff Writer
Tomas Franzese is a Staff Writer at Digital Trends, where he reports on and reviews the latest releases and exciting…
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